Social butterflies

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

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.


Photos: Nicolas St-Germain


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