Fatherly Stuff: Choosing the Right Daycare: Things to look for

Feb 20, 2012

Choosing the Right Daycare: Things to look for

Putting your child into daycare is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever have to make. The idea of putting your little bundle of joy in to the hands of someone that’s not family or close friend can be uncomfortable and downright scary (or, at least it was for us).
By the time our son was born, I was working two jobs for a combined total of 70+ hours and wearing thin. My significant other April, just finished her masters in elementary education just one month prior to our son being born and it made sense for her to postpone her search for a teaching job and instead stay home with the baby.  We didn’t consider daycare until he was about 10 months, when April was offered a full time education coordinator position at a local nonprofit. It was a professional opportunity she couldn’t pass up. And honestly, we needed the money: a few months prior to the offer, I resigned from my part time job in order to spend more time with the family. As great as it was being together more often, we could not deny the financial strain we felt due to the reduction in income.
And so, we reluctantly began our difficult quest to find the right daycare. We created a list of what we were looking for in daycare and what we felt were the best child care facilities in our area and set up tours for each of them.  
We’ve visited some amazing facilities that left us in awe. There were others however, that led us to wonder how state ever saw fit to give them a license. We eventually settled on a place. While it isn’t “perfect” (really, though if you’re as paranoid as we were, no daycare will ever be perfect enough for your baby), it is a nurturing center with  a compassionate staff where we know our son is adored and well taken care of.
 From this experience, I created the following list of things you should look for when choosing the right fit for your family. Before I get into this, I would like to note that the following is based on my personal experience and research. This article should only be a supplement to the large amounts of research you should be doing when looking for the right place for your child.

1.       Accreditations/Certifications of staff
Whether or not your perspective daycare is accredited by a national education association or simply licensed is an important question to ask. According to The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies or NACCRRA ( yes, this is a real place, www.naccrra.org) :
“Licensing is when a facility meets the minimum standards required by the state for the child care program to open… you should check with your local child care resource and referral agency for information specific to your state”. More information regarding his can be found at www.childcareaware.org.

You will also want to ask about the certifications of the staff members. While is not a requirement by most states to have a staff with specific qualifications (i.e., Child Development Associate (CDA), education degree, etc.), as a parent it does make me comfortable knowing that most of the staff has the additional training. With that being said, just because someone lacks such credentials, it doesn’t mean they are less effective child care providers. Sometimes passion and/or experience may trump a piece of paper. This is ultimately a parent’s judgment call to make.

Nationally accredited child care programs meet higher quality standards set by that particular organization. Accredited schools typically meet and exceed most licensing requirements. These requirements include standards for things such as curriculum, staff/parent communication, staff certification and more. A couple of the top national accreditations in the US are the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC.org) and National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC.org).

To paraphrase: Licensing = “Good”, Accreditation= “Even better”

2.       A  Safe ,clean,  child centered environment

When looking at daycares, the number one priority is the health and safety of your little one. State and local health codes ensure that the risk of disease is low and the building’s facilities are up to code, but as a parent, there are a couple of things you should be on the lookout for.  Look around to make sure equipment is sturdy, toys aren’t broken and are sanitized daily, areas that are only for adults have locks on the doors, and there is a policy put in place to screen visitors. They should also have a regularly updated list of people preapproved by the parent to up of their child. The playground area should be fenced in and all of the climbing structures, which are age appropriate, have underneath it soft surfacing like grass, mulch, or the rubberized material you see at most public playgrounds.

Take note of whether staff washes their hands after changing diapers, takings kids to the potty and wiping noses. These practices greatly reduce the risk of spreading disease causing germs.

You will also want to ask about child to staff ratios. While licensing calls for minimum standards (again, varies by state), research shows that smaller groups work the best for the child. Not only do the children interact with each other better, but providers are able to give more attention to each individual, which fosters trust and is in turn, beneficial to their development. Speaking of provider attention, when you go on a tour, watch how they interact with the children. Are they attentive and interactive, or are they distant and withdrawn? Also, ask about their disciplining policy. Are the daycare rules clear and effectively communicated?
                Furthermore, you will want to make sure activities offered at the facility are age appropriate for their interests and abilities. Activities should encourage children to get involved in the learning process in a variety of ways. Most of the day should be spent divided into small group activities. When you walk into the room, you should be able to easily identify specific designated areas for activities such as art work, Legos (building block, etc.), puzzles or dress –up. The children should have free play, where they get to choose their own activities and if weather permits, children should be taken outdoors as much as possible.

3.       References/Parent Communication

Parent/Staff communication is crucial to a successful daycare experience. At the end of each day when you pick up your child, you should be given an “about my day” report that logs their snack/lunch, potty times (if applicable) and highlights of the day’s curriculum and how your child is doing. Depending on the size of your daycare, there is a chance that the teachers change shifts at least once during the day and the one you see when you drop your child off may be different from the one who is there for pick up. Regardless of who you child is with when you pick them up, the communication between teachers should be strong enough that anyone should be able to answer questions you may have. This may go without saying, but you should be familiar with all staff members, especially the ones who spend the most time with your child.
A good daycare understands the importance of parent involvement and are encouraged to visit and participate in classes every once in a while or if applicable, are invited to chaperone trips. Teachers should also be willing to give suggestions for activities to do at home and questions to ask your child related to their curriculum. This strengthens the bonds between the faculty, parent and child and further assists in overall development.
Lastly if not voluntarily given, do not be afraid to ask for references from current or former parents. Use said references to confirm facts that were given to you by the daycare. Whether you are contacting the reference directly or sending them a checklist, make sure the questions asked are open ended and honest.

To sum up, finding the right daycare for your child is no easy task. You absolutely have to do as much research and ask as many questions as you possibly can before you make your final choice.

So let’s hear from you! Do have a child that is currently enrolled in a daycare? What criteria did you look for when making a decision?         

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  1. What's up to all, how is all, I think every one is getting more from this site, and your views are good in favor of new visitors.

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  2. I agree with the criteria you mention, although as someone who has run licensed sites, and both licensed and accredited day camps I would add a couple of points. The fist is that licensing is required by law for anyone providing care so if someone is caring for children in their home beyond a few hours a day it is not babysitting, it is breaking the law in CT. I would also add that licensing is a bare minimum standard of care required by law and as such should not be categorized as good. In CT centers are required by law to show you their recent inspection reports if you as for them and you can also look up their licensing history through DPH to check for any major issues they have had in the past. Any site that has lots of recent violations with regard to ratio or certifications of staff on their inspection should be eliminated immediately. No center that can't maintain basic standards in such important and easy to maintain areas does not deserve the opportunity to care for your child. I found that the kind of answer I got to the question, "What do you do beyond licensing requirements" was very telling. Once place told me that the licensing requirements were more than enough. Yeah, if you are into the bare minimum. Almost every other place I went to had answers like, "We are Naeyc accredited" or "We have additional out of ratio staff onsite at all time to handle coverage and emergencies." Its tough to pick a center, but there are plenty of publicly available tools on the CTDPH and NAEYC websites that most people never even look at. There is a saying in the camp world, "Most parents spend more time researching to pick out a car than they do picking out a camp." I applaud you for taking the time to do this right because many don't.