The first few years of your child’s life is a time of rapid brain development and one of the best ways to help your child learn and grow is to be responsive. Finding quality childcare is so important, because your child’s caregiver is partly responsible for shaping your child’s mind during these formative years. Trusting that your child is in a safe, loving and stimulating environment gives you the freedom to focus on your career for part of your day. Here are some points to ponder as you begin your search for childcare:
Consider Different Options
Depending on where you live, there are likely many options for childcare – corporate centers, in-home providers, and private nannies. If you opt for a nanny, look into “nannysharing” with another nearby mom to help cut the cost. A benefit to this is that your child has built in socialization each day with another child. In-home providers tend to be less per week, but with that comes the trade-off of their holiday, vacation, and sick time, where you would either need to take time off from work to look after your little one, or find another provider. If you hire a nanny, be aware of the payroll taxes and insurance requirements, too.
Give Yourself the Gift of Time
Start your search early. Once you find the perfect child care option for your family, you may find that there is a wait list. Many highly sought daycare centers or preschools have a waitlist anywhere from 6 months to one year.
Do Your Research and Schedule a Visit
Ask family, neighbors and friends for referrals. Having a personal reference from someone you trust makes a huge difference. Looking online and reading reviews is helpful as well. Compile a list of your options and narrow it down to your top five picks. When scheduling, try to make a day of it and visit several day care centers or in-home providers.
Plan for Your Visit
Bring a list of questions and have a notepad ready, so you can write down what you liked and any red flags that raised concern. Here are some topics to cover and questions to ask the director or in-home provider (A center should provide a written policies and procedures handbook that may cover some of the items below.):
• Hours of operation
• Tuition or fees
• Vacation schedule
• Philosophy on Discipline
• Sick Child Policy
• Typical day’s schedule and weekly activities
• Average tenure of teachers – ask about the staff benefits; centers with a good employee benefits package will experience less turnover creating a more stable environment for your child.
• Caregiver-child ratios- how much one-on-one time will your child receive?
• Will they provide a reference to current clients?
• What is their emergency plan? Do they give you a courtesy call if your child seems to be getting sick or is injured? Do they have fire drills?
• What immunizations are required?
• What kind of daily report is provided (covering the details of your child’s eating, sleeping and bathroom habits)?
• How much daily outside time is provided?
• How do they assist in helping children reach their developmental milestones?
• What are the requirements of the teachers/assistants? (Two years education in early childhood development is standard. A good center is proud to share their caregivers’ backgrounds.)
Keep a mental checklist of the following:
• Is the location in a good spot between work and home, so you’re not adding too much to your daily commute? Make sure this new routine is one you can settle into as well.
• How secure is the center? Are keycards needed to enter and leave? Are children signed in and out?
• Is the environment warm and friendly?
• Are the teachers smiling and enthusiastic? Are the caregivers playing on the floor with the kids? Do they have one in their lap? If a baby is crying, how quickly are they comforted and how?
• Does everything smell fresh and clean? (Kids should be changed regularly and diaper pails should be emptied frequently.)
• Are shoes allowed in classrooms with crawlers? How clean are the floors?
• Are the classrooms light and bright? Is there artwork on the walls?
• Is the room heated or cooled to a comfortable temperature?
• What kinds of toys do you see? (There should be an abundance of age-appropriate toys, art supplies, and books available for use.)
• Does the outside play area look fun and safe? Is it secure?
• What is your gut feeling? Becoming a parent really develops this sixth sense; if your instincts are telling you something isn’t quite right- move on.
Do a Trial Run
After selecting your child care provider, ask to visit to get a feel for how the flow of the day will go. Stop by a couple times with your baby, and if possible, do a “trial run” – a few days before you start back at work, drop off your baby for at least an hour or two to get used to parting from your child. The separation anxiety is usually much harder on the parents!
Check In Often and Be Flexible
Once your child attends daycare, give yourself extra time for daily drop off and/or pick up. Review your child’s daily report, so you can ask questions while you’re there. On occasion, check-in or pick your child up unexpectedly to confirm everything is going as it should-that’s right, spy! You’re looking out for number one- your child. If you realize your choice in caregiver is not right for your family, be willing to make a change.
The benefits of finding quality daycare stretch far beyond helping working families function. Children are given an amazing opportunity to grow through observation and socialization and develop a sense of independence. It’s a strange and exciting feeling to pick your child up from school and learn that they’ve added to their growing vocabulary, acquired a new skill, or made a new friend in the few hours you’ve been apart.
Happy daycare hunting!
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