Photo: Moses Mudzwiti/ANA

Cape Town - This month thousands of children under the age of six will be enrolled in an early childhood development centre (ECD) for the first time. This is a crucial phase of the child's development and it is imperative that they receive the correct stimulus during this period when their brain development is at its peak.

With so many centres available to choose from, parents often find it very hard to choose the perfect place for their little one, but there are a number of basic standards that can help make the decision easier.

Thando Ngqase, an Early Childhood Development Specialist at the National Development Agency gives some tips on what parents should look out for.

1. Choose an EDC that is registered and meets the norms and standards of the NDA. If the registration certificate is not clearly displayed, ask to see it.

2. How safe will your child be? Check that the property has enough windows, is fully enclosed and has a lockable gate. How safe is the building? Are there two emergency exits? 

3. Does the centre offer a big enough variety of activities and is the play area well laid out? Remember that play equipment is vital for the development of gross motor skills.

4. Are there enough classrooms and are children allocated according to age groups in each class? Allocating children in this way (0-6 months; 6-18 months; 18 months – 3 years; 3 – 4 years, 4 – 5 years) speaks to addressing the needs of the child at each major development stage.

5. Make sure that each class has enough tables and chairs to accommodate all the children. 

6. Ask to see the layout of the classrooms and ensure that there are educational charts for shapes, colours, etc, a daily activity schedule as well as an art area, a fantasy play area, a bag area and a storytelling (or ring) area.

7. It is vital that the centre has enough staff and that there is a person who can stand in for the ECD practitioner. General staff such as cleaners and cooks should not be used as stand-ins for qualified ECD practitioners.

8. Make sure you ask about meals. Good nutrition is key to helping children learn and grow. If possible as to see a menu plan for the upcoming weeks.

9. Make sure that the centre has accurate contact details for both parents in case of an emergency and that you are able to contact the centre easily if you need to.

10. Ask other parents in the area who have sent their children to the centre you are considering. Their input can often help make the decision easier.

If a holistic programme is followed the child should have reached the following milestones by the time he or she is ready for Grade R: 

1. Physical development: fine and motor development: gross motor skills develop large muscles; the child must be able to run, jump, skip, walk up the stairs.  Fine motor development focuses on small muscles; is the child able to hold a pen, can child write his name, is the child able to participate in activities that involve the use of hands and fingers?

2. Social and emotional development: is the child able to share space with other children, can they participate in group activities, can they follow school rules and behave appropriately?

3. Exploring mathematics: the child must be able to identify numbers, count 1-20 at least, ability to sort and classify, make comparisons and solve problems. They must know the four shapes: square, circle, rectangle and triangle.

4. Creativity: can the child draw pictures, sing songs and rhymes, play make believe games/ tell stories, dance and play?

5. Communication: can the child speak and listen (vocabulary and language and sentence construction)?

6. Independence: is  the child able to go to toilet alone, can the child feed/ dress/ on their own and tie own laces, are they responsible for their property, do they know their own and guardian/parents’ names, home address and phone numbers?