We’ve all heard the saying, ‘being a parent doesn’t come with a manual’, but as most parents can testify, it can come with an awful lot of judgement from family, friends and even strangers.
When a mum in the Muswell Hill area of London shared a note she’d received from a neighbour shaming her for taking her child to nursery, fellow parents rightly rallied to her defence. The debate sparked fury within the childcare community too, with the majority of people horrified that someone would go out of their way to criticise someone else’s parenting in such explicit detail.
For the parents of Muswell Hill, and indeed the rest of the UK, I have some good news. For every argument set out by the mysterious ‘Sheila’ against nurseries and childminders in the letter, there are countless benefits for children to be introduced to a social environment early on in their development.
Yes, we live in a society where both parents must work in the majority of families to keep themselves afloat. And yes, women (and men) who enjoy their careers shouldn’t have to make a choice between them or their family. But instead of being made to feel guilt and shame about sending young children to nursery or childminders and finding ourselves thinking that maybe if circumstances were different we might choose otherwise, we should concentrate on the benefits to the children of these arrangements.
Spending time with other children can help accelerate learning, with children learning from each other. Studies show that rapid learning through social observation and imitation is a deeply human characteristic – nonhuman primates copy some aspects of behaviour, but aren’t as thorough as humans. A nursery or childminding environment could be the best place for children to be able to learn this way.
While at nursery or with a childminder, young children have opportunities to socialise with children from different backgrounds, family set-ups and ages. This is hugely beneficial for young children’s social and emotional development, where they start exploring how to create social relationships. At nursery they have multiple opportunities to better understand their own feelings as well as those of their peers. They learn conflict resolution, how to take turns, develop their own self-image and follow routines.
Sheila also points out in her letter that the child never looks happy to be awake that early, but I wonder how many parents of pre-schoolers that are regularly woken pre-6am would disagree?! Regardless of timing, having a predictable daily routine, as it sounds like this child has, allows pre-schoolers to slowly gain a healthy independence from their parents. Simple things like knowing when it’s story time or that after snack time they must help tidy up can all be incorporated back at home to reinforce learnings during the day. Children will also find the transition to being in a school environment all week from the age of five much easier to navigate if they’re not going in ‘cold turkey’.
A snapshot of someone else’s life, even a daily one that ‘Sheila’ claims she has, is just that – a snapshot. Without context, our assumptions of other people and the way they choose to bring up their children are worthless. Perhaps this particular child gets to nursery or their childminder each morning and is thrilled to see his/her friends and their favourite staff members for another day of fun and learning.
In the experiences of many parents, myself included, I’ve found that the perfect symbiosis of working with a nursery or childcare provider you trust can enhance children’s lives, whatever their age, and give them a solid, social base from which to test out their personality and relationships, and build their confidence.
Who wouldn’t want that for their child?