Schools across the UAE reopened for the new academic year last week – but for parents of children too young to enter the classroom, are nurseries or nannies the better option to ensure a child stays on track developmentally?
The National spoke to experts as well as parents on the best course of action.
Here is what you need to know.
“You cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Diksha Laungani, educational psychologist at The Psychology Centre at the Carbone Clinic in Dubai.
“It's a decision that should be made on factors that vary from family to family.
“Issues like cultural preferences and working patterns as well as the availability of other family members to help out, such as grandparents, need to be taken into account.”
Dr Laungani said she has experience working with families who have completely different views on the matter.
However, there are some factors at play that parents must not ignore.
“Research shows that the younger the child is, the more likely they are to respond better to one caregiver who is attuned to their needs,” said Dr Laungani.
“However, as they grow there becomes a clearer need for them to get more interaction with other children.”
Between the ages of two and a half and three is when she recommends children would begin to reap the benefits of attending nursery.
“Having 15 or 20 kids around at that age becomes really important because of the role that playing with others has on them as they learn from each other,” she said.
Another important factor is making sure you pick the nanny or nursery that suits the overall needs of your child, she added.
“One of the things that is a common pitfall is parents choosing someone as a nanny who is basically a babysitter and nothing else,” said Dr Laungani.
“A proper nanny is someone who can aid child development, knows how to take care of children and put boundaries and routines in place.
“Some families just treat them as little more than maids.
“Nannies who are just there to do chores and babysit aren't likely to be aware of issues like screen time or giving the child the right nutrition.”
The financial factor
It goes without saying that, like the majority of decisions in life, the final choice will be heavily influenced by cost.
“A more qualified nanny might cost in the region of Dh3,000 a month, whereas going to one of the top-rated nurseries is likely to range around Dh4,000 to Dh4,5000,” she said.
“If you have more than one child at home, then spending on one nanny, rather than several nursery places, is much more cost-effective.
“It's also common for families here to use the money they might save on hiring a nanny, rather than sending their child to nursery, for a better school when that time arrives.”
But opting for a nanny or nursery can often come down to which structure suits the parents best.
“Regarding family circumstances, a qualified nanny can offer significant flexibility and adaptability, allowing for greater parental involvement in the child's daily routine and activities,” said Dalia Alzyod, senior speech and language therapist at Perfect Balance Rehabilitation Centre.
“Nurseries, on the other hand, tend to have a more structured environment that may have limitations when it comes to accommodating the unique needs of some children and families.
“When it comes to educational and cognitive development, nurseries follow a structured approach and provide activities designed to help children develop early cognitive and pre-academic skills.”
View from the parents
The National also spoke to a number of parents in the UAE about what they felt was the better option for their children.
“Going to nursery is better for the development of a child. Nurseries provide educational fun – very few nannies could do this,” said Dubai resident Laura Eggleton.
“We’re lucky we are able to afford both and have a wonderful nanny and our son goes to a great nursery, but if I had to choose between them for his development, I’d pick the nursery.”
Another Dubai resident, Alison Rego, also advocated using nurseries.
“We used the nursery because it offered more structure and my daughter was ready to go to school when she was four,” said Ms Rego.
“I am for nurseries because of the structure and safety they offer but also because it allows children to have the company of other children.”
Menan Khater, who lives in Abu Dhabi, opted to send her child to a nursery when she reached the age of one and a half.
Before that, she had hired a nanny.
“When she reached a certain age and became more aware, it made sense to send her to a nursery,” said Ms Khater.
“It's a very good environment for them to meet other children and develop their personalities at an early age.”