Choosing childcare for my son became one of the most anxiety-inducing processes of pregnancy. Knowing the amount of brain development that occurs in years 0-3 and the importance that environment plays in that development, I was so scared of making the wrong choice. Trusting someone to take care of your child is not a small task. You are choosing the daycare provider, not the other way around. Tour and interview all of your options and decide the best fit for your family.
You should not formally enroll your child without a tour. Your natural parental instinct is strong and something to be trusted. You will gain a lot of insight from a tour. Request the tour during school hours to see how caregivers interact with children. Below are the additional items I look for on a daycare tour:
- Security Measures:
Is the front door locked when you arrive? If this is important to you, are cameras available? What are their processes for outside providers to enter the daycare? As a pediatric therapist, I treat in many daycare centers! Most require me to show valid photo identification, sign in/out when I arrive and leave, and often ask for a copy of our license the first time we treat at that location. Each daycare should be able to identify their process for outside visitors, there are a handful of daycares that let me walk back without asking for any identification, and that would scare me for my child’s safety.
2. Teacher Ratios and Staff Turnover:
Ask about the teacher-to-child ratio and ensure this is within state guidelines. In addition to the ratio, ask how many children are in the room. Some daycares have really big classes with a lot of teachers in the room, this can get overwhelming for young babies and toddlers. Compare the student-to-child ratio and ensure that your child will be with the same teacher daily. You want your baby to feel safe and bond with their caregivers. If the teachers frequently rotate rooms based on ratio needs, your child may not feel as secure or comfortable. Additionally, what is their overall staff turnover rate? Do they have staff who have worked there for years, or is all of the staff new within the past 6 months with a high turnover rate?
3. Toy selection:
We want to see a variety of toys and enough toys for all the children in the class. Are there toys with different textures and sensory experiences? In the baby rooms, there should be mirrors, tummy time mats and a lot of open floor space, and room to roam. We also want to see a low amount of battery-operated toys and a lot of books!
4. Baby Containers:
As a whole, we know we want to minimize device time, but realistically your child may not be able to avoid it completely at daycare. Instead, focus on what the rules are with devices. Ask the daycare how long at a single time they leave children in devices and how often a child is placed in a device. You want to ensure that the devices are age appropriate. There should be fewer devices than the total number of children in the class. There should be no jumpers or walkers (the kind you put your baby in, not push toys; push toys are great!). One daycare I toured was a tiny room with no open play space, then had a 1:1 ratio of bumbo seats, indicating those babies spent a lot of time in those devices; that one got crossed off our list quickly!
5. Are classes arranged by age or by skill level?
How do they assign and group children? It is important for children to be with both age-matched and skill-matched peer groups.
6. What type of continuing education does your staff participate in, and who performs this education?
7. Outdoor Spaces:
Is there room for children to run and roam outside? Do they have divided spaces for different age groups? Are there vertical surfaces to play at (so much development can come from working at a vertical surface)?
8. What is the total cost?
Understanding the total cost is an important part of any decision. Fees to ask about in addition to monthly tuition: Application fees, enrollment fees, any additional material/food fees, and late fees. Also, ask if there are discounts available for paying for the year in full!
9. What is the schedule?
This is also important to consider. Ask for drop off/pick up times and also ask for the school closings during the year. If they close frequently for in-services/holidays on days you will need to work, you need to consider time off work or babysitter cost on those days.
10. Overall impression during the tour:
When you tour the daycare, what is your overall impression? Items to consider are the cleanliness of the daycare, does it overall feel like a clutter-free and safe space, and what is on the walls. If the walls have child artwork, you know they provide engaging activities for the children.
Finding childcare is not a one size fits all. The best answer for you may be a different one than your neighbor or best friend. Take the time to understand your options and go with your gut instinct, not the most popular opinion of those around you.