The first day of daycare is a big milestone for your toddler. Learn how to prepare them so everyone in your family starts with their best foot forward.

 

Preparing Your Toddler for Daycare

Your toddler entering daycare is a big transition for everyone in the family. Routines change, more time is spent apart, and a whole new world of people and places is opened up to your growing little one. Effective planning is the best way to ensure you’re preparing your toddler for daycare success. And all that daycare planning starts with choosing the right program and caregivers for your little one.

How to Choose a Daycare

Choosing the right daycare for your toddler starts with understanding what makes a daycare program high quality. Here is a handy checklist to keep in mind while you explore daycare options for your toddler:

  • Emphasis on partnering with families—not on corralling children.

  • Strong, caring connections between caregivers and the toddlers in the program.

  • Physical environments that are clean, comfortable, and inviting to toddlers.

  • Appropriate and consistent daily routines at the daycare, with a balance between play and rest.

  • Lots of time—and a variety of different contexts and opportunities—for toddlers to play and do world-exploring activities.

  • Clear and locally required health and safety guideline adherence.

Don’t forget: Daycare waitlists can be long—especially for popular or subsidized cost programs that meet all of the above criteria. Start doing your daycare homework long before toddlerhood if you know your little one will need it and get on the waiting lists of your top choices fast. Many parents begin looking for daycares even while they are pregnant.

What to Do & Bring: Checklists to Prepare for the First Day of Daycare

Once you’ve selected a daycare for your toddler, a new kind of planning begins: preparing your toddler for their first day in their new daycare program. Once you have a target start date, you can start getting your little one ready to make this big, important transition.

How to Prepare Your Toddler Before the First Day of Daycare

Like any transition, you’ll want to set your family and your toddler up for as smooth a transition as possible. Here’s a checklist of some tried-and-true approaches to preparing your toddler for daycare before the first day arrives:

  • Introduce your toddler to the daycare center and staff before the first day.
    Whether it’s in the context of an open house or as a function of the enrollment or sign-up process, it’s key to let your little one see where they’ll be spending so much time. See if they can play and explore a bit and introduce them to the friendly new caregivers they’ll be interacting with. Familiarity will help ease the transition to the first day of daycare.

  • Explore daycare through story examples and play. There are a number of books authored specifically to introduce toddlers to the concept of daycare—pick up a few and share them with your little one and talk about what their understanding of daycare is and answer any questions they may have. Kids love to play pretend, so if their new understanding of daycare creates a desire to play act their first day, use it as a teaching moment to explore what they think their first day of daycare may be like.

  • Practice the new routine before the first day of daycare. Get up and get ready as though you’re heading to daycare. Consider structuring the day’s activities to mirror what your toddler can expect during their new daycare schedule.

  • Talk with your toddler. Above all else, start explaining what daycare is, what it means for your toddler to attend daycare, why they’re attending daycare, and how much fun they’ll have. In language they’ll understand, let them know how exciting this new thing is!

How to Prepare Your Toddler on the First Day of Daycare

Once the first day of daycare has arrived, previous preparation combined with these tips and make-sure points can help ease your toddler’s transition:

  • Involve them in the first-day preparation process. From choosing a soothing object to bring along to helping prepare any kind of meal or bag that may be required or appropriate to take with to daycare, involve your toddler in the act of getting ready.

  • Put the new (and hopefully practiced) routine into action. If your family practiced a new morning routine for the first day of daycare—getting up at a certain time, dressing for going out, saying goodbyes—now is the time to lean into that. Your little one has begun to understand that routine.

  • Bring a transitional object. A beloved stuffed toy or blankie can help your little one feel more at home in their new daycare environment—just ensure that whatever they choose is allowed to be brought into the daycare.

  • Pack a change of clothes. Accidents happen. Even if the daycare doesn’t explicitly ask for you to provide a change of clothes, it’s always better to send one along—better safe than sorry.

  • Stay strong at drop off. Hug and kiss your little one, tell them you love them at that you’ll see them at the end of the day, and then leave. Let them see enthusiasm rather than sadness—and avoid going back for a second round of goodbyes.

How to Integrate Daycare Into Your Family Routine

Starting daycare opens a whole new realm of possibilities for your little one’s learning and toddler milestones. A good way to ensure you’re reinforcing all the good they’re getting during the day is to ask your toddler’s daycare caregiver what you can be doing at home to continue building skills. The reverse is also true: Let your toddler’s caregivers know what activities they’re especially fond of at home so they have a clearer picture of how to engage your little one during the day.