"It is so stressful to figure out where to put Riley in childcare. On top of being expensive, we just don't even know where to start!"
It is already emotionally taxing to leave your child in daycare for the first time. Sometimes knowing more about child development and brain science just adds to the pressure. Of course you want your child to have great experiences during his or her early years. Some childcare centers make good use of emerging information on child development while others don't.
There is no single "correct" placement for your child because every family is different. But if you feel overwhelmed trying to choose a site, think through these 15 questions first:
- Okay, so the first one isn't a question. But start by visiting the center more than once and bring your son and daughter on at least one trip. Now on to the questions...
- Can I talk with other parents and see a list of references? Follow up with other families.
- What is the staff-to-child ratio? Avoid any provider where the ratio exceeds ten to one. In general, the lower the better.
- Are the children separated by age? If so, when and how?
- What is the experience, training, and turnover rate of staff?
- Is the daycare inviting, interesting, and stimulating?
- When you observe the staff and children in action, is the atmosphere relaxed and comfortable? Friendly? Loving? Do the caregivers sing and read to the children?
- Toddlers love dependable routines and structure. Are there routines or songs for transitions so that children can anticipate what comes next? Are there pictures or other cues to guide children through routines?
- How are media used? If a TV or screen dominates the room, it is a sign the provider may rely on media as a babysitter.
- What is the provider's policy and practice around nutrition and physical activity?Children's brains need good food and plenty of exercise.
- Are there opportunities for free play? Are there toys and materials that support exploration? Do the children spend time outside everyday?
- How is discipline handled?
- Do providers respect the various cultures and values of different families?
- Are there opportunities to volunteer? What is the drop in policy?
- The most important question of all is after your son or daughter enrolls: "How does she or he like it?"