Daycare Center Basics: Choosing What’s Best For Your Family

If you go back to work and think about putting your baby in day care, here’s what you
need to know — from benefits and downsides to questions you should ask and what to look for inside the facility.

Especially if this is your first baby, it is a big decision. If the thought of leaving your baby with someone else all day, every day of work, makes you want to never leave your child, you’re not alone. But if you plan to go back to your 9-to-5, you’re in a good company: more than 70 percent of all moms work outside the home, according to some estimates. This means there are plenty of great child care options, from babysitters to daycares and more. Day care is one of your best options, either through a family center or day care at home. Most facilities provide excellent services with certified, qualified caregivers in an atmosphere where your little one has a successful socialization with other children of her or his age. This is what you need to know about day care, from the pros and cons, to what questions to pose and what to look for when on a tour.

Daycare Variety:

A daycare is a place where families drop children off, typically for a full day, with other children ranging from a few months old to 6 years old. There are a few options:

  • Group Day Care: Facilities such as these are state licensed and are run similarly to a school with children of various ages cared for in classes or groups. In group day care, employees and staff have to go through numerous amounts of training and certifications in order to be licensed by the state. This is one of the most popular options as more than a quarter of daycare aged children are in a center-based care.
  • Home Care: Just as the name states, is a type of care run out of someone’s home. The provider will often care for her own children at the same time. Some home care providers may be licensed but most are not.

Daycare Benefits:

Education: An efficient and well thought out program is catered to your child’s developmental needs and growth.

Cost: Daycare is a less expensive option then hiring a nanny or babysitter. Some daycares include all supplies and meals which is also a budget friendly consideration.

Reliability: The majority of centers are open for 10 to 12 hours a day which allows them to support a variety of family schedules. Secondly, they have a system in place to make sure a caregiver is always available to ensure reliability and safety.

Continuous care: Some centers offer care from infancy to adolescence.

Socialization: Children have plenty of time to play, interact and learn with other children in daycare.

Steps to choosing the right daycare:

It’s important to take your time in choosing a daycare. You want to start looking before you need the services so that you can make an informed and unrushed decision.

  • Make sure to research. Get referrals and recommendations from other parents, friends, pediatricians and whoever else you can. Check online resources or just ask people at a local playground.
  • Interview potential daycares. Screen daycare centers over the phone. Find out how responsive staff is and how forthcoming they are. You can learn a lot about a preschool or daycare about how informative they are over the phone. This way you can put them at the top of the list or take them off your potential daycares.
  • Go for a tour. Eventually you will narrow down your choices and then you will visit and see if it meets your criteria. Trust your intuition, check for cleanliness and friendliness of the staff.
  • Check references: Call former and current daycare attendees and find out what they like and don’t like. Ask them to share their experiences about daycare.
  • Stop by unannounced: Prior to making your final choice, consider going to the daycare without an appointment. This will show you a clearer picture of what that preschool is like. If the center doesn’t allow unscheduled visits this may be a red flag.

Questions to ask:

  • What is your tuition, application fee and pay schedule? Ask these questions first to make sure the preschool is in your family’s budget.
  • Is there a waiting list? Make sure that you can enroll you child when it is convenient for your family.
  • What is your accreditation? Ask about state licenses, staff qualifications, health and safety standards.
  • How many children are cared for at once?  Babies and toddlers need attention, so be sure to ask about classroom ratios.
  • What is the philosophy of your program? Ask about policies regarding early education, discipline, soothing and feeding. You can ask them about scenarios such as: What would you do if my baby kept reaching for something after you told him no? Do you believe in disciplining bad toddler behavior with consequences or time-outs? How do you handle a baby who cries because he wants to be held all the time? What happens when two tots want to play with the same toy? What do you do if a baby refuses to eat? What type of baby food do you feed babies who’ve started solids?
  • What qualifications does the daycare and staff have? Make sure they are CPR and first-aid certified. Directors should have early childhood degrees and teachers should have a great amount of childhood credits and trainings.
  • How are sick children handled? The daycare should have clear guidelines on ill children staying home. Parents should be made aware about time frames on when to pick up children and when they can be admitted back into the program.
  • What do you serve for meals? Ask for a menu or meal schedule. Make sure that the meals are appropriate for ages of the children being served.
  • How long have the teachers been on staff? This will help you measure the degree of turnover. High turnover is never a good sign.
  • How are potential daycare teachers screened?  All workers should have criminal background checks as well as child abuse checks. You can ask to see proof of the documents.

What to look for when on a visit?

  • Happy Children and staff. You should see clean, content and alert children in spacious rooms with a variety of different areas. Daycare teachers should be energetic, patient and interested in all the children.
  • Exciting environment. Look for children to get a lot of physical and verbal attention from the caregivers. Make sure staff are interacting with the children. Check for age appropriate toys. Ask for a daily schedule or explanation of the day. There should be a variety of activities.
  • Look to make sure age groups are separated. Infants should not be sharing space with toddlers.
  • The daycare should be clean. Preschool teachers should wash hands after every diaper change. Feeding utensils are washed or are disposed of. Bottles are prepared under sanitary conditions. Toys are cleaned regularly.
  • Safe environment. Look for choking hazards such as broken toys or loose parts. Make sure playground and classroom equipment is secure. The floors are clear and smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are present.