It doesn't matter how much you love your job —
putting your kids in daycare is hard. And choosing a daycare facility? That can be even harder. But, knowing the right questions to ask a daycare can help you find the center that’s right for your family and help you feel totally confident in your choice.
You should start the daycare search process as soon as possible. Finding the daycare center that fits your family, offers your child the opportunities you want, and provides a safe place for their development to grow will take some time, and it's best to be prepared for that. Not to mention, securing a spot for your child(ren) in a good daycare can be incredibly difficult, and you may find that the centers near you have waitlists, so the sooner you can get your child(ren) added to the list, the better.
When you begin touring daycare centers, you may find that it's easy to get swept up in the presentation the daycare administrator or owner gives and forget all of the things you wanted for your child. Oftentimes, you’ll have a lot of information thrown at you during one of these tours, so it’s helpful to write up a list of questions to ask a daycare before the tour so that you can check off things as they cover them, and know what other questions you have left when the presentation is over. After all, while every parent wants a safe, clean, and health environment for their little one(s), every family wants or needs something different from their daycare, so it’s unlikely that they’ll cover everything you want to know during the tour.
Regardless of the type of daycare center you're looking for, you should keep these questions in mind for when you're ready to start touring. Of course, the basics are probably already covered like drop-off/pick-up times, meals, rules and regulations, but knowing the answers to these specific questions may make your choice a lot easier and will make you feel even more confident when choosing a daycare for your child.
1 What Is Your Sick Child Policy?
Sick policies have always been important, but especially so now in the time of Covid, so this is one of the most important questions to ask a daycare. First, you want to know if the daycare accepts any sick children and its policies surrounding the topic. Like, are children allowed to come to daycare as long as they don’t have a fever? Are coughs and runny noses considered an illness? Also, you’ll want to ask about if your child is sick and has to miss a day. Do you still have to pay for that day? Do you have to call in and let them know your child won’t be in?
2 What Are Your Covid Policies?
Chances are high they’re still evolving on a regular basis, but it’s still important to make sure they’re taking things seriously. Do they shut down classes because of exposure? What are quarantine rules for vaccinated kids compared to unvaccinated? Do teachers and students wear masks? Are parents/visitors allowed into the classrooms? Do they require PCR tests to return to school after having a fever? Are they flexible with kids with pre-existing conditions (for example, my toddler has chronic rhinitis, so her ENT wrote a note asking she not be sent home for a runny nose)?
3 What Are Your Procedures When Students Don’t Follow The Rules?
Super important, right? Because even the best-behaved kids act out sometimes. You’ll want to know how the center handles consequences for different ages. Do they sit down with the kids and help them identify and work through their feelings? Do they practice positive reinforcement for good behavior? Are there behavior charts that are on display for the whole class to see (which some kids may react to as shaming)? Also, you might want to follow this question up by asking if they are willing to implement any of your own consequence systems from home or work with you to come up with a cohesive system when there is an ongoing problem.
4 What Supplies Do I Need To Provide?
Some centers provide diapers, wipes, diaper cream, and formula, and other daycare centers don't provide anything. This can make a difference for you, especially when you're considering prices.
5 Do You Teach Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)? Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) helps kids learn to identify and regulate their own emotions, show empathy to friends in need, respect differences, resolve conflict, and more. It’s an important part of education and development, but often doesn’t get as much attention as the more traditional curriculum like reading, writing, etc. 6 Do You Administer Medication?
If your child is on antibiotics and cleared to go back to daycare, you'll want to check in and see if the center will administer medication. It's also important if your child is ever complaining of a headache or a stomachache. Will the center administer medication until you can get there? Do you have to provide it? What if your child takes certain medications every day?
7 Are Children Supervised At All Times?
This sounds like a silly question to ask, but it's important. Even nap time should be supervised, so make sure the center always has a caregiver in the room with the children.
8 What Is The Schedule?
Every daycare center is different, and you may find that some are more structured than others. Ask to see a schedule so you can decide if it's the right fit for your child. If you’re enrolling your infant, you may want to ask if they follow your schedule from home or if you’ll be expected to stick with theirs on weekends for consistency.
9 What Is Your Inclement Weather Policy?
If the school is delayed or closed, how will they alert you? Do they make decisions the night before a weather event or do they wait until the day of? What events will cause them to close early unexpectedly?
10 Are The Employees Experienced & Qualified?
Are they all brand-new? Have some been there for several years? Do they have degrees in child care? You definitely want experienced when it comes to someone taking care of your child.
11 Have The Employees Been Trained In First Aid?
This covers everything from CPR to treating cuts or bumps.
12 How Many Children Are There Per Adult?
Teacher-to-student ratio is very important, and the younger the kid is, the lower that number should be. Every state has its own policy on specifics, and the
US Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families and Office of Child Care recommends a ratio of one teacher to three to four infants in a classroom, and no more than six to eight infants and two adults total per classroom. It can be very overwhelming for one caregiver to have more than three to four children to look after, and it might mean your child isn't getting the attention and care they deserve. 13 Will My Children Leave The Center At Any Time?
As in, will they be heading off to parks, walks in the neighborhood, or field trips? You'll want to touch on transportation and the rules of that, like if you have to provide permission and a car seat.
14 When Is The Center Closed?
What are their regularly scheduled holidays and breaks? Do they also close for teacher workdays? For centers that operate on an academic calendar, you will want to ask if they offer summer sessions (and if tuition for these sessions is different).
15 What Do You Do If There Is An Emergency With My Child?
Do they call 911 and then you? Will they contact you more than once? Can you provide emergency contacts?
16 Are Children Required To Be Up To Date On Their Immunizations?
This question is extremely important, especially if your child is immunocompromised and/or isn’t up to date on their vaccinations. If they are required to be immunized, be sure to ask what kind of documentation they require as proof, and if there are grace periods if you and your doctor are pacing your child’s vaccinations for some reason.
17 Is The Center Licensed?
A huge question. Every state has their own regulations for licensing a daycare center, so be sure to look into what your state requires before making a center licensed.
18 What Group Will My Child Be In?
Some daycare centers break down the groups of children by ages and some break it down even further by separating potty-trained children from those who aren't. You'll want to know if your 3-year-old is considered a toddler or if they'll be in a preschool classroom with older children.
19 Do You Help With Potty Training?
When it comes to potty training your child, consistency is key, and since taking a week of PTO to stay home and potty train your toddler isn’t ideal, you’ll want to know if their daycare will help. You might also want to ask if your child needs to be potty trained in order to move up to a new class or if they will be held back until they’re trained.
20 What Are The Ages Of The Children In The Center?
It's always nice to have a general idea of the range of ages at the center, especially if the children are all interacting with each other.
21 Do You Have A Limit On The Number Of Children You Can Provide For?
Remember that ratio question? It also helps to know if there's a limit to the number of children the daycare will accept. That way, you know that the ratio will stay about the same.
22 What Does The Pre-K Curriculum Focus On?
If you’re touring the center with a new baby, it might seem way too early to even think about this, but if your child ends up loving the daycare and you find out in four years that they don’t do any pre-k prep, you’ll have to decide whether or not to pull them from their friends and teachers. Ask if they have a formal pre-k program and what they do to help prepare kids for the transition into kindergarten.
23 What Is The Security Like?
Most daycare centers these days have locked doors and require an ID to enter the building. Others may provide you with a card to swipe at the front. Either way, knowing the security measures and precautions the center is taking can make you feel extremely comfortable.
24 What Will My Child Eat?
This is a huge thing for many parents. If you're strictly against PB&J sandwiches, Goldfish crackers, and juice boxes, you may opt for a different kind of center that provides your child with fresh fruit and veggies. Or, if you love the center otherwise, ask if you can pack your child’s snacks everyday instead.
25 Do You Provide Meals For Those With Dietary Restrictions Or Allergies?
Again, this can factor into your choices when you consider the pricing. If your child is vegan and the center doesn't offer any vegan meals, you then have to consider the cost of packing a lunch and snacks for your child each day.
26 Are There Rules On What I Can Pack For My Child's Lunch?
A lot of daycares have guidelines on what types of foods parents can send in with their child. For example, can you pack a peanut butter sandwich if there are no kids with allergies in your kid’s class, or is the whole school peanut free? You will also want to ask if they have the ability to heat up your child’s food for them, and if there are any guidelines on what types of storage containers you can send in (such as glass).
27 Do You Prorate Tuition For Planned Extended Absences?
Most centers don’t give you a discount when your child misses a day for a cold, but some will prorate tuition if you know in advance that your child will be out for a week or more for a vacation or medical procedure. For example, when my daughter had her tonsils out, she was out of school for the week leading up to surgery (to avoid Covid exposure), the week of her surgery, and then eased back in the following week with half days. Since we knew this would be her schedule ahead of time, our daycare prorated her tuition for the month.
28 How Much Time Do The Kids Get To Play Outside?
There has been tons of research proving that
children need more time outdoors, so be sure to ask the center how much time your kids will get to explore and play. Additionally, ask if they still go outside to play when it’s very cold outside (like below freezing) or very hot. 29 Are Children Allowed Screen Time?
I've heard some horror stories about daycare centers with televisions using it as a Disney-themed babysitter. Everyone has their own thoughts on screen time for their kid, but if it's important to you, it's worth asking.
30 Can I Check In Throughout The Day?
My sister chose a daycare center where she can check in through webcam to see what her daughter's doing during the day, and she also receives texts about how much her daughter ate, when she went to the bathroom, and how she napped. I don't know if calling every 10 minutes is recommended, but you definitely deserve to be able to check in.
31 Will I Receive Progress Updates?
And how often? It's always nice to hear if your kid's behaving well, if they're having any problems, and what the center is doing to help your child develop.
32 Do You Offer Any Discounts?
If this is your first child, you might not think to ask about the sibling discount, but if you plan to have more babies in the next couple of years, you’ll want to find out if they offer anything to help cut the costs. Also, if you’re a veteran, first responder, healthcare worker, or a teacher, some daycares will offer discounts for you. Finally, some centers provide tuition assistance or sliding scales based on income, which can be very helpful.
33 Will You Call Me If My Child Is Upset Or Hurt?
Of course major injuries are always called about, but if your little one gets a scraped knee, does the center call? If your toddler is crying for you, will the center let you know while you're working? Some simply update you when you pick your child up, but that doesn't always sit well with parents. If their policy seems a little lax, ask if they’re willing to contact you for situations they may not for other parents, like bumps on the head or tugging at the ears if your child is prone to ear infections.
34 Are There Cameras In The Center?
And not necessarily web cams, but be sure to ask if there are cameras in each classroom and play area. God forbid, but if anything were to happen to your kid, you'd want to be sure there was some video proof or evidence to help figure out what happened.
35 How Do You Help Babies & Toddlers With Developmental Delays?
Babies and toddlers can be behind on certain milestones for a number of reasons that don’t require specialist care, but they may still need some extra attention to help them out. For example, is there a bar for babies to practice pulling up? Do the teachers encourage babies and toddlers to walk and talk? You may also want to follow up by asking if they’ll alert you if they notice a delay or other red flag that you should follow up on.
36 What Are The Cleaning Policies?
Daycare centers are just a giant haven for germs thanks to all those kiddos. So it's always helpful to know how often toys are disinfected, if floors are cleaned daily, and how the bathrooms are taken care of.
37 Do The Children All Interact Together Or Stay In Age Groups?
Especially nice to know if you have siblings there together! Will your 5-year-old see the baby at any time during the day? Will your 8-year-old have to play with a 3-year-old all day?
38 Do You Provide Any Education?
Having a loving environment for your child to go to while you’re working is top priority, but for a lot of parents so is staying on track with development and early education. If making sure your kid gets their shapes, colors, numbers, and letters covered every day is important to you, be sure to ask.
39 Do You Work On Social Skills?
Like manners, sharing, tolerance, and being kind to each other.
40 Do The Employees Undergo Background Checks?
You always want to ask this. It might make you feel crazy or paranoid, but you're not, I promise. It's important.
41 What Is The Nap Policy?
Is there a scheduled time every day where your child has to take a nap? What happens if they don't nap? Be sure to ask if your nap time routine can be implemented, too. Some centers don't rock babies to sleep with a bottle, but if that's what you want for your child, you'll need to keep looking.
42 Do You Have A Disaster Plan?
In case of intruders, fire, and severe weather, the center should have a plan in place and it should be practiced often.
43 Do You Allow & Administer Sunscreen & Bug Spray?
Outdoor time means exposure to sunshine and bugs that like to bite. For kids who are at school all day, they’ll need a reapplication of sunscreen and/or bug spray if they go outside after lunch, so it’s important to make sure the school is willing to administer this.
44 Do You Celebrate Holidays With The Children?
I would find this incredibly important and would want to make sure my children were able to celebrate all the holidays while in daycare. Like is there a program for Christmas? Do they cover Black History Month? Not only that, but do they also educate the students on different holidays, such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa?
45 How Do You Comfort The Children?
This one might not be at the top of your list, but wouldn't you want to know? If your child's upset, how will the center providers comfort them? Do they just hug it out? Do they distract them with a toy? Or do they call you to help? Nobody wants to think of their child being upset and not comforted in a way that you know would make them feel better.
This list of questions to ask a daycare may seem like a lot, but remember, you don’t have to ask every single question during your initial tour. Prioritize what’s most important to you and then, as you start to narrow down your center options, follow up with more questions later to help you finalize your decision. You’re going to be trusting this center to take care of your children on a daily basis, so you have every right to ask as many questions as you need to in order to feel comfortable, and a good daycare will be ready and willing to answer anything that comes their way.