If you aren’t able to be a stay at home parent, you are going to have to face the facts and prepare yourself for one of the most daunting tasks at hand… Choosing a reputable daycare center to care for your little bundle of joy.
The very thought of leaving your baby with someone else for hours a day is enough to make you want to refuse to go back, and you aren’t alone in this—especially if this is your first child. However, you’re in good company if you’re a mom who is anxious to get back to the daily grind because more than 70% of women work outside of the home. Since there are so many women who have to (or want to) return to the workforce, that means there is no short supply of daycare and childcare options for your kids.
There are two types of daycare centers that you could choose from:
- Group Daycare – This is a facility that is licensed by the state, and it runs a lot like a school. Here, you’ll find children of various ages being cared for. Some of the centers are run by the employers About a quarter of infants and toddlers are enrolled in a care center like this.
- Home Daycare – This type of daycare typically runs out of the caregiver’s home, and she often cares for her own children at the same time. Some people who provide home daycare services have received state licenses and proper training, while many have not.
Benefits of A Daycare Program
If you’re on the fence about choosing a daycare program, be it in a childcare center or a home-based program, there are numerous advantages of choosing to enroll your child in a program:
- Continuous Care – Most childcare centers will have the means to care for your child from infancy and up. This can be beneficial both for you because you know the caregiver and trust them, but also for your child because they will feel comfortable around the caregiver and the environment.
- Education – Most programs, if they are well-organized, will provide your child with an education that will help his/hers development and growth.
- Socialization – In either situation, your child is going to get to socialize with other children and adults.
- Cost – Daycare is going to cost you, but in most instances, these centers are much more cost effective than hiring a nanny.
- Reliability – Many daycare centers are open for at least 12 hours a day, thus being able to support your work schedule.
- Group Daycare Specific – The staff is trained and licensed, making it a safer option.
- Home Daycare Specific – The caregiver is able to give more one on one attention with the child.
How To Choose a Daycare
We understand that choosing a daycare depends greatly on where you live. Sometimes, you may have to travel outside of your neighborhood or town to find a daycare that you feel comfortable leaving your child with. We recommend that you actually begin looking for a daycare at least two months before you plan on returning to work just so you have plenty of time to do your research and not have any reservations about your choice.
With that said, let’s talk about actually finding a great daycare!
1. Look for a daycare with a great reputation.
When you walk into a daycare center, it should have a child-friendly, welcoming atmosphere that makes you feel like your kids are going to be in good hands. Ask the center if they can provide you with some names and numbers of current clients and ring them for references. If you don’t want to do that, plan to visit the center when parents come to pick up for their children and approach them then. We should note that when you are approaching these parents, remember that their first impression of you is important also.
Bottom Line: If the parents you approach doesn’t seem enthusiastic about talking about the center, then you probably aren’t going to care for the center, either.
2. Observe the staff.
If you’ve arranged a visit to a potential daycare, you’re going to want to observe how the staff interacts with the kids. In an ideal situation, the caregivers should be playing with the children, teaching them, or even providing one-on-one care or attention. In the formative years, babies need to be in an atmosphere that is warm and love, one where they are getting close attention and positive interactions with an adult. Although each state has their own regulations of child/adult ratios, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that facilities employ a 1:3 ratio.
Bottom Line: If you don’t see the staff interacting with all of the children equally, then there is no guarantee that your child will receive the nurturing attention you’d expect.
3. Familiarize yourself with the rules of the facility.
While it is important that the facility is flexible with its rules, like when you can drop off or pick up your children, for example, you want to make sure there are regulations in place that help to keep the place running smoothly. Ask for a written copy of the policy and procedures for the facility. These rules and policies should include things like:
- Hours of operation
- Emergency procedures
- Sick-Child policy (which illnesses you should keep your child home for, and for how long)
While it is important that the facility you choose has rules and regulations, you still want one that has an open door policy for parents and encourages parents to come by whenever they’d like. If the facility you’re looking into does not have an open door policy or they have strict rules you have to follow to come by, or they do not encourage parents to get involved with daycare activities, then there may be something suspicious going on.
Bottom Line: If the facility you’re looking into isn’t organized or their rules aren’t as clear (or too clear!) to your liking, then that place may not be for you or your child.
4. Inquire about the curriculum.
You aren’t taking your children to just some random place to sleep or watch television while you’re off at work. You want to choose a daycare that has a structured schedule that focuses on play time, quiet time for reading or napping, group activities, individual activities, meal time, snack time, and even free time.
When you look at the schedule, there should be very little to no time allotted for television or video, unless it is an educational and age-appropriate program. These educational programs can include things that teach the children about animals, learning to read, other cultures, and so on. A well-planned program should stimulate your child’s development and help to make everyday life a bit more fun.
Also, when you are looking at a facility, look at the toys the facility has available. Ideally, there should be a large variety of age-appropriate toys that will stimulate your child and encourage creative and imaginative play.
Bottom Line: It is important to your child’s development and growth to be surrounded with activities, programs, and toys that encourage learning and creativity.
5. Learn about the staff and their qualifications.
You are going to be leaving your child in the care of strangers for the better part of their day, so, of course, you are going to want to make sure the caregivers are capable of providing your little one with the attention and care they need. One of the advantages of choosing a group daycare over a home daycare is that the group facilities require their staff be trained and in some instances, licensed caregivers.
When you’re observing the staff and watching their interactions, you also want to make a note of how they hold themselves. They should be enthusiastic with the children, but they should also be responsible and well-prepared. You want to look for a staff that shares your views on napping, discipline, feeding, and other important care issues. A good caregiver will want to know all about your child’s health so they can help you determine if their facility is right for you and your child.
Also, it is important that the facility you choose has enough staff, so your child will receive the attention and care they need. According to the NAEYC, the ratio of caregiver to children are as followed for each age group:
|Babies||1:3 for six children|
1:4 for eight children
|Toddlers (12 to 28 months)||1:3 for six children|
1:4 for eight children
|Children between 21 to 26 months||1:4 for eight children|
1:5 for ten children
1:6 for twelve children
|Children between 30 to 48 months||1:6 for twelve children|
1:7 for fourteen children
1:8 for sixteen children
1:9 for eighteen children
|Children 4 to 5 years old||1:8 for sixteen children|
1:9 for eighteen children
1:10 for twenty children
It is also worth pointing out that a center isn’t required to follow those recommendations, so ask the particular facility of the ratio. A sign of a good center is when they keep the groups small, regardless of how many staff members they have.
Also, do a little research to see what the staff benefits are like. If the staff is happy, they are going to be happy at work and will be more likely to provide the best care for your children.
Bottom Line: If the staff looks overworked, there is a high turnover rate, or they aren’t trained properly, your child isn’t going to get the kind of care you want them to have so that facility is a no-go.
6. There are healthy foods available for mealtime and snack time.
Some facilities will require you to provide lunch for your child. If so, see if the facility has any guidelines that you should follow. Some will require that you only provide healthy food, which is fine. Centers that don’t have a restriction on candy or other sugary snacks may not have your child’s best interest in mind.
Also, if the center does have a meal plan, find out what kind of food they are going to serve and what the snacks are. If your child has any food allergies, make sure the staff is informed of these allergies!
Bottom Line: Making healthy food choices start early. If the facility uses processed food that is loaded with fat, sugar and doesn’t have healthy options, look somewhere else.
7. Clean and safe facilities.
You don’t want to bring your child to a place that looks unkempt and unsafe. Take note of how the facility looks. Are the floors sticky? Are the walls freshly painted, or does it look like the paint is old and stained? Are the food areas clean and far from the restroom? Are the trash cans empty or are they overflowing? Is the building warm/cool enough? Is there enough lighting? Does the staff practice proper handwashing routines?
These things are all very important because your child is going to be spending a lot of time here. The facility should have plenty of space, both inside and outside. The building and playground should be in good repair, and there shouldn’t be anything that could harm the child within their reach. The drawers, doors, and cabinets should be childproofed, and the facility should also have first aid and fire extinguishers handy in case of an emergency.
Bottom Line: If you feel like the place isn’t safe, or unsanitary, keep moving.
8. Is the facility up-to-date with their license?
Before choosing a facility, you are going to want to ask to see the facility’s licenses and credentials. Then, you will want to follow up with the local social services department to see if there are any complaints against that facility. During this phone call (some facilities even provide this information online), check to see if the facility meets the state licensing regulations for health and safety.
We should also mention that by having a license doesn’t necessarily mean that the staff provides quality care. This is why it is important that you watch the caregivers and determine for yourself if you are comfortable with the care they provide.
Bottom Line: Although a license isn’t everything, it does make it a little easier to choose the right daycare facility for your child.