Finding Daycare

IMG_7680Childcare can be a source of stress or support once you return to work. Finding the ideal provider of that care can be difficult. In my attempts to find the “best” for us I learned a few things along the way.

Childcare facilities often refer to themselves as daycare or preschool. These terms are very loose and unmoderated. Generally a daycare offers longer hours and remains open year round. They cater to a larger age range from shortly after birth sometimes up to after school care for elementary-aged children.

Preschools often focus on teaching specific curriculum or from particular teaching philosophies. They are often (but not always) on a school schedule, have certified teachers, and cater to 3-5 years. Mother’s Day Out programs generally offer shorter hours than preschools but may be sufficient if looking for part-time childcare. In-home care, whether in someone else’s home or a nanny in your own home, still apply to the below considerations.

  • Inquire about turnover. Ask how long teachers and aides have been there as well as how many years of experience they have. More years of service does not automatically mean a higher quality teacher, but it is one consideration.
  • Ask around. Word of mouth can give you an insider’s view. While online reviews also help, keep in mind people who feel most strongly (often negatively) seem to write reviews most often. You also can’t easily verify positive reviews so there’s no way to tell if the reviewer actually utilized the daycare or if staff or staff’s loved ones wrote up glowing reviews.
  • Don’t wait. Some places have waitlists, so inquire early once you know you need childcare. The more children you have the more important this can become as you may have to wait for openings in more than one class (if a preschool).
  • Visit during business hours. Try to check out the facility in action. Does it appear organized? How does the provider-child ratio look in reality? Are things clean and orderly? Do the children appear happy and content? Do providers get down to your child’s level when meeting him or her?
  • Drive the course at drop-off/pick-up times. You’ll be dropping off and picking up your child daily. A location far off course can add an extra half hour to your day. For example, our children were in childcare located in an elementary school. The extra time to park, walk them inside, and manage the hallways full of arriving school kids added 15 minutes to every morning drop off.
  • Consider cost and resources. Childcare is expensive no matter what. Everyone’s budget is what it is. Choose something you can sustain long term. Inquire with your place of work to see if they offer discounts for childcare or even in-house. For example my husband’s school district offers childcare at some schools for employee’s children. Remember that some places, especially preschools, like to provide something extra for teachers around the holidays, teacher appreciation, or end of school times. Ask about what snacks, supply fees, or other additional expenses you need to consider. The less you pay the less they have for resources and teacher pay. Less pay does not always equate to lower caliber providers but it can.
  • Learn about accreditation, licensure, and certification. Each state varies in its licensure policies but be sure your facility’s health and safety licensing is up to date. Accreditation is an additional step not always necessary but speaks to a higher standard. Teacher certification is found more often in preschool oriented facilities.
  • Cloth diapers. If you are committed to cloth be sure to ask if your childcare provider is willing to use them. If not, you can consider educating them if they are interested. Know your state’s policies regarding cloth diapers in public facilities.
  • Allergies, development needs, or other considerations. If your child or family has needs particular to your situation, be sure to inquire both directly with staff and indirectly by word of mouth about how they might handle your specifics. If you regularly get caught up at work and may be delayed, see how they handle late pickups.
  • Sick kiddos. Sickness can quickly spread in the childcare setting. Though tough policies around sickness can cause additional difficulties for parents they can also prevent illnesses from spreading. Ultimately this can result in fewer days missed overall. Ask about and read through their handbook concerning sick days and what constitutes necessary absence of a child. Think of common scenarios like pink eye, fever, upset stomach, and returning from an extended illness of several days. When is a doctor’s note necessary? How long must the child be fever free? Do you have to pay for days your child misses?
  • Good fit. Last, and possibly most important, consider the fit. Do you feel at ease with the teachers? Does your child? What is important to you? For example, if extended hours are critical look first at that. If school prep tops your list, learn about their curriculum, how structured their day is, and how they incorporate creative play.

Lynette is a mom of three children from 3 months to age four. She has cloth diapered all three since birth and enjoys all things eco-friendly and mindful living.

Tags: childcare, day care, parenting, preschool, preschoolers, toddlers, working parents

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