My youngest two started a new daycare yesterday. Even though I have done it several times before, the thought of leaving two pieces of my heart and soul with people who are almost strangers kind of gets my stomach turning. This is only the second time that we have changed daycare centers because we did not feel that the center was fulfilling our needs. The last change was when Mr. J (our oldest) was 3 months old, so it has been a while since we have had to make the difficult decision to make such a drastic change in the everyday routine for our children. My husband and I, of course, weighed our options very carefully, and the foremost thought in our mind was what was in the best interests of our kids. As I now reflect once again on what I need in a daycare, it is similar to most things in life that your list of requirements vs. desires sometimes changes a bit when you have a little more perspective on a situation.
I have learned a lot along the way in regards to what I feel makes a great daycare environment. Sure, it is easy to look online at the state’s Department of Family Services site (click here to visit the Louisiana site) to see if the center has had any major infractions. I think word of mouth advice from other parents can be quite insightful, but this can be difficult to learn when you are moving to a new city and might not have those parent connections yet.
As with any interview process, a daycare is trying to put their “best foot forward” when you are visiting the center, so it is important to arm yourself with a list of important questions to help you get down to the nitty gritty of daily routine in order to get the most accurate impression of the center. So, now, as we get another “first day” under our belt, here are a few of the questions (that I have learned the hard way) that are really important to consider when looking into daycares:
- Take a good look at the space of your child’s “classroom.” When it comes to infant rooms, is the space big enough for playmats, room to roll around on the floor, equipment like swings or bouncy seats, let alone a crib for every infant in the class? Older children need room to run and be “kids,” so it is important to take in not only their inside classroom, but also inquire about the space outside.
- Does the center follow recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics? This could include anything from basing the curriculum on expected developmental milestones (even infant classrooms should have “curriculum”) to what milk they serve your one year old (which should be whole milk unless otherwise recommended for your specific kiddo by your pediatrician).
- Who makes the final decision about moving your child to the next class in the center? There should be an open dialogue between parents and teachers in regards to what is best for the child, and it is important to look at the actual child and not just their age. If a parent feels their child needs to be moved up and challenged more, how does the center handle such a request? Good centers will flex and tailor their developmental curriculum for each specific child with lots of input from the parents. After all, not all 2 year olds are the same.
- Are you or your child “forced” into anything? For example, if your child is showing no interest in potty training, does the center require them to start wearing pull ups just because of the class they are in? If your 12 month old is working on transitioning from bottles but is not really interested in taking their milk from a cup just yet, do they take bottles away anyway?
- How does the center handle special dietary requests? For example, if your child is lactose intolerant or has a milk allergy, can you bring your own milk to the center? Does the center charge you an extra fee for any deviation from the typical menu? As we have recently found out while dealing with a few dietary issues with Miss M, some places will charge an extra fee per week to not give milk or cheese as a snack while also not allowing us to bring an alternative for her.
- While the center’s hours are of course important, you should also ask if there are restrictions on drop off and pick up times. From recent experience, if our children were not dropped off before 10:30AM, they were not allowed to come to the center until after 1:30pm.
- Finally, ask about their rate of turnover of the teachers. I would ask not only the directors of the center, but as you are going around the center, ask each teacher individually. You will quickly learn what kind of working environment exists there, and a stable staff usually means a happy staff, which is certainly good for your little ones.
Just like many other things in the world of parenting, you sometimes learn as you go. As a parent, it was always my hope that I would make the “perfect” decision about what child care center to enroll my children in the first time. After all, no one likes change of routine. However, in the end, as long as I am learning from those perhaps not so perfect experiences, then I will consider it just another important step in my growth as a mommy.
If you need a good, comprehensive checklist of things to discuss on your visit to daycare centers, click here.