What to Pack for Daycare in Australia | The Ultimate Guide For Parents
Whether you’re a first-time mum or an experienced parent that’s seen it all, preparing for your little one who’s just starting daycare is always overwhelming. Besides mentally and emotionally preparing yourself and your child for this significant step, you also need to make sure that everything is packed to avoid scrambling around and looking frazzled when the big day arrives.
There’s a lot of tried-and-tested parenting tips you can do to make this milestone easier for everyone. Along with establishing a new routine ahead of time, arranging visits with your child and meeting the staff, it’s a good idea to make sure you purchase all the items kids need to settle into daycare successfully.
Most child care centres will give you a checklist of the supplies you need to prepare (including a list of what not to pack), but you know your child’s specific needs best. So, it is always a good idea to plan ahead, stock up on supplies early and make sure nothing is left behind on the big day. In this article, we’ll provide you with a list of daycare essentials along with helpful tips for packing your tot’s daycare bag.
How To Pack For Daycare: Our Top Tips
Being organised and having every detail ironed out before the big day can be challenging, but it is not impossible. These tips will help you stay on track and make your child’s first day at child care a little less stressful:
- Jot down or print out a checklist of what to pack each day and place it in an accessible spot. You can also use notepad or sticky note apps on your phone if this is more convenient, but we still recommend writing things down. Science-backed evidence shows that we remember what we write on paper better than what we type on our phones.
- Start packing the night or weekend before daycare starts. Don’t wait until the big morning, as you might get caught up in a mad rush to pack everything your child needs and end up forgetting a few essentials. If you’re a single parent or a busy mum/dad, early preparation will be even more crucial and let you focus on your little one when the day arrives.
- Pack similar items together. It’s nice to keep them in separate compartments or pouches. For example, personal care items should go together, while medicines and vitamins should be in a separate bag, ready to directly give to staff.
- Ensure that any items in liquid or powder form - such as sunscreen or baby powder - are covered with a secure, airtight lid to avoid spills.
- Plan and prepare clothing ahead of time. This tip goes for both you and your child, actually! If you can prepare what you both need to wear for the week, getting ready in the morning will be a smoother process. Hang them up where it is easy for you to see and reach.
- If you’re going to work after dropping your child off at daycare, you can also pack your bag for work at the same time. This helps set up a predictable routine (and may keep you from forgetting your lunch, too!)
What To Pack In Your Child’s Daycare Bag
If your child is starting daycare soon, you’ve probably asked yourself this question a hundred times. Keep in mind that you don’t need to bring everything you have at home to daycare! A good child care facility will be equipped with most things your child might need, and you’ll only need to pack personal essentials and a few “emergency” items.
To help you get daycare-ready, we’ve prepared a general list of things you should include in your child’s daycare bag.
The type of food you’ll pack naturally depends on your baby’s age. If your child eats infant food like soft foods and cereal, place them in a jar or container. However, if your child eats solid foods, you may want to use a lunchbox instead of zip-lock bags. Another handy alternative to bulky lunch boxes is a bento box, a single food container with several food compartments, perfect for little hands.
We’ve added some more quick tips:
- Don’t forget to send your child’s favourite drinks along with their meals and snacks. Some daycare facilities have rules on what types of food you’re not allowed to bring, like nuts, popcorn or hard candies - all sensible choices since these are foods a toddler can easily choke on.
- If your daycare service provides meals, you may need to pack a feeding plate or bowl, feeding utensils and a spill-proof sippy cup or water bottle rather than lunch.
- If your child has special dietary requirements for health reasons, please don’t forget to provide the daycare administrator with a copy of your child’s specific needs and restrictions.
- It’s also good to remember that toddlers like to share their food. Remember to inform staff and attendants about any food allergies that your child may have to avoid an allergic reaction when tasting someone else’s snack.
Bedding requirements vary for each daycare centre. You can call them in advance to find out if you need to provide your own sheets, blankets and pillows. Even if they provide bedding, though, you may want to pack your own for safety and sanitary reasons.
Here are a few benefits of bringing your own child’s bedding, especially for babies and toddlers from a few months old to two years:
- Bringing along your child’s favourite blanket will help them feel more secure during their first few days/weeks in daycare.
- Letting your child use sheets from home can help them settle into child care better, thanks to its familiar scent.
In case the sheets get soiled during the day, it’s always a good idea to pack extras. Some childcare centres offer laundry services at an additional cost, while some don’t. You can always give them a call to find out.
During the first few days or weeks at child care, your child will probably still be adjusting to the new environment. A comfort object may be your child’s favourite plushie, blankie, book, pillow, toy or a family photo. Comfort items can help your child self-soothe when they become uneasy or experience trouble sleeping during naptime, since it offers security and carries the familiar scent of home. If your child needs to have a comfort item at daycare, you may want to have a spare one at home, avoiding any tantrums or difficulties at bedtime if a favourite toy or blanket is left behind.
Once your child gets past the bottle-feeding stage, they will either need a sippy cup or a water bottle with them at daycare. Choose one that your child can easily open and drink from, helping them stay hydrated with all the activities in store. Make sure that the water bottle is leak-proof to avoid messes.
If your baby is on formula, pre-fill the bottles with the right amount of powder, so the carer can just add water. Pack an extra bottle or two if your baby has a big appetite.
But if your baby still drinks breast milk, you’ll need to check with your service provider regarding their rules on packing breast milk. Some providers would suggest that you send breast milk frozen and in clear bags. The childcare centre will keep the bags in the freezer before defrosting them at mealtime.
Other childcare centres prefer breast milk thawed rather than frozen. In this case, keep them in an insulated bag so they don’t spoil. Always put a label on the bottles or the milk bags with your child’s name and the date.
Dummies or pacifiers help comfort and put babies at ease, and their popularity isn’t waning any time soon. If your child still uses one, attending daycare can provide an opportunity to wean them off their favourite dummy slowly. You can still pack it in your child’s daily bag, but make sure that it is in a sealed and labelled container for hygiene purposes.
You can tell your child’s carer that your baby can only use it at naptime or when they need soothing. Most of the time, your child might not even notice that the dummy is not there, especially if your child is busy with playtime or other daycare activities.
Most daycare centres provide lots of outdoor play time, so you’ll want to pack something that will protect your child from harmful UV rays. A sun hat will provide the coverage your child needs, especially during sunny weather. Pick a bucket-style hat or one with flaps to shield your child’s face and neck from the sun. Ensure that it also fits well or includes a strap, so it won’t fall off easily when it’s windy.
Change of clothes
Most children in daycare are still learning to be independent. Naturally, things can get messy, especially if your child is still learning to self-feed or is at the potty training stage. Also, playing outdoors can make them sweaty and dirty, while arts and crafts activities can result in accidental spills and stains.
This means that you need to pack spare clothes just in case these minor mishaps happen. It is always a good idea to pack up to three changes of clothing for your little one, including underwear and pairs of socks. Some parents may be pressured to pack nicer, more stylish clothes for their children to wear in daycare. While this comes from a well-intentioned place, it’s always best to pack comfortable, familiar garments that they can easily move around and play in, rather than ‘dressing to impress’.
Also, make sure that the clothes are appropriate for the season. For example, pack lighter clothing during summer, and if the seasons are changing, it never hurts to include a jumper or beanie in your child’s daycare bag. It’s better to be prepared and ensure your child has something warm to put on if needed.
Just like you, your child care provider considers your child’s health and safety to be a priority. If your child is taking medication or has food allergies, let them know upfront and ensure the staff are fully informed about managing the condition. You may want to bring a brand new bottle of medicine with a label that indicates how to administer it properly.
Keep your child’s medicines in a separate container or a first-aid kit, and place them in a spot where your child’s carer can easily see them. In many cases, medicines should be handed in directly to staff rather than kept in the child’s bag. Make sure that all items are labelled with your child’s name.
Nappies and wipes
If your child is still learning to potty on their own, you may send in a full pack of nappies or at least eight pieces per day. As for the baby wipes, pack one that’s travel-sized and another that comes in a larger size. If your baby has sensitive skin, you may also add a nappy cream or ointment.
Put all the diapering essentials in a wet bag to keep them clean and dry. If your baby is using cloth nappies, you should check with your service provider if this is allowed, as some childcare centres won’t accommodate them.
Sunscreen is another essential for protecting your little one when they play outdoors. Apply sunscreen in the morning before going to daycare, then pack a bottle of it for re-application as needed. Some daycare centres have rules about sunscreen, so they may ask you to fill out and sign a form before your child’s carer can apply any type of cream or lotion to your kiddo. If your child has sensitive skin, you should ensure the centre only uses the sunscreen you’ve packed and not their own.
What Kind Of Bag Or Backpack Should I Choose For Childcare?
Do I need a separate nappy bag for daycare?
Not necessarily. This all depends on the age and needs of your child. However, you’ll most likely need to pack 2-3 bags. While this may sound a lot, we explain each type of bag and its suggested contents below. Trust us; being prepared with all the essentials is vital to make sure your child has a great time at daycare.
1. Daily bag or toddler backpack (for older toddlers/children)
This is the bag that you need to bring with you daily to daycare. You’ll replenish it every day with supplies like food, drinks, spare clothes and nappy essentials. A lightweight, medium or large backpack will do. The size will depend on the number of spare clothes or extra bottles you want to pack.
If you’re packing a comfort item like a blanket, you may want to get a larger bag. You’ll also want one with an insulated compartment for storing food and baby bottles. So, in this case, you won’t need a separate diaper bag for your child’s daily essentials; just make sure your main bag has enough space or multiple compartments that you can use for storage.
2. Weekly bag
This bag may contain emergency items like extra clothes, an extra pack of wipes, etc., that you can bring with you on Mondays and take home on Fridays. This is an excellent idea because this way, you can keep your daily bag light and handy to bring while you can just stow your bigger, heavier weekly bag in the cubby. The staff can easily access it for anything your child might need.
You can also choose the same size or a size bigger than your main bag, depending on how many items you plan on putting inside. Typically, your secondary bag will hold things like blankets, nappies, wipes, extra clothes, and outerwear for winter and rainy days.
3. Permanent daycare bag
This bag stays at the daycare centre for the entire duration of your child’s stay. This isn’t always required, but some childcare centres may ask for it. This will contain similar items to the weekly bag. If your daycare centre needs this, then that’s even more convenient for you! You’ll only need to worry about what to pack in your child’s bag daily, secure in the knowledge that if they need anything that isn’t in the daily bag, the staff can easily find it in the permanent daycare bag.
Bags that are suitable to bring to daycare come in a variety of styles. There are backpack-style bags, and there are also traditional diaper bags that you can carry by hand or over your shoulder. We recommend using a backpack to keep your hands free during busy mornings.
Also, even if you only need to pack one bag, it’s best to have a spare at home in case it gets soiled or there’s an accidental spill. This way, while the other bag is in the wash, you have an extra one ready to use.
Name Labelling for Childcare
Putting labels on your child’s belongings is important because kids tend to lose things easily (and adults aren’t much better sometimes). Ideally, a label should include your child’s name, parent or guardian’s name, and potentially contact details.
Labelling your child’s belongings - like their water bottle, feeding supplies, clothes, and medical kit - will not only ensure your child’s health and safety but will also help you save money from endlessly replacing lost items. In case your child misplaces or loses something, you can also easily identify it in lost property if there’s a label on it.
Labels for school and daycare vary in style. Some parents keep it simple and just use a marker to write the necessary information. Other parents use stickers with colourful designs so they can easily spot which item belongs to their child. For clothes and undergarments, there are also iron-on labels available to purchase, and these don’t fade over time like permanent marker. Some parents also opt to personalise their child’s belongings by having their child’s name embossed or printed on the item (e.g. personalised bento box, water bottle or sun hat).
A cute and eco-friendly alternative to paper or sticker labels is a personalised wooden bag tag. Compared to paper and stickers that can tear or rip easily, wooden bag tags are sturdier and more cost-effective. You don’t have to replace them all the time, and you can re-use them the following school year. You can also transfer them from one item to another as the child grows or use the same backpack for multiple siblings by switching the tag.
Using a backpack tag allows your child and staff to quickly identify which backpack belongs to them. If you keep a weekly or permanent bag at the childcare centre, easy identification is especially important, as it’s easy for these to get mixed up with other children’s things.
Are name labels a safety hazard?
While using name labels for children’s belongings is helpful, many say it can be risky. The worry is that personalised backpacks and other prominent name labels can be easily read by people who may prey on children. The concern is that predators could use the child’s name and pretend to be someone who knows the child’s parents, having been sent to pick them up by mum or dad.
Of course, most daycare-aged children won’t be left alone waiting to be picked up, so this is more of a concern for school-aged kiddos. However, it never hurts to be cautious when it comes to name labelling, as well as preparing children to handle any confrontation with a stranger.
However, it would definitely be impractical to send children off to child care without any of their possessions labelled. So, when you label your child’s things for daycare, here are some safety suggestions:
- Place labels in a discreet location that can’t be easily seen from a distance.
- Do not include confidential information, such as your home address.
- You can use initials or your child’s nickname instead of their first name.
- You can use a favourite cartoon character or animal on the label to help identify which belongs to your child, e.g. a dinosaur or a Disney character.
Using a simple engraved bag tag is a great subtle approach to labelling your child’s belongings. You can still include the information you want on a backpack tag, but it is less attention-grabbing than bright, colourful personalised backpacks with your child’s name in big letters.
More importantly, always learn and ask about your daycare’s security measures. This will help give you the confidence that your child will be safe in their care. Older toddlers should also be taught basic safety precautions, like not talking to strangers, making a fuss if a stranger bothers them, and to never stray outside the perimeter of the daycare without a carer or staff member.
What not to pack for childcare
Your daycare service provider will typically give you a list of items that are prohibited inside the facility. To provide you with an idea, here are some items that you should not pack in your child’s daycare bag.
Your daycare service provider may allow you to pack a toy if it is a comfort object or for a show-and-tell activity. Otherwise, toys from home are not usually recommended to bring to daycare, as they can be a distraction from the activities in progress. They may also be broken, lost or taken by other children, which daycare staff can’t be held accountable for.
Most daycare centres only allow sneakers or other practical shoes because they are comfortable, especially for outdoor activities. You may not be permitted to pack sandals, high-heels, or shoes with wheels or flashing lights.
Some hand gels or sanitisers may contain ingredients that can trigger an allergic reaction in other children. They may also be accidentally swallowed, with dangerous or fatal consequences for youngsters. Check with your daycare centre to learn their specific rules about hand sanitiser.
Most childcare centres prohibit bringing junk food or lollies. Aside from the health implications, some may also contain allergens. Of course, it’s not forbidden for your child to enjoy treats, but it’s best to keep these for ‘home time’ rather than packing them for daycare.
How do I prepare my child for daycare?
Strategies to help the transition from home to child care include:
- Young children thrive on routine, so getting them accustomed to the commute from your house to your daycare of choice will help them adjust better. Before your child’s first day, you and your child can visit the daycare centre a few times.
- Try to spend at least thirty minutes to an hour each time you visit, so your child can get used to the atmosphere. This isn’t set in stone, though. See how your child reacts and take note of non-verbal cues. It’s expected that your first few visits may be quicker. It will naturally progress to more extended visits as soon as they’re more comfortable.
- Allow your child to meet, interact and be comfortable around the other children, parents and staff.
- Have an informal chat with the staff beforehand and talk about vital information concerning your child, such as feeding and napping habits, likes and dislikes, or allergies and medical conditions.
- You can also ask about how a typical day goes, so you can try to adopt the same routine at home.
What should my child wear to daycare?
Daycare facilities are a place for learning, so your child must wear appropriate clothes for the setting. It can be tempting to dress up your child in something fancy, but you might sacrifice their comfort and risk the clothes being damaged during play. It is recommended for children to wear clothes that are comfortable, easy to take off and easy to wash.
What should you put in your toddler’s lunch box for daycare?
Daycare centres usually have rules on what types of food your child can bring, so it is best to first check with your service provider. However, we suggest that you pack foods that are healthy, easy to chew, and that are familiar to your child.