In this tumultuous economy, many stay-at-home moms are returning to the work force. Life is tough enough without the guilt moms feel when turning over the care of their children to someone else. I was one of those moms. In fact, it bothered me so much that I abandoned my career as a court reporter and went to work a top quality child care center. I started as a general care giver, moved on to the two-year olds, developed the after school program and finally managed the facility.
Unfortunately, finding quality child care can be frustrating and time consuming. Who has time to drive around to every day care facility in your community? The key to finding the quality child care facility for your little one is to know what you want.
Day care (or child care) is defined as “the caring for a child by someone other than the child’s parents or immediate family at an outside location.”
On the other hand, preschool is a structured learning program for children ages 2-5 (depending on state jurisdiction). It’s also known as nursery school. Most preschools have two, three and four year old classes. Children learn skills that prepare them for kindergarten. Most preschool programs are from 9 to noon, followed by lunch and a nap or “quiet time.”
Many day care centers have preschools, but not all preschools have day care centers.
Before you start your search to find quality child care, you need to become resolved with your situation. But have heart. The atmosphere of a quality child care center can resemble the old neighborhoods that many of us grew up in. There were plenty of children to play with and all kinds of activities, both mental and physical, indoors and out. It’s the place where they will learn to play fair, share, get along with others and learn responsibility. It is your child’s first step toward independence, whether you like it or not.
For over 13 years I helped provide quality child care for thousands of children and let me reassure you worried parents of this:
* Day care kids are tough. Both physically, mentally and socially.
* Day care kids are flexible. They are able to adjust to new situations with little fuss.
* Day care kids form close friendships that aren’t possible during school hours.
* Day care kids are more socialized. They behave better in public.
* Many day care kids are in good to excellent physical condition. Quality child care facilities understand the need for physical exercise as well as scheduled eating times.
* Day care kids learn to concentrate and tend to be less distracted.
Finding a quality child care facility can be a daunting task. Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Allow yourself as much time as you need. You need to come to grips with the decision to put your little one in daycare/preschool and you’ll need to do your home work.
2. How do you define “a quality child care facility?” Is it the programs available? Is it the certified staff? Is it the cleanliness? Is it the facility’s safety record? Do you want someone to hold him all day? Do you want him to have computer access? Do you need some place he can go if he’s sick? Do you want him to learn a language? Make a list of every thing you are looking for. Rank them in order of their importance.
3. Learn the lingo. What is a “Montessori” facility? What does “certified staff” really mean? What constitutes a “nutritious” lunch? What are “enrichment” programs?
4. Make up a notebook to help you keep track of information that you’ll collect. Most of the quality child care centers have handouts or literature regarding their facility.
5. Do your initial research by phone. Pay attention to what you hear in the back ground. Screaming babies and/or caregivers is not a good sign. Find out: what age children they take, what are their hours, what are their fees and do they have any openings.
6. Location, location, location. I don’t care what a quality child care facility offers. An extra half hour out of your way, every day, is going to get real old, real fast.
7. Check with the Better Business Bureau. They might not be able to tell you who the quality child care centers are, but they can tell you who to stay away from.
8. Google the day care. It can alert you to lawsuits and legal problems. Any time they’ve been in the news should show up, both positive and negative.
9. Look towards the future. Eventually your child will begin attending school. Will your child be able to continue at that care facility? Do they have a pick up service or a bus from your child’s school to the day care?
10. Ask your friends, family and neighbors for recommendations.
The Initial Visit – in Search of Quality Child Care
If possible, leave your child with a friend or spouse while you search for a quality child care facility. You’ll want to observe the operation of the facility without having to deal with your own child. Also, you don’t want to unconsciously feed off your child’s reaction. Some children fall in love with play ground equipment. Some children are scared to death when they are around more than three people.
Sometimes a care giver tries way too hard to impress you with her love of children and will be so busy coo-cooing at your child that it becomes distracting. Whomever you are dealing with needs to be able to focus on you and provide answers to your questions.
Do not put your child in a day care that does not allow you random drop in visits. To be considerate, ask when would be the best time to visit, but don’t make an appointment. Of course, the quality child care centers want to have the time to talk to you and show you around.
A facility should always be adequately staffed and ready for a visitor or an inspector. A quality child care facility wants you to know that they don’t have anything to hide. They want you to know that whether a parent is there or not, their place is always clean, always fully staffed, that security measures are always in place, and that the facility is always professionally run. A quality child care center is proud of their facility and wants you to look around and investigate.
At the quality child care centers, the staff adores children (they don’t get paid enough to do it for the money). They will be suspect of you if you DON’T ask questions and poke around. Don’t be embarrassed. Look at the situation as if it’s a job interview. YOU are looking to hire THEM to take care of your most precious treasure.
You can’t always tell a quality child care facility by looking at it. Have a list of questions ready for whoever gives you the tour. It could be the owner, the manager, the director or even a teacher.
You’ll want to know:
1. How many kids are there on an average day?
2. What kind of training does the staff has?
3. What kind of back ground checks were done on the staff?
4. Is the weekly menu posted?
5. Does the child care facility provide lunch?
6. Does the day care center teach potty training?
7. Does the facility have a waiting list? If you like the day care and would like your child to go there, go ahead and put your name on the list. It’s not a contract. And if you change your mind or find a day care that’s better suited, that’s fine. However, just because a daycare has a waiting list doesn’t mean it’s a great day care. And, conversely, a day care center without a waiting list doesn’t mean it’s a bad day care. The day care facility that I managed did not have a waiting list, because we had plenty of room and plenty of staff.
8. How does the center handle “bad behavior?” (The correct answer is “one minute of time out for every year the child is old.” Example: A three year old child would get three minutes in time out.)
9. How soon could your child start?
10. ow much does it cost?
11. Are your required to pay weekly or monthly?
12. Other than your weekly fees, are there any “hidden” costs that you should be aware of?
13. What happens if you pay for one week, and then your child is home sick for three days? Are you given a refund?
Use all your sense while you’re there and make notes to help you remember what you observe:
1. How many children are in time out? (It could reflect that one of the care givers has no tolerance).
2. What are the children eating? (Candy, sugared cereal first thing in the morning is not a good sign.
3. Look for runny noses. A good staff at a quality child care center will constantly be monitoring noses.
4. What is the condition of the indoor toys and equipment? A well worn toy is not the same as being filthy or dangerous.
5. What is the condition of the outdoor equipment in?
6. What are the children playing with? Are actual toys available?
7. Is there room enough outside for vigorous activity – like running, skipping and hopping?
8. What is the noise level in the facility? You don’t want children sitting like robots, but too much screaming may mean lack of control.
9. Do the children appear to be in good health? You don’t want to see gummy or red eyes, runny noses, filthy hair, bite marks or scratch marks.
10. Are the children clean? From my experience, the staffs at the quality child care centers, bend over backwards to keep children neat and clean.
11. Are the windows clean?
12. Check out the high chairs. Are they clean and well maintained?
13. What’s the temperature of the room? Does it feel comfortable to you?
14. Take a peek in the bathrooms. Are they spotless? How do they smell?
15. While you’re sniffing, do any of the children smell or urine or feces? While you’re sniffing, do any of the children need their diapers changed?
16. Does the staff appear competent?
17. Is the staff well groomed and professional? Are they washing their hands at appropriate times?
18. Does the staff appear to be happy around their charges?
19. How about the kids … are they happy campers?
While you are visiting, children should never be left alone with you, nor should they be allowed to climb all over you. The staff should make sure you keep your distance as well as making sure the children keep theirs.
Be wary of a day care that offers “free lunch.” We all know that it’s not “free” but already figured into the weekly fees. Sometimes “free” means “since you don’t think you’re paying for it, we’ll feed your child the cheapest meal we can make. He will get the bare minimum requirements of nutrition, but that’s it.”
Once you’ve completed your research and decided on the daycare, you’ll have paper work to fill out. This is a good time to take your child into the day care for the first time. Let the staff get a look at him and let him wander around while you fill out the paper work. Make sure you bring all the necessary phone numbers and documents with you, including a record of all required vaccinations. .
The quality child care center will require a list of all people authorized to pick up your child. No day care should allow your child to leave the facility with some one who is not on that list. Even if you call. They want the authorization done in person. If Granny is in town for the week and is planning on picking Junior up, you better make sure you add her to the list. Include your spouse, a neighbor and a friend.
Prepare yourself for the first day you drop off your child. He might have some separation issues and start crying as you leave. That is normal and not a reflection on the day care center.
The best thing you can do, is turn the child over to a staff member. They’ll already know who you are and will be ready for you. They are experienced in helping children through this traumatic event. Kiss your child good bye and walk away. No tears from you. No running back to give just one more hug. No sneaking back to see if he’s stopped crying.
The staff at a quality child care facility has handled this exact situation thousands of times. They know what to do. They know the fastest way to transition a child from tears to smiles. Let them do their job.
Don’t linger. Don’t drag out this first parting. It’s the best thing you can do for your child. They might start to cry, but usually the child gets bored with that in about 15 minutes. Then they start to have a little fun. Then they realize that their mom or dad is gone and they cry some more. Next thing you know its snack time. More fun. Then it’s time to go outside for a little bit. Hey, that’s new. Now it’s time for lunch. Baby might be sad again, but he falls asleep in about 5 minutes because he’s tired from all the activity.
If possible, bring your child to the day care every day for the first week. The second day can be a little rough, because they remember that you left them there. Usually by the fourth day they are old pros and looking forward to seeing their new friends.
Monitor your child for several weeks. Even the top quality child care centers are not immune to colds, bumps, bruises and diaper rashes. Look for bite marks. You might notice changes in behavior and that range from one end of the spectrum to the other.
Your child will start to sleep longer and deeper. Quality child care facilities pride themselves in wearing your child out with lots of new things to see and do. They also discourage little cat naps at any time of day. You child will learn to rest and sleep when it’s scheduled.
Be prepared for the moment that your child goes eagerly into the arms of his care giver without a backwards glance in your direction. That’s a good thing. It shows you that he’s happy and adjusting. It shows you that he’s growing up. And it shows you did a great job in choosing a quality child care center.