There are plenty of options when it comes to choosing childcare in your area. Services tend to be either based in a childcare facility run by either Community or Private Providers or based in the home (either the child’s own home or in the home of a Child-minder). The option you choose depends on the services in your area and the needs of you and your child.
It can help to become familiar with some of the terms involved.
A centre-based childcare facility (as opposed to a home-based childcare service) is ideal if you wish to have your child mix and socialise with other children of a similar age in an environment focused on early childhood care and education. These facilities can be privately owned or community based and are registered and inspected by the HSE under the Child Care (Pre-School Services) Regulations 2006.
Home Based Childcare
A home-based service may suit you if you would like your child to be cared for either in their own home or in the Child-minders own home.
Child-minders provide a Childcare service in their own homes and are self-employed. Child-minders cater for children’s physical, educational and emotional needs by providing a warm, caring, family environment with stimulating play and learning activities and can offer a home environment for children from newborn right through to after school stages. They can offer flexibility around hours which suits some parents. A Child-minder who minds 4 or more pre-school children is obliged to notify and be inspected by the Health Service Executive (HSE), Pre-school Services under the Childcare (Pre-School Services) Regulations 2006, and should care for no more than 5 pre-school children (including their own). For parents considering a Child-minder, please refer to the Child-minding Ireland website www.childminding.ie
Some of the services offered by childcare facilities are as follows:-
Crèche / Day Care: (Full Day Care)
Full Day-Care services normally open for between 8 and 10 hours per day and for approximately 50 weeks of the year. Full Day-Care caters for children from approximately 6 months to 6 years, but because many full day-care services incorporate other sessional services such as Pre-School, After School and Breakfast Clubs, they can also cater for children up to 10 - 12 years. Full day care services normally offer children a hot meal and a snack during the day. Full Day Care services come under the Pre-School Regulations and are subject to inspections by the Pre-School Inspection Team.
Pre-School / Playgroup: (Sessional Service)
Pre-School / Playgroup is a service offering a planned programme of activities to pre-school children for a total of not more than 3.5 hours per session. Since the introduction of the ECCE scheme (free pre-school year), the majority of pre-school sessional services are operational for 3 hours a day, in line with the ECCE hours. All sessional services use the approach of learning through play and while curriculum and/or delivery methods may vary, all sessional services offer a programme of activities and must use the National Quality Frameworks (Aistear & Síolta), if they are in contract for the ECCE. Pre-school sessional services must notify the HSE that they are operational and are subject to inspections by the Pre-School Inspection Team.
After School Service: (Sessional Service)
After School Care is an out of school service catering for children of school-going age. Typically, after school services operate for a minimum of 3 hours per day and up to 5 hours per day depending on the need in the area. Many services in Offaly operate from 2pm to 6pm but it can vary from service to service. Usually after school services will offer children a snack, supervised homework and an extra-curricular activity. After School services in Ireland are not currently regulated and therefore are not subject to inspections.
Breakfast Club: (Sessional Service)
Breakfast Clubs normally open for between 1.5 and 2 hours daily, depending on the need of parents in the locality. The majority of services open from 8.00am to 9.30am to facilitate working parents who need to start work earlier than their children start school. Many breakfast clubs offer children a drink and toast.
A Naíonra is a playgroup or pre-school for children, which operates through the medium of Irish. The child is given the opportunity to acquire Irish naturally through the medium of play. The Naíonra are usually attached to a Gaelscoil. Attendance supports and prepares children of pre-school age in making the transition from home to school and in learning the language and may be of benefit when it comes to entry into the Gaelscoil.
Drop-in services are generally offered by establishments such as hotels, leisure centres and gyms, shopping centres to allow parents to avail of other services, to attend an event or activity for a limited timeframe, whilst their children are cared for.
Parent and Toddler Groups
Parent and Toddler Groups usually meet once or twice a week for 2-3 hours. Parents/minders/guardians remain with the children during the session and are responsible for the care and supervision of the child at all times. Groups give children under three the opportunity to play and socialise with other young children, to access a range of play equipment and provides a stepping stone for children who are preparing for pre-school. This promotes independence whilst still providing security for the child knowing the parent is close by for reassurance. This can be a great help in building a child’s confidence. Anecdotally, parents report that the friends made in parent and toddler group often continue into pre-school and onto primary school.
Parent & Toddler Groups have the added advantage of giving parents an opportunity to meet other parents in the locality, building a support network where parental issues can be discussed, advice and ideas shared in a friendly, informal environment. It is also a way of meeting other parents in similar circumstances or at a similar stage and it can be reassuring to realise that there are other people going through the same experiences. These groups can provide a great support network and also provide the basis for lifelong friendships, which is especially helpful to parents who do not have family support close by.