Searching for a daycare can be a harrowing task—especially for first-time moms with all the unknowns. But the upside (beyond flexible pickup) is that the right daycare can be a place where your child learns independence, forms friendships, and builds on the fundamentals for reading and math that contribute to long-term success in school.
Since the best childcare centers are in high demand, it’s a good idea to start your search at least six months in advance. We’ve compiled a list of seven quintessential things to look for when touring and narrowing down your list.
1. Honest, open communication
The first day of daycare is almost always the hardest. Leaving your child can be scary and stressful. A great daycare knows this and is ready to help your child transition into the day and help them feel comfortable. The center should have an open-door policy and you should feel free to stop by at any point unannounced. If they discourage this—beware. Also, how do they handle behavior problems? Be sure they are willing to address any situation, equip the child with tools, and communicate openly and honestly with parents.
2. A sterling reputation
The best way to find a place is through word of mouth from people that share your values, insights, and likes. If you are new in town, community platforms like nextdoor.com can offer valuable insight. You can also ask the director for parent references and check their website for descriptive testimonials.
3. A clean, safe space
Safety first—always! Does the front door have a key pad with a code or a swipe card? Do backyard play spaces have high fences and locked gates? When touring the inside, is the facility clean and is it obvious they practice good hygiene (washing hands frequently, sterile changing tables, and clean potty areas)? With the rampant spread of colds and viruses between small children, a strict sick policy benefits everyone involved.
4. Educated teachers who truly care
Teachers should feel comfortable talking about their decision to work with children. Ultimately you want teachers that consider their positions a privilege to make an impact on kids’ lives. They should also be educated with a background in early childhood development (although some states don’t require this), and CPR and other emergency training.
Also be sure to ask about the teacher-student ratio. Will you want a more intimate setting with a higher ratio of teachers? Perhaps you are comfortable with a daycare adhering to the guidelines set by the NAEYC.
5. A stimulating curriculum
Children love structure and to show off what they’ve learned. Look for signs of an organized, well-thought-out day in the classroom that includes scheduled potty breaks, outdoor time, and circle time with themes. Also, activities that enhance learning, imagination, social skills, and motor skills. Look for a posted lesson plan, age-appropriate activities, and inquire about a parent newsletter or blog.
6. Healthy food options
The earlier your child is introduced to healthy foods, the more likely these good habits will stick. The same goes for bad ones. If you’re bringing your child’s food, find out the center’s guidelines. For instance, many daycares don’t allow nuts due to allergies but welcome substitutes like sunflower seed butter for peanut butter. If the center has a food plan, find out what it serves at meal and snack times. Is it mainly processed food or do they encourage healthy eating habits and cover all the food groups?
7. A current license
Last but not least—be very certain the facility is regulated and official. They should pass all applicable laws and be licensed. This Resource Map from Child Care Aware gives you direct links to the offices in your state responsible for child care licensing.
Even when you find the Holy Grail of daycares, the transition may not be easy right off. Be patient and give your child time to adapt to a new environment with strange faces and rules. Remember, it’s about the big picture and kids are incredibly resilient.