The reality of the modern North American woman is that we are balancing a lot on our plates, trying hard to have it all. That usually includes working outside of the home once our maternity benefits expire, or even before. Just thinking about going back to work brings up all sorts of emotions to a first time mom. You feel scared at the prospect of creating a new routine. You are more than a little nervous about remembering your job, and how you will handle the distance from your little one. There's a little excitement in there, because you're going to have permission to eat lunch a set time, and have adult conversations again... there are a lot of pros and cons. Unfortunately, and possibly the hardest part of all, is thinking about your baby in the care of someone else.
If you're not lucky enough to have a family member at home with your child, you are going to have a lot to consider. You need to know that the care you choose is safe, stimulating, and cost effective. Will you go with a home care, a multi-employee daycare, or even an early education centre aka "mini school" (such as Montessori or Waldorf)? Based on the information gathered searching within Ontario, here is some information to consider about each to help you decide what works best for your baby and situation.
Employee / child ratio: Usually one primary care taker for a number of children that varies by home, and by the comfort level of said care taker. Legally, for locations that care for more than 5 children under the age of 10, they are required to be licensed and meet provincial standards annually. They can care for under 5 children without a license, so be especially sure to ask for references under these circumstances. See the Ontario government guidelines here.
Philosophy and care included: This depends on the preferences and skill set of the individual, so if it really matters to you, be sure to ask questions about meals and snacks, outdoor activities, crafts, reading and educational tasks, and any other concerns you have. You may find a mother who speaks 3 languages, or has super fun themed days! It's worth the extra research.
Perks and extras: Since home care is offered in the guardian's home, you are more likely to find one with convenient distance to your home, office, or child's school. They might also be more flexible with your child's routine or medical needs (ie, allergies.)
Standard work week pricing: It varies greatly by demand and area. Smaller towns may offer care from $25 a day, whereas big city pricing is upwards of $75. Expect to pay in the range of $150-$250 for a single child.
Overtime policy: Some homes offer a 12 hour day (typically 6 am-6 pm) to allow for drop off and pick up. As the individual sets their own hours, be sure their operation and your commute match, not just your work hours. Overtime may not be available at all.
Employee/ child ratio: While this also varies, the number of responsible adults is usually closer to the number of children, with approximately one for every 3 or 4. Children are also separated by age group or into smaller rooms to make supervision easier for the staff.
Philosophy and care included: Centres are much more likely to have structured days, with a fixed routine. They are also regulated by the government as a part of the Ministry of Education, and will follow standardized rules pertaining to snacks, acceptable outdoor play conditions, and allowable media. That said, they will still have individual programming in terms of activities and toys.
Perks and extras: Generally multi-employee centres staff are Early Childhood Educators (ECEs) who are specially trained in first aid, child behavioral challenges, and age-specific activity planning.
Standard work week pricing: Often facilities price differently for age group, meaning you will pay slightly more for the additional attention an infant needs. The average work week cost is about $200, but for more detailed averages pooled from multiple sources, check out this handy guide.
Overtime policy: Limited overtime may be available depending on the centre and it will involve a surcharge or penalty depending on whether the extra time is pre-planned or accidental. It's important to know what is on offer ahead of time, especially if you work far from home or have unpredictable shift times.
Other considerations: Your child may get a leg up on school away from mom with this type of care, but it might be a bit of a shock for a shy kid or a very young baby. You won't necessarily get the same adult bond, so try to visit with your child a few times before leaving them for the day. You might also ask what type of reporting or updates the centre allows to ensure things are going well.
Employee/ child ratio: As an example, the Montessori teaching material states that "the Primary Montessori classroom [contains] a high ratio of children to 1 trained Directress and an assistant: 23-25 children to 2 adults is ideal." This approach is the closest to school, but is still variable depending on the method and teaching style. It is strictly regulated by the government to ensure enough supervision is present for classroom sizes.
Philosophy and care included: A mini-school scenario is a much more self-directed and educational approach to child care. There will be a firm structure to the day, with large blocks of time dedicated to reading, problem solving, and creative game play, often with natural material and music incorporated.
Perks and extras: With an education based day, children who thrive in this environment often learn to read and vocalize at an early age. They are also more prepared for the public school system to a certain degree, having a similar day structure.
Standard work week pricing: Depending on the school and teaching style, this is a very pricey care option. You can expect around $300 to $500 a week for tuition, and may increase over the summer, which can be considered separately.
Overtime policy: Often these schools run on a school-day schedule, which doesn't always match up with a full work week. There may be before 8 am and after 3:30 pm school surcharges to consider on top of normal enrollment rates.
Other considerations: While some mini-school programs offer care starting at 6 months, and it seems like a huge leg up, you have to consider if this program is worth the price for someone of that age. I would consider it extremely tempting at age 3, if it was affordable, but it seems a little much for infant care.
No one knows your child better than you, so never feel bad about asking questions that are pertinent to your situation. Need to know that blankie is allowed? Concerned about television exposure? Interested in French or other second language opportunities? It's better to know, and go in with open eyes. Also, as hard as it can be to find child care, it's not forever. If your first choice doesn't pan out the way you had hoped, you can always change your mind.