At some point, you may decide to return to the workforce. If you are in United States, it may be when your brand new baby is a few weeks to 12 weeks old, very unfortunately! (do not get me started).
Searching for childcare is a personal decision, and a difficult one. One of your childcare options is daycare.
- Daycares are usually licensed and regulated. So there is a basic standard of operation.
- Socialization for your child.
- Acitivities and space for your child to explore.
- Build up your child’s immunity. Children who grew up at daycare get sick less often by the time they go to school.
- Limited hours. Daycares are open slightly longer than office hours. And usually no weekend hours. So if you work odd hours, this is probably not the right choice.
- Your child will be sick, A LOT, especially initially. This affects your ability to work.
- You need to have backup plans because you will need to keep your sick child at home.
- It is not one on one care.
So you have read PREPARE FOR BABY ARRIVAL CHECKLIST. You started your search for daycare early and have now lined up a few tours. Tours are great for ooh-ing and ahh-ing at cute babies. But you also need to look for the following:
Note: Drop off and pick up hours are bad times to tour. It will be chaotic. (Think about your household in the morning, and multiply that by many folds, yikes!)
SECURITY AND SAFETY
- Is the front door locked and requires special key card/code access? You do not want strangers in the daycare, or your child wandering outside the daycare.
- Are the hallways brightly lit and clutter free?
- Is the outdoor area enclosed, preferably away from prying eyes of the outside world?
- How often are fire/lockdown drills and how do they evacuate? especially the infants.
- Location of the daycare. Is it a safe area? Easy access? Nightmare traffic? (if you have a child who acts like the car seat is eating him/her alive, try not to get stuck in traffic)
- Are the rooms childproofed?
- Does it look clean?
- Observe toys chewed by other kids. Do they go straight into a bin for washing? Or are they left around for another kid to continue chewing. Ew!
- Does it smell like poopy diapers?
- Infant area should be shoe-less with clean carpet.
- Will your child be assigned to his/her own crib/sleeping cot? How often do cribs or sleeping cots get wiped down? How often do they change bedsheets?
- Use the restroom while you are there. It will tell you a lot about cleanliness.
Sleep is very important. Make sure you find a daycare that respects sleep. If not, expect to pick up a cranky child after a long day at work.
- When are nap times?
- How long do children generally nap?
- What if your child needs more nap?
- How do they help a fussy child nap?
- Do they have designated sleep area? This is especially important for infants, because they all sleep, wake and play at different times. You do not want your sleeping child to be woken up by a screaming child.
- Outdoor areas. Personally, i would give this a heavy weight in your consideration. Children love running around. Also, make sure infant and toddler outdoor areas are separate.
- Are there enough quality toys? Do the toys look well maintained?
The actual curriculum, is not important before preschool, or dare I say kindergarten. They are kids!! There are a few salient points to note:
- What is the caregiver to children ratio? Try to find one that is better than the minimum requirement for licensure.
- What does a day in the life of your child look like?
- Any enrichment programs offered?
- Observe the caregivers interaction with children. You want firm but kind. You want to see good supervision. (Classrooms should not resemble rave parties).
- No matter what age, you want to see kids being occupied and engaged, instead of restless or ignored. A room full of bouncers and swings is generally not a good sign.
- Ask about staff turnover. Young children often have separation and stranger anxiety. Getting use to constant stream of new faces is stressful for your child.
- Make sure TV is not part of the room. American Academy of Pediatrician recommends no screen time for a child less than 18 months, and only 1 hour for a child 2-5 years old.
Most daycares have standard sick policy. But you should get a feeling if they are on either extremes. Meaning, you do not want a bunch of sick kids in the room. But you also do not want your child to get sent home for a sniffle (your employer would not be happy with you). Make sure they require strict immunization.
- How long is the wait list?
- Tuition fees. Does it include meals and enrichment programs? Does it include diaper supplies?
- Does provided meals look healthy? If not, are you allowed to bring your own food?
- How do you get daily updates on your child?
- What holidays do they observe? Hopefully they observe very few holidays, especially if your job does not care about holidays (eg. Medical field)
- Do they help with potty training? HUGE plus. Potty training is messy business!
- Do they have an open door policy where you can drop in anytime?
AFTER YOUR TOUR
- Do follow up frequently to show interest.
- Always try to meet the director, he/she sets the tone for the daycare.
- Write down what you like and dislike. It will start to blend together after awhile.
- Talk to parents in the hallway or parking area. Most parents are more than willing to give you insider information.
Ultimately, you are your child’s biggest advocate. This is a place your child will spend a lot of time playing, growing and learning. Trust your instinct!