by Patricia Hughes
Whether you are a new parent or not, perhaps one of the most difficult decisions you will make is selecting a good place for your child to stay while you are at work. There is good reason for this: you are choosing the people who will be caring for your child. Choosing day care is a big decision and you should take your time to make the right choice. A good place to start is with other parents. Where do your friends and neighbors send their children? Ask about their experience and recommendation.
Once you have found a few centers, you will need to contact the owner or director of the center. This is usually done by phone. You can get a feel for the center’s environment by listening carefully to the answers to your questions. Keep the phone conversation brief and just ask a few questions about scheduling, availability of space, staff to child ratios and prices. Make an appointment to visit the center.
When you visit the center, you will be given a tour of the facility. If you child is old enough, bring him or her with you, if possible. This will allow your child to see the day care and you will get his/her input. Observe the children and the activities that are going on around you. Ask about the daily schedule. It may be posted in the room, or you may be given a copy. There should be a good mix of large and small group activities, free choice time and outside play. Look for a balance between active and quiet activities.
Ask about the certification and training of staff members. What type of training have they received? Does the lead teacher have a college degree? Ideally, you want a well trained and stable staff. Ask about the staff turnover. How long have most of the workers been with the center? Day care is notoriously low paying and some centers have a high rate of staff turnover. This may be a concern if your child becomes attached to a caregiver and she leaves.
Watch the teacher and aides interact with the children. They should be engaged in learning activities with the children. If they are cleaning the room or talking in a corner, this may not be a good sign. Caregivers in the baby and toddler room should be on the floor interacting with the babies. Ask about staff to child ratio. Each state has guidelines for how many children are allowed per caregiver. This number differs by age. Generally, a lower ratio is better because it allows the caregiver to give each child attention.
Look at the building. It should be a safe and clean environment for children to explore. The toys, floors, tabletops and bathrooms should be clean. Regular cleaning and disinfecting of all equipment helps prevent the spread of germs. Keep an eye out for safety. There should be outlet covers, safety gates and smoke detectors. Dangerous objects, such as knives and scissors should be kept out of reach.
Inspect the playground area for safety as well. The surface of the playground should have a material to absorb impact, such as wood chips. Does the equipment look well maintained? Also be sure the playground area is fenced in to keep the kids safe while they are playing. While you are looking at the playground, look for fun as well as safety. There should be enough room and fun things to do for the number of children in the group.
Ask questions about the policies of the day care center. Ask about the illness policy. When are sick children sent home? When can they come back to school? It’s important for the center to have a clear policy to avoid the spreading of illness to other kids. Most centers will require a physical and copy of immunization records. This will need to be completed before the child can start attending the center.
Ask about the discipline policy. How does the center handle discipline? The center should have a written policy and you should be given a copy. Read it over carefully and be sure it meshes with your beliefs about discipline. Look for a center that uses redirection, communication skills and conflict resolution, rather than just time out for discipline. Ideally, they should be teaching the children how to solve problems within the discipline philosophy of the center.
Patricia Hughes is a freelance writer and mother of four. Patricia has a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Florida Atlantic University. She has written extensively on pregnancy, childbirth, parenting and breastfeeding. In addition, she has written about home décor and travel.
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