childcare,  choosing child care

What I Looked for when Choosing Child Care

We just recently had to choose a child care center for our new baby girl to attend when I go back to work, and let me tell you it was hard! I have worked in child care for my entire career, at three very different programs, and I currently help programs apply for our quality rating system, so it’s safe to say that I have far more knowledge about child care than the average new parent. I’m convinced that my training in licensing, curriculum and assessment, quality improvement, and best practice made this particular parenting task infinitely more difficult, especially considering our budget!

I thought it might be valuable to share the specific criteria that I looked for, and some of the questions that I asked.  You might also be surprised to know what I didn’t ask about, so I’ve included some notes on that too.

First, I toured every single program that I was even remotely interested in.  Yes this takes time, but it was so worth it.  In my area most programs won’t share their rates with you until after you’ve come in for a tour anyway, so I had to visit the program.  I’m glad I did because I was able to see first hand things like:

  • The types of materials that were available for children in the infant room to play with (and if the children were actually able to reach and use them independently)
  • How the staff members interacted with the children
  • If the children were free to explore the room, or if they were all strapped into bouncers and exersaucers
  • The room set up, and if it was easy for staff to supervise children who were playing as well as those who were sleeping
  • The noise level in the room
  • If there are lesson plans for the infants, and if the types of activities on them are developmentally appropriate
  • The professionalism of the staff and director
  • If staff make an effort to clean toys regularly
  • That the room itself looks well taken care of and clean
  • Security; how families enter the program, and how long it took someone to answer the door when I rang the bell
I also made sure to ask:
  • How much experience the teaching staff has and how long they have been with this specific program
  • What the staff members’ schedules were, and how many different adults my child would be with throughout the day
  • What the program’s vaccination policy is (which is especially important when enrolling an infant who will be to young to have had all of her vaccinations when she starts)
  • How strict they are about children’s schedules – my work schedule changes daily, so I needed a program that was ok with that
  • If they provide food or formula if needed
  • The program’s storage availability – if I needed to leave a car seat at drop off so my husband could use it at pick up, for example
I did not ask:
  • Any licensing related questions, i.e. questions about ratios, supervision, behavior guidance, illness policies, sleep practices, etc.  Most of these were covered by whomever was giving the tour anyway, but I know the answers to these questions and have worked with enough programs to know that they know the answers and will tell you the correct answers if you ask, even if that isn’t currently what is happening in the classroom. I’d prefer to observe for myself, and then ask if I noticed a discrepancy. 
  • To see the toddler or preschool rooms.  I needed to put my own blinders on and focus on the infant program for this particular tour, when it is time to think about moving up I will ask more specific questions about their curriculum, assessments, and expectations for these ages.  I have no problem looking for another program at this time if I feel it is necessary, I’ll worry about that when we get there! This does not mean that I didn’t listen to how the teachers in the other classrooms were talking to the children as we walked by them – because I definitely did that.  Those teachers may end up with my child if staff are shuffled at any point, and I wanted to know how the program in general responds to children, especially when teachers don’t think anyone is listening. 
I decided before visiting any programs that I would make every effort to choose a program where the staff would really truly care about my child, and the overall feeling of the program was positive.  These were my priorities and I really tried to keep that at the front of my mind during every visit.  I did visit the program that I ended up choosing twice, at different times of the day, and I made my husband come along for one of the visits – although we both knew that I would have the final say! I can’t tell you if I’ve made the right choice because we haven’t actually attended yet, but for now I’m happy with our decision!

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