Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 03 Jun 2010

My daughter has been in daycare, will she be OK when she starts school? Can I do things to help her now?

Hillary's Advice

This reader is anxious about a new book by the psychologist Oliver James which rails against children under three being left in day nurseries. Studies show, he says, that young children left in nurseries have raised levels of the “fight or flight” hormone cortisol, that these raised levels last throughout childhood, and that they lead to more aggressive and disobedient behaviour. Not only does this affect the children themselves, but also others -- in America researchers have found that home-reared children behave more badly in school when they are in a class with lots of daycare-reared peers.

I actually believe there is some cause for concern here, and that a home environment is by-and-large better for very young children. But what fundamentally matters to pre-schoolers is love, consistency and security and all these things can be provided – or not -- by a parent, grandparent, child-minder or attentive carers at a nursery.

Poor daycare, with high child-to-adult ratios and a rapid staff turnover staff, is obviously not good for young children, but neither is being at home with a depressed or lonely parent. So if this reader’s daughter is happy, content and secure in her routine, she almost certainly has nothing to worry about.

In terms of helping prepare her daughter for school, this mother needs to talk to her, read to her and generally help her feel familiar with words, letters and numbers. She needs to make sure she can do practical things like dress and undress herself and go to the toilet unaided, and encourage her to be willing have a go at new things without always needing help. Learning to speak up, to ask for help and say please and thank you would all be useful, and if she can also teach her how to listen – an increasingly rare skill --she’ll have given her a priceless classroom asset. There is much more on this in the chapter on starting school in my own parenting book, Help Your Child Succeed at School, -- a book designed to help parents and keep anxiety at bay!