Since the day I dropped Jacob off at daycare for the first time, I've done my fair share of rationalizing our decision. I mean, I still don't feel like we have a choice--cutting out one of our salaries would mean chopping nearly 50% of our total income. That's a lot of cutting, even with saving money on daycare. The good news of this whole delayed baby-making thing, by the way, is that at most we'll only have a few months of full-on, overlapping daycare costs by the time a new baby would arrive. We'll still have to manage summers, before/after school care, and possibly Christian school tuition, but that seems minimal in comparison to the two years of $10,000+ daycare expenses for each kid that we could have had otherwise.
So...knowing we had to have Jacob in daycare, we might as well find the bright side of things. And here's the rundown of the bright side:
1) Being around kids and other adults from the beginning, I think he's pretty good socially. He knows how to act around other kids and how to play nicely, and he's used to authority figures besides his parents. Not having had a sibling for this long, I think it's good for him to know he's not always the center of attention--even if ultimately that's still how it is at home.
2) He's had a greater variety of experiences than life home with one of us might have provided. He eats a greater variety of foods, plays with different toys, and has even gone on field trips to places we'd never have taken him ourselves.
3) He's learning from professionals. I'm not going to say that all of his teachers have been masters-degree-bearing folks, but at the very least they have an interest in early education and enjoy hanging out around kids. Most of them have plenty of experience (and the ones that don't probably bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm), and they know good ways to get kids to learn. I know I didn't teach Jacob the alphabet that religiously, so they've obviously done something right because the kid knows his letters well. He also knows some sign language letters and knows how to count in Spanish. I've often said that if I was home with him I'd have to dig in and find things to keep him engaged, but they're teaching him stuff I'd probably never have attempted. And they don't mind being repetitive.
4) Peer pressure is a great thing...for now. I know he eats things there he'd probably never eat at home, and I have a sneaking suspicion that he wouldn't nap as well without the constant reinforcement that everyone takes naps and is okay with it. I'd have to think even potty training was helped along by having the influence of ten other kids using the potty at the same time. He's also more likely to participate nicely in play activities when the rest of his friends are doing it, too.
5) He's got a good routine, and that's a helpful thing for him. Kids thrive on knowing what's next and what's expected...and if you don't believe me, try to get a kid to stop playing and do something else immediately, without warning. We've seen how he reacts when his sleep schedule is off, and I think as a whole he functions better when he's on a set schedule. Daycare provides that, from getting up at a certain time in the morning, to getting dressed right away, to his normal course of events there, to pick-up, dinner and beyond. I know I would be too lazy to keep that up at home every day.
6) Based on all of the illnesses he's gotten over the past 3-1/2 years, I'd say he should be immune to a lot by the time real school comes around, which means he'll miss less days when it really matters. At least, that's what all of us daycare parents tell ourselves. God forbid the illnesses continue like this much longer!
7) More people to love him. Nothing was better when he was a baby than sharing his latest accomplishments with his teachers, because we all got so excited! Oh, and it's nice to hear from other people what a good, funny kid he is, even if we don't always get the same treatment at home.
8) Having been in daycare from the beginning, he's always been used to being somewhere each day, away from us. While as parents we might have had a tough time adjusting early on, he got through it relatively easily. He's also become accustomed to changes as he's gotten older--as he changes classrooms, teachers leave, or classmates come and go. I won't say he handles all of it gracefully, but he's pretty used to it. And as such, I think all of us will handle the transition into PreK-4, and later Kindergarten, with a lot more comfort than if he was thrust into it after years of settling into a home routine. I'll probably still cry, though.
9) It's nice to have a sounding board and a little feedback when it comes to navigating toddler-hood. It's hard enough to know what you're doing right or wrong, and it's nice to have an objective opinion about whether something's amiss with your child. Parents know them best, of course, but I like the backup of knowing that Jacob's abilities are around those of his peers, or that the rash on his arm might be something we should be concerned about. It's nice to have extra eyes, ears, and brains overseeing your child, particularly ones that have seen a lot of kids come through their room. And while not all of their observations may be entirely correct, sometimes their advice is something to consider.
10) When all else fails, the time away can work wonders. When we've had our fill or need a little break from Jacob's antics, there's always daycare in the morning. When we're reunited at the end of the day, we're all refreshed and ready for another round.
In another post I'll ponder the dark side of daycare...but at least I have this list to prove that good things have resulted from a situation that many would say is less than ideal.