The most important thing to a working parent is feeling that their child is safe and happy during each day, and the relationship with daycare can be an emotional one for many people. As a working and commuting mom for 18 months, my son has been in three daycare centers since he was just nine weeks old. We changed providers once due to issues and the second time due to our recent move to Jacksonville (even switching him from a place the day before he was supposed to begin). We have learned a lot of lessons along the way, and I thought I would share a few tips with you all today.
The best piece of advice, and I cannot say this enough: TRUST YOUR GUT. If something feels off to you, no matter how prestigious or recommended a center is, trust your instincts and act on it.
You want to find a childcare option that involves your child being this happy!
Here are lists of specific questions from KidsHealth.org and HealthyChildren.org to think about. Start your daycare search while you are pregnant, as early as possible, depending on where you live. This will help in case there is a waiting list at the center of your choice.
In-home Daycare, a Nanny, or a Childcare Center
Decide whether or not you feel more comfortable with having your child at an in-home daycare or a facility.
Ask around through local parenting boards online and friends for nanny suggestions (Care.com and SitterCity.com are also highly recommended).
My experience has been with childcare facilities; therefore, my advice is tailored for those looking at the same option. I am sure a lot of the same criteria apply, but you may already have a level of comfort with an in-home/family provider versus hiring external help.
Determine Your Budget
Ask (and call) around to see what the costs are in the area. Prices can vary significantly by region and proximity to city center, and you want to make sure you are prepared before investing time in a place that may not fit your financial needs. If a choice that you love is a bit above your budget, visit it anyway. It is amazing what you can afford when it comes down to it. Cutting out cable and other costs is simple if it matters when choosing a place where your child is happier, and your comfort level is higher.
Research & Recon
Check state accreditation, provider violations and inspections. You can check Florida’s here. Ask local parenting groups on Facebook and your pediatrician for recommendations. Narrow your list down before touring. Stop by in person to make an appointment to tour. Drop by during rush hour and ask another parent their opinion. Dropping in unannounced to set up a tour can let you have a glimpse at the center in its normal rhythm.
Does the daycare director seem warm, friendly, and inviting along with the teachers? Trust your first impressions, they are usually spot-on.
Tour the Facility
Tour at least two places with your partner if you share parenting. This is important because there are two sets of eyes on the center to notice things, ask questions, and get that gut feeling if you would both trust the place with your child.
Ask Questions. When you arrive for your tour, ask questions. Ask a million questions. You are a new parent, and they expect that. Don’t be afraid if a question seems silly to you. Asking the teachers how much they cuddle and love the babies might seem funny, but you can tell a lot about their care by judging their reactions.
Observe. Are the babies or children being held, cared for, comforted when crying, or are they redirected in activities, or left alone. Gauge that style of care with your own style of parenting to see if they’re a good fit. We like our son to be held and comforted when he is upset. We toured one place several times when moving, and I noticed that the teachers consistently let the children stand alone while they were crying. It made us uncomfortable and gave us doubts to how our son would be loved during each day.
Health & Safety. Check to see if the infant room asks parents to remove their shoes at the door. Babies are crawling on the floors, mouthing things, and this is a great health and safety practice for facilities to enforce. Sit down on the floors and see what your baby or young child will see. Are there safety hazards? Are there areas of concern (cleanliness, toy sanitizing, cloth diapering, vaccinations, bottle labeling rules, parenting choices allowed)?
Your child will have good and bad days, and that’s okay. Just make sure the happy outnumber the sad.
Stay active in your happiness with your chosen center.
Volunteer in your child’s class if possible, even just to read a book when you pick them up. Participate in center-wide events, holidays, and festivals. Start or join a Facebook group for other parents where you can arrange playdates and share questions.
If you are unhappy with something during your child’s day, be open about it immediately.
Is your child happy each day when you arrive to pick them up?
Check in on your child during the day.
Call the daycare and ask to speak to their teacher. Ask how they are eating, if they have been fussy or upset, and if they seem ok. This is especially important and normal during a period of transitioning daycares, after a vacation with family, or sicknesses since children can often be more emotional.
Log in to the daycare webcam if available (I LOVE this option) and see how the teachers treat the children, see if your child is being cared for to your comfort level.
Transition your child slowly if possible.
Over a period of a week, gradually increase the hours each day spent at the new center. Spend time in the classroom with your child so they can see you interacting with the teachers. This can be especially important with toddlers. Make sure your evenings at home are as calm as can be so they are not over-stimulated after processing so many new changes all day.
Finally, just remember that nobody will parent and love your child like you do. Childcare will never fulfill that role. Just trust your gut and find a place and staff to whom you feel comfortable sharing your child.
What do you think? Have you ever had questions or concerns with your child’s care? What would you add?