Day care can be a great way for your child to be around other kids, get in some socialization, and learn new things, too. But before you entrust the daycare down the block with your tot, you’ll need to do your due diligence so that you give your kid the best possible head start in her education. Whether you’re thinking about putting your child in a traditional childcare center or an in-home option, these are 11 things you should know about your day care before sending your sweet little babe off.
“Sending your child to day care can be an overwhelming task, especially if you haven't enrolled in one before or have never employed a daycare outside of a family member or friend,” Sherrie MacLean, RECE and National Director of Operations at Tiny Hoppers, tells Romper. “To ease your worries, write down all the questions you have and ask them when you visit the center — don't be shy!” By doing your research and scheduling an on-site visit, you can allay your fears about day care and guarantee that your child will have the best experience possible.
But no matter what type of day care you choose, you should always do your research first. Ideally, it should be accredited by an organization like the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which helps to ensure that the center that you choose adheres to strictly high standards of quality care and has a curriculum that brings out the best in your child. And of course, be sure to ask these questions.
1. “How do the teachers approach childcare?”
You know your child best, and as such, you’ll be able to see if the day care’s approach to caring for children is right for her. While some teachers might have a stricter approach, others might be more gentle. Ask to take a peek into a classroom to see what the environment is to determine if the teacher’s style would work well for your child — or not.
2. “How is information communicated to parents?”
Communication should flow freely back and forth between the day care and you as the parent. It can be something as simple as what your child did in day care that day, to the more important issues, like if there was a safety breach. Ask how the day care prefers to issue its communication, whether it’s via a daily email, a note sent home in a backpack, or even a quick text with a pic of your kid hand painting with her class. Ultimately the method of communication isn’t as important as simply knowing what is going on at any given time during the day.
3. “What kind of training has each individual had?”
Day care isn’t just about feedings and changing diapers. Ideally, your child should be learning while she’s there. Depending on her age, she might learn how to share, play well with others, or even begin learning her letters and numbers. And as such, you should know about the training that the person who is responsible for your child’s first educational experience has. “They need to have intensive training about the crucial importance of secure attachment, play-based learning, developmentally appropriate practice and non-punitive disciple,” Laurie A. Couture, a licensed mental health counselor and child trauma specialist, tells Romper.
4. “What is the child to adult ratio?”
Of course, you want your kiddo to have lots of new friends to play with. But you definitely don’t want to have a day care worker who’s overwhelmed by the number of kids in her care, either. While the child-to-adult ratio can vary by state, there should be no more than three to four infants per one trained adult, or six to 10 preschoolers for one adult staffer, according to Childcare.gov. Find out how many kids are in each classroom, and determine if the class size makes sense for the amount of personalized attention you’d like your child to receive.
5. “What type of program does your day care follow?”
Most day care centers follow a curriculum that should be easily accessible to parents. “When you're visiting the center, ask how the programming is done for the children, and what you can expect on a daily and monthly basis,” says MacLean. You’ll know what your child is doing each day, and when you pick her up, you can talk to her about everything that she learned that day in day care.
6. “What are the safety procedures for the day care?”
Knowing that your child is safe while he’s at day care is one of the top concerns for any parent. So when you meet with the director of the day care center, be sure to ask what procedures are in place in case of emergencies. You should also ask how often day care workers practice drills to ensure that they are disaster ready, and if there is a relocation site in case of an emergency, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported.
7. “How secure is the facility?”
Safety is a big concern when it comes to day cares. “Almost all centers have a locked front door, but once inside the lobby, are there other security protocol?” Cindy Weathers, owner of Park Place Children’s Center in Simpsonville, SC, tells Romper. “Parents need to find out if everyone has full access to the building, too.” Other questions to ask include finding out if doors leading in from the playgrounds are locked or monitored, and if there is a video security system in place to monitor everyone who comes in and out of the facility. It’s also important to find out what type of sign-in system the daycare has.
8. “Has the center been assessed with ITERS and/or ECERS environmental rating scales?”
The Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale - Revised Edition (ITERS-R) and the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale – Revised edition (ECERS-R) were developed by the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute to be used for self-assessment or by an outside observer to evaluate program quality. “These comprehensive, reliable and valid instruments help providers offer childcare settings that promote optimal early childhood development,” says Weathers. Seven different areas are rated to protect children’s health and safety, ensure appropriate stimulation through language and activities, and promote warm, supportive interaction between children and their caregivers.
9. “Do children have learning opportunities in a variety of settings, or are they in the same classroom each day?”
While young children thrive on routine, as Parents reported, switching up the schedule from time to time can be good for them, too. “Having a few transitions each day enhances a preschool program, but too many transitions can have the opposite effect,” says Weathers. “Children benefit most from a balanced program where they have ample, uninterrupted time in their own classroom along with activities in other areas.” Ask to see a sample classroom in session so you can get an idea for the vibe of the daycare and how it treats its littlest learners.
10. “Is this center nationally accredited or pursuing accreditation? If not, why not?”
National accreditation provides a level of accountability which ensures that a center is providing facilities and programs that are aligned with the best practices in early childhood education. Most accrediting bodies require centers to be in operation for at least one year before beginning the accreditation process. And knowing that your day care has been accredited can give you some extra reassurance that your child is in good hands.
11. “How is food prepared and served?”
Your child is going to have many meals while he’s at daycare, so it makes sense to see where food is stored. After all, you don’t want the crackers to be sitting right next to the cleaning supplies. Ask to see the kitchen to observe how sanitary it is, and find out how the day care handles food allergies, in case your child has them. “You can also do a public search of the center for licensing and health reports to see how they have performed during their inspections,” advises MacLean.
Knowing what to expect from your child’s day care can help you manage your own expectations and feel comfortable that your child is going to receive quality care.
Sherrie MacLean, RECE and National Director of Operations at Tiny Hoppers
Laurie A. Couture, a licensed mental health counselor and child trauma specialist
Cindy Weathers, owner of Park Place Children’s Center in Simpsonville, SC