More than just child care

A daycare isn’t just a place where kids go to play—it’s also a place where they learn! At a good daycare, children learn how to get along with others, make friends, expand their vocabulary, and develop their motor skills.


Social butterflies

At daycare, children must learn to get along with other kids and even adults.

By Julie Leduc

At daycare, children must learn to get along with other kids and even adults.

It’s no surprise that family represents the environment with the greatest impact on a child’s development. However, given that most young children spend a lot of time at daycare, it, too, shapes their development.

A daycare can be viewed as a mini society. “At a good centre, educators will help children get to know one another, play together, share, and resolve conflicts,” says psychologist Caroline Bouchard, who teaches at Laval University.

Fourteen-month-old Louis hasn’t been going to daycare for very long, but parents Jean-François Lefebvre and Anne-Marie Lavoie-Pilote have noticed that he’s already learning to build relationships with other people. “He’s started waving goodbye and blowing kisses,” says AnneMarie. “We didn’t teach him to do those things; we thought he was too little.”

Spending every day in a group also teaches children to become aware of other people’s feelings. This is particularly true for kids who don’t have siblings. “If an 18-month-old hits one of his friends at daycare, he immediately sees the consequences of his actions: the educators make sure he understands how it made the other child feel,” explains Nathalie Bigras, a professor in the teaching department at UQAM. “It doesn’t take long for kids to realize that other people exist and have feelings.”

Being around other kids every day helps young children develop their social skills.

Julie Boucher, mother of four-year-old Élisabeth and eight-year-old Michaël, has noticed that daycare is also teaching her daughter how to take care of others. “She doesn’t have any younger siblings, but now and then she helps out the infant-group educators at snack time. She loves taking care of younger kids,” she says. “There’s also a boy in a wheelchair in her group. Élisabeth is really fond of him and will modify games so that she can play with him. She’s learning to accept differences, something I could never have taught her at home.”


Academic benefits

Children who learn to get along with others and follow rules and routines at daycare are better prepared when they start school. In addition, studies show that attending a quality daycare centre can have a positive impact on a child’s academic success in elementary school.

Better behaviour

At daycare, children have to follow group rules and instructions as well as routines. This provides a sense of stability that can have a positive effect on children’s behaviour. “When expectations are clear, specific, and consistent, children are more likely to behave because they know exactly what’s expected of them,” says Karine Busilacchi, a remedial teacher and head of instructional development at CASIOPE, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving early childhood training.

When daycare educators help children manage their emotions, they are also helping to improve certain behaviours. Julie saw this first-hand when her son was three: “Michaël used to get really upset if another child took one of his toys. His teacher taught him to explain why he was mad and then come up with solutions. I didn’t think he knew how to express his emotions at his age. We started doing the same thing at home, and it made a big difference! As he got better at talking about his feelings, he lost his temper less often.”

What constitutes a good daycare centre?

“Daycares are highly stimulating environments where children interact with a lot of people, adults and other children alike. This kind of stimulation is good for their development,” says Nathalie Bigras, a professor in the teaching department at UQAM and director of the university’s early childhood services research team. Children are also particularly receptive to stimulation, as the brain develops at an accelerated pace during early childhood. This is why they are able to learn new things.

At the same time, daycares must meet a certain standard if they are to foster children’s development. Parents should check that the staff are properly trained, the facilities are clean and safe, the schedule works with their child’s routine, the food is good, and the activities, toys, and books are both varied and suitable for their child’s age. There should also be plenty of space to move around, both indoors and outdoors.

Stimulating activities are another sign of a good daycare. The educators should be attentive and offer the children encouragement and reassurance. Children are more interested in exploring their surroundings when they feel safe, which positively affects every aspect of their development.

Lastly, it’s important that the child has a good relationship with their daycare educator. “Daycare educators should be friendly and attuned to the children’s needs. They should also set clear rules and expectations that the entire group understands,” says Caroline Bouchard, an early childhood psychologist and a professor in Laval University’s teaching and learning studies department.

Learning through play

Children learn a lot at daycare by listening to the people around them. Stories, nursery rhymes, and songs also introduce new words that help children understand their surroundings.

Children learn a lot at daycare by listening to the people around them. Stories, nursery rhymes, and songs also introduce new words that help children understand their surroundings.

“Daycare is an opportunity for children to expand their knowledge and develop their language skills,” says remedial teacher Karine Busilacchi. This might happen through playing with building blocks, for example, or playing make-believe in superhero costumes.

Playtime happens to be how Julie’s son, Michaël, became an “expert” on dinosaurs. “Playing with figurines and flipping through books at daycare got him interested in dinosaurs,” says Julie. “We also started reading books with him at home, and now he can name almost every dinosaur!” Meanwhile, Julie’s four-year-old daughter, Élisabeth, has been picking up English at daycare. “She knows how to say some numbers and colours in English,” Julie marvels. “She learned just by playing with some of the English-speaking kids in her group.”

Even if the children aren’t talking yet, the daycare educators use words to describe what they are doing as they play. “For example, if a child is playing with blocks, an educator might say, ‘You’re picking up the blue block.’ Little by little, the children learn new words as their knowledge expands,” says psychologist Caroline Bouchard.

Perfecting language

“As parents, we have an easier time understanding our kids,” says Julie. “I find daycare helps children form more complete sentences. They have to use more words to get their teachers to understand.”

Daycare educators can help develop children’s language by using a rich vocabulary, making descriptive, accurate word choices, and occasionally adding a word or two to children’s sentences. For example, if a child says, “I want the truck” while pointing at a red toy firetruck, an educator might respond with, “Sure, you can take the red firetruck.” This encourages kids to talk.

What’s more, children get to listen to stories, sing songs, and recite nursery rhymes at daycare, all of which strengthen their language skills. “Given that written texts tend to use a more refined vocabulary, stories help children learn new words,” says Bouchard.

Daycare educators can also use books to make children think. “They can ask questions about the plot or get the kids to predict what’ll happen next,” explains Bouchard. “This gets them talking as well as thinking.”

A tool for disadvantaged families

A number of studies have shown that quality daycare services can be beneficial to a child’s development, especially with children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds or have behavioural issues. Being in a stimulating environment with plenty of people to talk to is great for a child’s development, especially when it comes to language. Building a strong relationship with the daycare educator also provides the sense of security they need to learn. “Another bonus is that parents who send their children to daycare get more time for themselves. They get the chance to look for work and seek support,” says psychologist Caroline Bouchard. “This can have a positive effect on the entire family.”

All the right moves

When kids play at daycare, they crawl, walk, run, and jump. These skills help them discover their bodies, become more agile, and even get ready to go to school.

When kids play at daycare, they crawl, walk, run, and jump. These skills help them discover their bodies, become more agile, and even get ready to go to school. 

For Anne-Marie Lavoie-Pilote, there’s no doubt her 14-month-old son Louis is becoming more coordinated since starting daycare. “He started walking at 13 months at daycare,” says Anne-Marie. “I think seeing other kids in his group walking gave him the nudge he needed. At home, he was already standing, but he was afraid to take that first step.”

Studies, however, have shown that children aren’t physically active enough at daycare and that they spend a lot of time doing quiet activities that don’t get them moving. But that’s changing. “Educators are encouraged to do more physical activities with their groups,” says Nathalie Bigras, a professor at UQAM. “If children are to be active, it’s important that they move so they know how their bodies work.”

Being active at daycare helps children learn about movement and build confidence in their abilities.

At Louis’s daycare, the educators often set up obstacle courses for the kids. “They get them to walk around cushions and other obstacles,” says Anne-Marie. “It’s helped him get better at other things, like climbing! Now he can get up onto the couch on his own and climb the stairs on all fours.”

Developing motor skills

When kids play tag, go through obstacle courses, play with balls, or ride a scooter or tricycle, they’re developing their balance, coordination, and endurance. They’re also building muscles, burning off energy, and releasing stress.

What about fine motor skills? Kids will, of course, develop these through activities such as puzzles, drawing, and arts and crafts. We tend to forget that physical activities also help kids improve their fine motor skills.

“When toddlers are collecting rocks or drawing in the sand with their fingers, they’re using their fine motor skills,” says resource teacher Karine Busilacchi. “The same goes when they pull out a mat to take a nap, wash their hands, or do up their jacket.” Little by little, all these activities are getting them ready to hold a pencil and will help them later on, at school, when they’re learning to write.

Say yes to outdoor play!

“Every day, my daughter Elizabeth’s group goes outside to play,” says Julie. “There is a big yard with grass, sandboxes, shovels, buckets, balls, tricycles . . . The educators also take them on short walks. When I pick her up at the end of the day, there’s sand everywhere—and I love it!” Playing outside is extremely beneficial for toddlers. “Kids tend to be more active when they’re outside,” says Bigras. “Being outside gives them a chance to take small risks, explore their physical capabilities, and build confidence.”


Things to keep in mind
  • Attending a quality daycare centre can be beneficial to a child’s development.
  • It’s important that the educators are caring and attentive to children’s needs.
  • At quality daycare centres, toddlers develop their language, social, and motor skills.


Source: Naître et grandir magazine, March 2019
Research and copywriting: Julie Leduc
Scientific review: Christa Japel, full professor, Department of Special Education and Training, UQAM


Photos : Nicolas St-Germain