As a parent, choosing when to enrol your child into daycare can be a challenging and complex decision — finding the best age to start daycare in Australia can be influenced by a mix of many factors, from the readiness of your child to your responsibilities at work and at home.
With over 1.3 million children in Australia attending approved child care, daycare is a huge part of raising your child and giving them the right environment for early development.
In this article, we’ll outline whether there is a best age to start daycare in Australia, and what you should take note of when enrolling your child at different daycare ages.
What’s the Best Age to Start Daycare?
It’s difficult to pinpoint the overall best age to start daycare for children since there isn’t just one factor that plays into your child’s development and growth. It’s generally agreed that the best time to start childcare is between 18 months and four years old, to allow the children to transition into kindy and then primary school.
The decision of whether or not your child is ready for daycare is actually more affected by your family circumstances than their individual “readiness”.
As a family, you are the main support line of your child, and when your child can start day card is dependent on factors such as finances, work commitments, the overall health of your family members (including the child), and your support network of friends and extended family.
You should look at whether these elements are sufficient to support the addition of childcare before making the final decision to start childcare.
Is there a Minimum Age for Childcare in Australia?
In general, childcare works best when the child is at least a year old, but there is no legal minimum age for childcare in Australia. Some childcare centres may require a minimum age, as they may not have the resources to provide adequate care and attention that newborns need.
To help you understand the impact of enrolling children at different daycare ages, we’ve included an overview of each of the care required for each age bracket.
Infants & babies: 0 – 18 months
Some parents may not have the ability to stay at home, and require daycare for their baby or infant.
Babies and infants do require more attention than children who are a little bit older. Babies who are less than 18 months old are generally quite dependent on the parents or caregivers to get their needs met.
Experts agree that 12 months is a good age to begin daycare, but it really does come down to your baby, their temperament, and your routines. If you do enrol your child into daycare at this age, it’s best to check the educator to child ratio, as babies and infants require a fair bit of regular, one-on-one attention.
Toddlers: 18 months – 3 years
18 months – 3 years of age is a great age to start daycare. At 18 months, toddlers begin to gain some independence. This is when their natural curiosity takes hold, and they are guided by it to move around and interact with their environment.
Their learning will be mainly centred on developing basic psychomotor skills such as learning how to grasp objects and direct them with their hands, as well as learning how to recognise their name and identity through repeated learning.
To engage their curiosity, learning at this stage is driven largely by play activities that make use of the senses and basic questioning to help them discover new concepts and understand how things relate to one another. Counting with numbers and the introduction of the alphabet are also key parts of learning at this age.
Preschool age: 3 – 5 years
Preschoolers are the upper limit of the daycare age range, with more developed mental and physical abilities. As preschoolers explore their imagination, they will gradually grow more at ease with both themselves and their peers. The way they play has become much more complex and they won’t hesitate to share these ideas with others.
To encourage this creativity, learning will still incorporate elements of play, but often with a purpose in mind. Educators will prompt them with intentionally crafted questions to help them branch out their thoughts and ideas to develop them further. Their ability to read and count will be more pronounced as well, as they attempt to form letters and make comparisons of size, weight, and colour.
This is a fantastic age to introduce children to a learning environment and allow them to transition into kindy in a safe, welcoming, and enjoyable environment.
Are There any Risks to Starting Childcare Too Early or Too Late?
Starting your child too early in childcare can potentially cause some issues. There is a lot of research around babies and their need for attention and care for development. For many, this is best achieved at home, or with the support of family.
The family play a big part in a baby’s development and growth – there are some studies that suggest starting daycare too early can result in:
- Higher stress and anxiety levels, such as changes in their sleep or eating habits and more crying or tantrums.
- Disruptive behaviour, such as refusing to follow instructions, or even biting, kicking, or having unexpected outbursts.
Likewise, starting your child too late for childcare can lead to overattachment issues. According to Bowlby’s Attachment Theory, the critical period for developing an attachment is between birth and age 5. Children who don’t form this attachment with their caregivers often find it difficult to be separated from them, leading to further difficulties with independence.
In summary, the best age to start daycare should be decided only after careful consideration of your family’s situation. A stable and safe household will be the foundation for your child’s development, even when they eventually start daycare.
At Eikoh Seminar, our childcare centres have specific programs for ages 0-2 years, 2-3 years, and 3-6 years in order to match the level of learning and growth at each stage. We are Sydney’s leading and approved childcare provider with centres in Normanhurst, Roseville, St Ives Chase, and West Ryde. Contact us today to find out more about our childcare services!