According to the National Household Education Survey, 58% of working parents with children five years old and younger — or about 6.38 million parents across the nation — rely on child care centers because of work commitments. Child care expenditure comprises a major part of the family budget, and is important to the career of many working women. You want the most affordable, highest quality daycare, that’s close to your home or work. And let’s not forget that you are entrusting your most precious assets – your children – to these people, during the important formative years of their development. With that much riding on child care, how can parents be sure that they have picked the right place? Here are eight steps to picking a great daycare.
Check out reviews. Check out the daycare’s social media; a great daycare will have great reviews. Comments and interaction from parents is a good sign; engaged parents are satisfied parents. You can also read reviews posted on popular sites like Yahoo and Google. But don’t stop at online searches. Ask the daycare for the names of some of its parents you can call for references, and tap your network of friends and family for whom they would recommend. Finally, check out government sites, like childcare.gov or families.decal.ga.gov, for rating and review information.
Check out the daycare environment. What’s the first impression when you walk in the door? Is it a vibrant, clean, stimulating space? Are there spaces dedicated for each age group; are there open and safe spaces for infants to crawl, or scaled tables and chairs for toddlers to color or work on crafts? Do the children look happy and engaged? Are they having fun? Do they seem comfortable with their caregivers? Does the daycare reflect a diversity of race, beliefs and cultures, both in children and caregivers? First impressions are important; when a daycare is right, you’ll feel it when you walk in the door.
Check out the curriculum. Early childhood education curriculum should be thoughtfully planned, culturally and linguistically responsive, and developmentally appropriate. Lesson plans should provide children with strategies that help them develop the emotional, social, and cognitive skills needed to become lifelong learners. Lesson elements should include science, literacy, numeracy, art and music, and movement. Video should be used very sparingly, if ever. An early education center should allow you to observe the children in a lesson. Do the children seem interested and engaged in the activity? Do they exhibit social interaction during their lessons? Finally, whatever curriculum is used, it should be aligned with an evidence-based set of standards, whether provided by your state or another organization, that outline a developmental continuum of desired skills from infancy through kindergarten entry.
Check out the caregivers. Caregivers should have degrees related to early childhood development or be in the process of obtaining one, with at least two years of college under their belt. They should also be trained in CPR and any other emergency procedures. Watch and listen as the teachers interact with the children. Do the teachers act comfortably with the children, and do the children act comfortably around them? Are they having meaningful conversations with the children? The class environment should be a comfortable one for both children and caregivers; teachers should be guiding students in activities without using stern directions and negative responses. Teachers should always speak to children at the child’s eye level. Most importantly, do you feel comfortable speaking with the teachers? Here again, follow that gut feeling.
Check out the environment again – this time for safety. Great daycare centers should practice basic child-proofing, like outlet covers, no glass, no sharp objects, changing tables and high-chairs with safety straps, window blinds with no pull strings or pull strings anchored, outside door locks and security), as well as regular checks on toy safety for age recommendations and product recalls. The play space should be well-kept and maintained. Most importantly, children should be constantly supervised.
Check out the caregiver-child ratio. The more hands on deck, the better. The ratio varies by age. Infants (under 15 months old) should be in groups of twelve or less, with a ratio of 1:6. Toddlers (up to 2 1/2 years old) should be in groups of twenty or less, with a ratio of 1:10. Preschoolers (up to 4 years old) should be in groups of thirty or less, with a ratio of 1:15. Multiple visits are recommended to gauge not only caregiver ratio but retention. You should see the same caregivers day-to-day. Seeing consistency in the caregivers is a good indication of the quality of the daycare; a high teacher turnover is a loud reflection on the reputation of the daycare.
Check out the established policies and rules. Written-down, well-established policies go a long way; detail to organization will reflect throughout the daycare’s operation. A detailed policy manual should cover everything from small things like circle time to more crucial rules like how to handle sick children or emergency situations. Talk to the center administrators about policies and rules, and gauge for yourself whether you are comfortable with its level of policy adherence and flexibility. While you do want some flexibility, you also don’t want the rules to be so loose that your child is unsafe. Check out SoulShine's promise to our parents and community.
Check out licensing and accreditation. Licensing and accreditation are two different criteria. Each state has basic legal requirements for operating a daycare, so being licensed is non-negotiable. But whether or not a great daycare center also needs to be accredited is completely up to you and may depend on availability in your area. State licensing agencies validate that the center is safe and abides by all official regulations. Accreditation agencies are private and evaluate centers based on a wider range of criteria that can be very specific, such as employee benefits or outside wheeled toys are not used inside. Three agencies run accreditation programs in the U.S.: National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC); National Accreditation Commission for the Early Care and Education Programs (NAC); National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA). But bear in mind that only about 1% of the over 700,000 daycares in the U.S. are accredited, and there may be other criteria that weigh more heavily in your decision making.