Choosing a daycare for your child can be an overwhelming and terrifying process. Even if you're thrilled to be getting back to work, the prospect of your little one spending the day apart from you is enough to give any mom a mild panic attack. That's why finding out as much as you possibly can about a daycare before you settle on one is so important: Not only will the knowledge put your mind at ease, it's essential for your child's safety. So what are some questions you should ask a daycare before you enroll your child?
First of all, you should never feel weird about asking as many questions as you want. Don't worry about coming off like a nervous wreck: Daycare workers are used to dealing with stressed-out parents, and it's perfectly natural. This is a huge decision, after all. Knowing that the people you're paying to look after your child every day are qualified and that their policies and practices are in line with your own priorities will be a tremendous comfort, especially if there's a big, tearful display at drop-off time. (Which there will be, sometimes. But not all the time.)
Remember, when a daycare is safe and staffed with kind, nurturing caregivers, the experience can benefit your child in so many ways. And luckily, there are many truly amazing child care centers out there... you just need to know which questions to ask to find the right one.
1. Is The Center Licensed?
It might seem like an obvious question, but the fact is not all daycares are licensed. And while being unlicensed doesn't necessarily mean it's not a good daycare, there is a greater degree of risk involved. Licensed programs are inspected regularly to make sure they comply with state regulations for health and safety standards, as stated on the non-profit Child Care Aware of America's website:
"Licensing regulations cover issues like the number of children that can be in a group, the number of child care providers required for each group, staff training requirements, sanitation, administration of medicines, food preparation and serving, safety hazards, learning activities, background checks and communication with parents."
So, pretty much all the things you would ever be concerned about!
2. What's The Nap Policy?
Depending on your kid's sleeping habits, you're probably either worried that your child's daycare won't make him nap or will make him nap. But "some nap time policies aren't choices that are left up to the daycare center," according to Classroom, the educational resource website.
"Certain local or state licensing requirements may include strictly enforced nap time procedures," such as California, where daycares must follow a strict daily nap time protocol in order to keep a license. Other states might not have the same exact requirements, but could have similar policies.
Ask the daycare what happens if your kid refuses to nap, and/or how younger babies go to sleep (are they rocked? given a bottle? etc.).
3. Are The Employees Qualified & Trained?
Naturally, one would hope that the people who'll be taking care of your kid everyday have experience with children, but do they have degrees in education or child development? How long have they worked at the daycare? Are they trained in first aid and CPR certified? While some states require daycare providers to hold a CPR certification, not all do. (That doesn't mean it's not important.)
"Even when the state’s legislation doesn’t specifically require daycare workers to be certified, it’s still a good idea to have someone on-site who has the certification — as sudden cardiac arrest can happen with infants and children as well as adults," Dr. Mary Williams, R.N., D.C advised on the CPR training website CPR Certified.
4. How Much Time Will The Kids Spend Outside?
Everybody knows that it's good for kids to spend as much time playing in the fresh air as possible. How often and for how long do kids play outside? If the daycare doesn't have a dedicated outside space (such as in a city), do they take kids to a nearby playground or make sure there are other outdoor activities on a regular basis?
5. What & When Do Kids Eat?
Food is a huge concern for many parents, particularly those who have kids with dietary restrictions (or very picky eating habits). Your child's individual needs will dictate the specifics of this question: If your kid gets super cranky when her blood sugar is low, you'll want to ask about snacks; if she has allergies, you'll want to find out how cross contamination/exposure is avoided; if she's used to organic food only, you'll want to know if the menu is heavy on processed stuff.
6. How Is Potty Training Handled?
Even if you're nowhere near the potty training process yet, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises thinking ahead for this one:
"Daycare providers' participation in the toilet training process is invaluable because they often are among the first to recognize when a child is developmentally ready to toilet train, they communicate with and educate parents to provide appropriate and continuous toilet training methods and messages, and they help teach the child proper toilet training practices."
7. How Many Kids Are There Per Adult?
Once again, the laws regarding the minimum number of providers a daycare requires vary from state to state, according to Child Care Aware, but an acceptable ratio for babies is one caregiver per every three to four babies. This number goes up as kids get older (one caregiver per every eight to ten 5-year-olds, for example).
8. How Are Breastfeeding Babies Accommodated?
Managing breastfeeding after going back to work can be tricky.
"You need to be able to trust that your childcare provider will follow your instructions when it comes to how your child is to be fed," according to Balanced Breastfeeding.
"It is important to tell your child care provider about how breastfed babies eat differently from formula-fed babies," as well as to find out how accommodating the center can be of your preferences.
9. What's The Sick Child Policy?
Because your kid will get sick a lot (they all do!), you really need to figure out a plan ahead of time: Does the daycare take sick children if they don't have a fever? What about a cough? Do you have to still have to pay for days when your child is too sick to attend?
10. Can I Check In Whenever I Want?
Okay, it's probably not good for anyone if you call your daycare center constantly. But if you're the type that needs lots of updates, some daycare centers will text parents about daily activities or even let them watch what's going on via webcam. And if you want to check in, you should be able to do so.