by Allison Micarelli-Sokoloff
October 05, 2010
I will. I won’t. I can’t. I must. The decision to put your child in day care is often necessary but seldom easy. When it was time to choose child care for my son, I was bubbling over with questions: Will he be well cared for? Can we afford it? Will he be happy? How will I choose?
Child care facilities come in all shapes and sizes. Some more affordable than others. Some facilities are operated independently out of private homes and others are run by large corporations. Some concentrate on supervised play, while others offer educational curriculum similar to those found in preschools or kindergartens. And some won’t accept part-time pupils (one of my biggest challenges). So before my husband and I started our search, we did our research. I made lists and graphs. And graphs and lists. I soon discovered that finding the right child care can be an arduous task.
We were looking for a center with a good reputation, a structured setting, and a curriculum touted as educational, cultural, and age-appropriate. We also wanted a facility that supported and embraced healthy habits—from the snacks to the activities (no television!). We looked for clean facilities with attentive staff. We wanted to know our son would be safe—and happy. Ultimately, we found a child care center that was right for our son—and for us.
After visiting half a dozen facilities and talking to countless moms, teachers, and staff, we learned that finding the right fit for your family requires that you get an early start and ask all the right questions. Some tips:
Start your search early. Child care centers fill up fast, especially if you live in a populated area. Start your search early and add your name to the center’s waitlist. As previously reported by baby gooroo, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation, there are more than 11 million U.S. children under the age of 5 in some type of child care arrangement, with over half in child care centers. I was six months pregnant when I made my first visit to my son’s child care facility. I put my unborn son on a waitlist, and learned that a spot was available when he was 8 months old.
Decide what’s most important to you. Just like purchasing a home or finding your soulmate, you need to know what you’re looking for. Make a wishlist of everything you want from a child care center. Order the items on your list by importance, starting with those that are non-negotiable. You might want to create a checklist you can bring with you when you visit facilities, so that you can quickly and easily check-off items of importance during your tour.
Visit the center. This is a must. Schedule a tour of the center during daytime hours so that you can see teachers at work and kids at play. Look and listen. Is the center clean? What is the noise level? How attentive are the teachers? Do the children appear interested? Ask to speak with other parents—find out what they like or dislike.
Stay informed, stay involved. Once you’ve made your child care decision, stay connected. A good child care facility will communicate regularly with parents (via email or newsletters left in a child’s folder). Talk openly with the director, teachers, and parents. Attend as many open activities as possible. This will give you a chance to get to know the teachers, parents, and children—and will give them a chance to get to know you.
Key questions to ask:
For more guidance on choosing child care, check out Healthy Child Care America from the AAP. You can also find research-based indicators of high-quality child care in a downloadable checklist developed by the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies. And be sure to read this policy statement from NAEYC.
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