Are nurseries the best childcare choice?
A recent study by the London School of Economics and Oxford University has shown that children aged two and three who attend nursery display better social and every day skills, while those who stay at home showed poorer speech and movement. The study therefore concludes that a nursery setting is more beneficial for young children. But this has caused a big debate in the media.
But is a decision about your toddler’s childcare that black and white?
There have been a range of child development experts discussing the issue, including myself. You can hear my discussion on BBC 3 Counties Radio here. One of the main reasons that it's got people talking, I think, is that everyone's situation is different and a piece of research which shows one way is the best is likely to set temperatures rising.
Those parents who choose to keep their children at home could well feel a little angry at this research, as in some ways it could be taken that their own childcare arrangements are somewhat inferior. Others are likely to worry that they've made the wrong choice by keeping their children at home rather than sending them to nursery while they head back to work.
It's really not as simple as one being better than the other and I think it's key to look more closely at the findings and how they relate to different situations.
First of all it’s important to note that there’s a lot of research which shows that children thrive in their first two years from having a really secure attachment to a primary carer. And in fact there isn’t a great deal of evidence in favour of sending children of this age to nursery.
Having said that, not all families are able to choose to keep their child at home, so if nursery is the only option for childcare while parents go out to work, it’s important to keep these findings in mind when researching potential nurseries and looking for somewhere that your child will be looked after by the same person for the majority of the time they are there to provide the stability needed for children under two.
The study focussed on children aged two and three, and the researchers also looked at the effect of certain activities on young children. Examples such as reading, telling stories and singing children’s songs were found to have a positive impact on speech. Painting and arts and crafts were found to be beneficial in terms of movement skills and dexterity.
While all of these activities are commonplace in good nurseries, they certainly aren’t confined to such settings, but are often carried out at home with mum and dad too.
Once children get past two years-old, there is a lot of evidence to show that social skills and social development become increasingly important. Of course, this situation will naturally occur in a nursery environment, but again, that’s not the only place in which children are able to socialise and begin to learn social skills.
Parents who choose to keep their child at home with them can get that social interaction by going to different activities at children’s centres, community centres, etc.* Visiting family and friends and spending time with other children can also bring these benefits to children who stay at home.
From age two, there are undoubtedly many benefits to children in attending a nursery, however I think it’s really important to pick this research apart and find out why it has such a positive impact. The above points show that many of the reasons that children seem to be developing better in childcare situations can be easily implemented at home too.
One of the other factors that may play a part in the beneficial results of nurseries is that while children are in that environment, parents are given some time to put themselves first. Again, this is a really personal decision. Some parents need a break from their children, to be able to regroup and get through the day. Some parents hate having their children away from them and would much rather be part of every moment.
I believe that what’s important for us as parents is that we are content, fulfilled and happy, as this enables us to be the best parents we can be. I developed a model for family life called the Parent Centred Parenting Model, which suggests that parents should not put their child’s needs above their own.
Children see their parents as role-models and learn best by copying. Therefore it follows that if we are happy, content and relaxed as adults, our children are likely to be the same. It could be that having time to go to work while children are in nursery is best for our emotional well-being. For others, it could be that staying at home and looking after their children is what works for them. As long as the parent is happy with the situation, I believe it is very likely to follow that their children will also be content, relaxed and happy individuals.
In this debate, there really isn’t a one size fits all solution. How and where a child is looked after, as long as they are loved, cared for and allowed to play and develop at their own rate is what should be the key outcome for us all. Parents certainly should not feel pressured to go down a certain route on the back of studies such as these, instead, they must choose what is right for them, their families and their children.
This post was written by Dr Amanda Gummer