When a child starts day care it is often the first time that he or she has been taken out of the sheltered home environment for an extended period. Day care is a large group experience and as such carries some risks as well as benefits. While we like to focus on the positive aspects, such as the countless opportunities for learning, the stimulation and the friendships made, families need to be aware of some of day care's more harsh realities.

While we nurture and care for the children in our program, we cannot provide a home environment. It can be difficult for families when their children are not cared for as they would be at home. For instance, after a hard play at day care, children are often covered in paint, mud and grime. Water play, sand play and other messy activities are daily occurrences and while they add to the richness of the day care experience, families can find it difficult to accept a grimy child and soiled clothing at the end of the day.

Toddlers and pre-schoolers are in the process of developing their social and language skills. It can be very difficult at this age to do the sharing, turn-taking and negotiating that is required to prevent conflicts. It is normal for children to become frustrated and angry and engage in aggressive behaviours such as hitting, scratching, pushing and biting. day care staff work with the children to help them find more appropriate ways of solving their problems, but some aggressive behaviours are bound to happen. If a child has persistent behavioural problems, staff and families will meet to discuss them and develop strategies to help the child. In the end the process of working through these conflicts results in the development of better social skills in all children.

Toddlers and pre-schoolers are also in the process of developing their motor skills. Their motor planning can be poor and, combined with their impulsiveness and desire to challenge themselves physically, the risk for falls, bumps, scrapes and bruises and more serious accidents is increased. The large group triggers rambunctious behaviours in some children. Some children are cautious physically, but others tend to take more risks. While the children are always supervised, the ratio -- unlike the supervisory situation in a home -- is one adult to four children in the toddler centre and one adult to eight children in the three-to-five centres. Some incidents are bound to happen.

Another challenging issue for families relates to the high incidence of contagious illnesses to which children in day care are exposed. In their first year of day care especially, children often suffer from numerous upper respiratory infections, including ear infections. They also can contract such bothersome ailments as pin-worms, head lice and chicken pox. It takes time and exposure to groups for children to build up their immunity to infection.

To sum up, although we pride ourselves in being a high quality Early Childhood Educational setting in which children can develop to their full potential, we also want to make families aware of the hazards children are exposed to in group day care. These include: contagious illnesses, messy play materials, aggressive encounters with peers, other children's inappropriate language or behaviour, physical challenges and more. Before choosing group day care, families need to consider whether they are ready to work with these day care realities and the fact that while our adult to child ratios comply with licensing requirements, the supervision provided cannot replicate that of a home.

As Early Childhood Educators, we are convinced that the benefits of quality group day care for young children far outweigh the risks. In the end, however, each family must make the final decision with a full understanding of all the factors involved.