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As your baby starts to grow into a toddler, it may be ideal for your family to have the support of a daycare center. This will enable you to go to work, manage your family’s life, and also your child will learn to integrate with other children and adults. They’ll get new experiences, learning basic skills like counting and sharing, be able to develop their communication, and make use of the center’s toys and sensory equipment.
An alternative option to consider is a child-minder, so taking your child to the care-givers home with children from several families. This can be a nice local option but is not ideal for all families.
You’ll naturally be looking for something that fits in with your family lifestyle, is close to home, is suitable for your affordable family costs, and is of high quality for your children. But how do you find the best daycare center for you? With so much information out there, it can be confusing and tough to make a decision.
So what are the essential elements to look out for in a daycare center, and how can you find the right one for your family? We’ve brought together the most critical points for you to consider, and we hope that this will make the decision easier for your family.
Reviews and Recommendations
Firstly, do your research! Lots of daycare centers have listings online, with websites and reviews, so it’s easy to start researching daycare centers near you. Make sure to visit several daycare centers in the area; you can book visits during parent days or directly by contacting the manager.
It’s essential that you carefully read reviews and parent recommendations online, what are the key points that other parents are loving or concerned about? Are these a priority for you? How recent are the reviews, and is the information still relevant? You can also speak to parents in your circle and those who have children at the daycare, as they may have previous experience or anecdotal stories about the center, that they may not want to share online.
Also, research the daycare’s accreditation, licensing, and standards from outside agencies that have assessed the quality of the center, it’s staff, and facilities. If this has raised issues, check with the manager that they have been adequately addressed and resolved.
As you’re visiting the daycare centers, keep an eye on the children and their behavior in the center. We all know that a small tantrum or crying is usual, but what is the general feel of the daycare? Are the children occupied with constructive activities, are they playing nicely, communicating well with each other and staff?
These are important behaviors to look out for as it will give you a good indication of how your child will be encouraged to behave and enjoy their time in care. Overall, children should be playing well together, treating each other and staff respectfully. As they begin to learn about sharing and saying, please, positive reinforcements will be important for them.
Curriculum and Schedule
Most centers will have a curriculum or schedule planned out for the week or semester, to give children a wide range of activities and experiences. The essentials should be literacy, math, physical exercises like dancing, and playtime. These should be included daily and will be woven into the activities run by staff. Have a look at the equipment and toys available, a wide range of resources is a positive sign the daycare provides a variety of opportunities.
Check display boards for examples of seasonal activities the children complete, recent photos, or artwork from their group. You can also ask to see a semesters term plan from the manager, have a look at how they are celebrating events like Thanksgiving or Spring Time. This should give you a good idea of the activities your child will be engaging in daily and across the year.
Staff Happiness and Turnover
It may be difficult to get a read on the staff’s happiness and turnover when you visit the daycare, but it’s usually clear when people are happy in their jobs. A good number of staff members should be in the center, with a ratio of around 1:4 children, and no child should be left alone or out of sight. If you have an opportunity to chat with staff on your visit without the manager present, this can be an excellent way to understand the atmosphere of the daycare. You may also know someone who works in the child care industry, who may be able to give you some information about the staff turnover and quality of the center. The right center will introduce you to staff members, and will not be dismissive of staff.
Safety and Child Protection
One of the most important elements is the safety of your child, as you are making the daycare responsible for your child’s health and safety. All staff members should be properly vetted, and visitors kept at a minimum level. Look out for internal doors that can only be opened by adults, intercom on the main entrance, and a reliable sign-in method.
If you’re concerned about your child’s safety, ask the manager about their security processes, including drop-off and pick-ups. Also, have a look at internal safety issues, are electrical sockets covered, do stairs have stair gates, are carpets adequately secured. These may seem like small things, but the center must be providing a safe space for your child and their workers.
Children’s Behavior and Discipline
As well as checking to see if kids are happy, have a look at how the staff manages negative behaviors, including hitting, biting, and disrespect between children. As they are young and learning, its important that children learn to be considerate of others, and you don’t want one naughty child ruining it for the whole group. The daycare center should have written guidelines on discipline, which you can request to read. Try to find a center that shares your views on discipline, and has a model or keyphrases that you continue to use at home, providing a good structure and clear path for your child.
Some daycare centers are designed to have separate rooms for children of different ages, where children move up as they grow older. This means that all the children will be in the same reading age group and playing with their peers. Some centers, however, are designed as one or two large rooms that have bigger groups of children, often toddlers for kindergarten. This allows children to integrate with a wider range of other kids and can be good if your child is sociable. You’ll need to consider which set up would be the best environment for your child to develop and flourish.
A good daycare center will have lots of outside space that children can access regularly. This could include a playground, grass areas, sandboxes, or decked space for kids to run and play. At all stages in their development, children need to be actively using their bodies and to discover their strengths. Fresh air is also good for brain development, mental health, and exploring nature. Ample outdoor spaces will be more common in suburbian or rural areas, compared to centers in cities and towns.
How does the daycare regularly communicate with parents? Many centers make use of secure online platforms to share photos, videos, and comments throughout the day of your child’s progress, artwork, and achievements. This is a great way to stay connected to staff members, and have a good understanding of how your child is behaving and enjoying the daycare. This is great if you’re busy working or traveling away from your family, as you’re not missing out.
Furthermore, how do they contact parents in an emergency, or to discuss behavioral issues between children? Ideally, you’d want an open face to face conversation, check that the manager is running a center where this is the process, rather than pinging an email.
Flexibility and Opening Hours
When trying to find the right center for you, consider your working hours and which days and times you would like your child in daycare. For some, this is every working day, and for others, it could be only a day or so a week. Assess whether the daycare offers flexible arrangements for parents, or are rigid in their care provision. Also have a look at whether you are committed to paying for care even when your child is sick, or when you are on holiday, as some centers will charge for a planned care day even if it is not used.
If you work shifts or nights, it may be more difficult for you to access a daycare center without the help of other family members. Check the opening hours of the center; they may allow early drop-offs, late pick-ups, or half-day sessions. If you can be flexible on the days your child is at the center, check their curriculum for special events, like an outside party running a storytelling session, as this may be a good day to bring your child in.
All care-givers should hold the relevant qualifications for caring for children in their early years, and this is something that the company will usually check on during recruitment. The center may also have annual training available to keep staff member’s knowledge up to date and their practices relevant. Staff should also be trained in first aid medical care for children, which can have some particular practices compared to adult first aid.
Food and Snacks
Find out if the daycare center provides food and snacks for the whole day, or if parents are expected to bring meals for their child. Take a look at the menu plan for that week and the quality and variety of snacks available. If your child has an allergy, speak to the manager about how they can remove that food from the center. Your child must be fed several small meals a day to keep them energized and growing, which is why it can be best that the center provides their food.
Overall, we hope that this guide has helped you to assess the daycare centers in your area, and start to understand if they will be right for you and your family. You may have several options to consider, with a range of different staff styles, center equipment, and reputations to consider, so you must put time and energy into this decision. If the center is particularly desirable, there may be a waitlist or conditions to meet for your child to be accepted. Another limitation you may face is the cost of the daycare, which can differ drastically depending on the geographical area, number of staff, and quality of the sensory equipment.