Your choice really depends on a number of things:
1. Your intention
- Is it more for someone to look after your child while you work, or is it more for enrichment?
2. Your budget
- Basic childcare is not that expensive, but price goes up if you want the childcare to include enrichment programmes.
3. Your convenience
- Is it too far to be practical for you to send your child to everyday?
- Does the timing match your schedule?
Most people would say that they need all of the above, but these are conflicting interests, and the key is to find the right balance. For example, if your emphasis is on enrichment, then you may need to reduce your requirements on convenience and increase your budget.
Once you have decided which is the most important, you can then evaluate your options by finding out what is available.
- All childcare provide the fundamental services of looking after your children while you work. The 5 most important things to consider would be:
1. Quality of the teachers - This is, by far, the most important. If the teacher is unsuitable for your child, even if you pay top dollar for the service, you will be doing more harm than good. Your child may end up dreading to go to school. Talk to the teachers themselves to get a feel for their attitudes.
2. Security - Verify that the centre has proper security measures that authenticate everyone that comes to the centre and have access to the children. Even better would be those childcare centres that offer webcams for parents to login and monitor. Personally, I am very particular about this.
3. Food - Food is normally ignored by new parents, who tend to think all childcare centres serve the same kind of food. They do NOT. Even some so-called premium pre-schools serve only plain noodles and bread for lunch regularly, so watch out.
4. Activities - Even the basic services will offer some sort of lessons to prepare students for kindergarten and primary schools, ranging from free play to story-telling to formal language and math lessons. This is probably the greatest differentiation between the services, so you should spend some time trying to understand what each individual centre's programmes are all about.
5. Flexibility - Most child care services are quite rigid with their rules, eg. pick up kids by 6:15pm or else face a heavy charge, etc. You should try to understand what they are sticky about, and decide if you can abide by these rules, or work your way around them.
- The more premium services will offer additional enrichment services, mostly as options. They generally tie up with outsourced service providers to come in to teach the students. The most common enrichment services are phonics, speech & drama, art & craft, music appreciation or piano/keyboard lessons, and swimming lessons. Some even provide cooking lessons!
The prices range widely. Here, the convenience factor comes into play. While you might be able to sign your child up for better or cheaper enrichment services outside, you will have to spend time bringing the child to these services by yourself. Having it in the pre-school itself is pretty much killing multiple birds with a single stone - your child gets to learn while you are at work, and you get to spend quality time with your child during weekends instead of rushing them off for enrichment classes.
These are the schools with formalized programmes for educating children. The most common of these are schools that adopt the Montessori Method
, but because of the varying degrees of interpretation, you should probably try to understand what the method is all about first before you approach the pre-school. Don't let the school talk you into buying something other than what you would expect.
There are others like EtonHouse or Pat's Schoolhouse which have successfully marketed their own brand of education as elite or premium early child education methods. You should consider these if you are serious in building a strong foundation for your child, but do your homework first to understand their methods to decide if you think if they are really worth your money.
And of course, there's the famous NAFA Arts Kindergarten
which makes learning through art and music the core part of the child's education. An extremely good proposition, but unfortunately you have to be prepared to stay in the waiting list for a long time.
Sorry, this turns out to be longer than I had intended, but I guess choosing a child care centre can be likened to choosing a stereo set. Do you want a mini-compo which has all the features built in, or do you prefer to buy your individual components customized to your specific needs? The component approach to child care would be to just choose the safest and most convenient place that will look after your child while you work, and then to sign your child up for specific enrichment classes that you can bring him/her during your free time. It is a lot more work, but it allows tailoring to what is best for the child.
Hope this is beneficial to you!