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Home > Parenting Information > Choosing a Daycare Center

 

Choosing a Daycare Center

 

Choosing the proper daycare center for your child should be a carefully thought out and researched process.  With some daycare centers being exceptional and some being just plain bad, it is important to pick a center that helps your child grow and develop his skills while also having fun.

There are several advantages to having your child in a daycare center.  Good centers have a mix of activities that will teach different skills.  Projects that lead to creativity, storytelling, dancing, and singing all help the child learn instead of just playing all day.   Children also get to socialize with other children, which they wouldn't get to do as often if they were at home with a nanny.  Finally, the centers are more stable and consistent than nannies because the center will watch your child even if a teacher is sick.

There are, however, a few disadvantages to daycare centers.  Children and babies usually don't get the one-on-one attention they would get if they were at home with a parent or nanny.  Children can also be more likely to get sick since they are exposed to more germs from all the children.  While centers are usually very structured and have clear rules for parents to follow such as those regarding picking up your child, a disadvantage is that you could incur fees for picking up your child late, having to find a place for your child on holidays, or finding someone to watch your child if he or she becomes sick and is sent home by the center.

To assist you in finding the appropriate daycare center, we have listed steps below that will guide you through finding a good daycare center and noticing the signs of a good daycare center , as well as recognizing the signs of a bad daycare center.

Finding a good daycare center

  1. Make a list of what's important to you.  Do you want a center close to home? Close to work?  Do you want your children to be with several children or prefer smaller groups?

  2. Research all your possibilities.  Ask your friends, family, doctors, and referral agencies for centers they would recommend.  Look on the Internet and in the phone book for other possible centers.  When doing your research, be sure to think about your list of important topics.  Is the center accredited by the National Association for the Education for Young Children or the National Association of Family Child Care?  Has the center received any local award or recognition?

  3. Once you have a list of possible centers, call them on the phone and ask some preliminary questions.  This is a very important step.  Make sure you remember your initial feeling of the conversation and write down if you had a good or bad feeling, including what made you feel that way.  You should ask about their policies, hours, fees, activities, and philosophies on teaching children.  Are they flexible to help you with your schedule?  Will they accommodate your special requests?  What is their teacher to child ratio?  Do they change activities frequently?  Do they have experienced teachers?

  4. Narrow down your list by crossing off the centers you had a bad feeling about.  Next, visit and interview the center you had a good feeling about.  Get a list of the activities and look around at the facility.  Is the center a warm, clean, safe environment in which you think your child would learn and have fun?  Be sure to pay close attention to the actual teacher to child ratio during your visit to verify what they told you it was over the phone.  Also, ask any more questions you may have and make sure the director is allowing you free access to look at everything you want to see or know about.  Again, your gut feeling is most important.

  5. Narrow down your list again then start checking references.  Call parents of children who are currently at the center or have had children at the center in the past.  Ask their opinion of  the center and if they would recommend it to you.  If their child is no longer at the center, ask why.

  6. Take you child to the center for a visit.  Observe how your child acts in the environment and around the teachers.  Does your child seem comfortable?  Do you think your child would be happy at the center?

  7. Once you find a daycare center that meets your qualifications and one that you feel your child would like, enroll your child.  If there is a waiting list, get your name on the list and find a temporary caregiver until a spot becomes open.

Signs of a good daycare center

Reputation:  The references you talk to should be very happy with the center.  If they are unsure or have doubt, you probably will too.

Caring and qualified staff: The staff should be enthusiastic and interact with the children in a positive way that shows they really care.  The staff should have a philosophy about discipline, feeding and sleeping that follows your philosophy.  The employees should be educated with at least two years of college, a background in child development, along with first aid training and knowledge of CPR.  The following is the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended child-staff ratio.

Age Child-Staff Ratio *Maximum Group Size*
Birth-12 months 3:1 6
13-30 months 4:1 8
31-35 months 5:1 10
3-year-olds 7:1 14
4-5-year-olds 8:1 16
6-8-year-olds 10:1 20
9-12 year olds 12:1 24

Safe, clean facility: A good center has floors, walls, bathrooms, kitchen and changing stations that are clean, well lit, and ventilated.  There should be established policies on how to keep things clean, when and how often hands are washed, and how to keep toys and equipment in safe working order.  The center should have an emergency plan, with first aid kits, fire extinguishers, and childproof storage areas.  All general child safety issues should be followed.

Established rules and policies:  A good center will be flexible but it should follow set hours, have enforced rules on sick children, and will require checkups and immunizations to prevent the spread of illness.  The center should have an open door policy that allows you to stop for a visit unannounced.  If they don't have this policy, they might be hiding something.

A complete schedule of activities: Good centers will have a schedule that allows for play time, quiet time, individual activities, meals, snacks, and group activities.  One thing that should not be included in a good schedule is TV and videos.  A good center teaches a wide variety of topics, while at the same time, teaching things appropriate for the age group.  Also look for toys that are appropriate for the age of your child.  These toys should be fun, while letting the child be imaginative and creative.

A current license: While a license doesn't guarantee the center will work for you, the center should be licensed by your local city services department.  Also look and see if the center is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Licensing laws vary from state to state. You can find your state's child care regulatory agency, along with other helpful information at the ChildCareAware website.

Signs of a bad daycare center

Reputation:  If you have heard bad word of mouth or the references make you question something, the daycare center is not for you.

An unqualified staff:  A staff that has no formal child training, no college education and no emergency training is not a staff you want around you child.  If there are more than three or four children to each teacher, one might suspect the teachers could be overworked, underpaid, and potential not happy with their jobs.  This situation could lead to high employee turnover that would not give your child  the best daycare available. 

Unsafe, dirty facility:  Do not use a center whose facility is rundown, has bad lighting, dirty play or food preparation areas, toys and equipment in need of repair, or have dangerous items in reach of children.  If the center has no emergency plan, is without first aid kits, fire extinguishers, and child proof storage areas, this are no place for your children.

No set rules:  A center that has no policy with set rules is not the center for you.  This will lead to confusion, misunderstandings, spread of illness, and a generally unsafe environment.

No daily schedule:  If the center has no daily program of activities for your child, your child will not have a chance to learn and grow.  Your child needs to be educated with stimulating, imaginative, and creative activities.  If the center just lets the children play and watch TV, don't use them.

Expired licenses:  If the center has an expired license or no license at all, don't use them.  This means they are either conducting business illegally or could not meet your local city services requirements to operate as a safe, quality center. 

 

 

 

 

 

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