Finding the best early childcare for your toddler can be overwhelming and pressure-filled as you consider all that you want for your child. Not only do you want to choose a facility that will meet your child’s needs, but also, as a conscientious parent, you want an environment that is safe, enriching, and nurturing.
Visiting all possible prospects is very important in the selection process. An on-site tour will give you a sense of caregivers and their interaction with the children. Pay attention to whether or not children are playing with each other and if they have access to creative materials.
What is the overall atmosphere of the childcare? Ask yourself if your child would enjoy the environment since they will be there for extended periods of time. Are the classrooms dull and institutional, or are they decorated with the kids’ works of art? Is it an environment that will be able to accommodate for your child’s physical abilities? What is the ratio of children to teachers? Is there an outdoor area for play?
For quick reference, here are ten things to look for while visiting each potential childcare location.
1. Special Services
The social skills and stimulation your child will receive in an early childcare center could be a beneficial experience, but you need to make sure your child’s needs will be met in a “regular” care center.
Federal law provides guaranteed special education from birth to age 5. Early intervention services can be brought in to work with your child but make sure you discuss this and judge how willing the staff members are to work with outside aid.
One of the most important things to look for at a childcare center is security. How are visitors handled? Ideally there should be someone to greet and sign in visitors. Staff members should be easily identifiable with badges or nametags.
3. Health and safety
Ask how emergencies are handled in the case of an individual and group. Look for clearly marked exits and if there are documented procedures for all teachers to follow. Is there an onsite nurse or are members of the staff qualified to administer first aid and CPR?
Find out how often toys and sleeping mats are cleaned. Take a quick look at the cleanliness of bathrooms and changing areasat the center.
Make sure that the center is easily reachable should you need to get ahold of them in case you’re late or for an emergency or any other reason. Also, find out how and when the center would contact you in the case of a problem with your child.
Regardless of conflict, will you get regular updates on how your child’s day went? See if the facility offers emails or newsletters that update parents about the goings-on of the center, like construction, new toys, new hires, etc.
5. Management, staff and supervision
If possible, meet with the administrator of the childcare center and ask about the hiring process for staff members. Find out if background checks are done and what type of education is required of employees. Ask what the process is if you had to lodge a complaint against a teacher.
While watching the teachers interact with the children, pay attention to how many children there are to each teacher. How hands-on are the teachers? How do they maintain order or correct behavior? Are the children always supervised? Is there any point when they are not supervised?
6. Food and Beverages
Depending on you and your child’s preference, you may prefer to pack his or her meals, but in the case that you don’t, learn more about their kitchen/food preparation space. Are they accommodating of food allergies, and if so, how do they ensure no contamination?
If you are able to visit during lunchtime, take a quick look at what type of food is served. Inquire after snacks—is there something to eat between meal times? Ask for a weekly meal plan if the center offers one so that you can get a sense of how varied and healthy the overall diet is.
As your child will be spending a large portion of his or her day here, the overall facility and outdoor spaces should seem comfortable and in good condition. Look for signs of constant maintenance; nothing should be in disrepair for prolonged periods of time.
Challenging and educating your child is an important factor for early childcare as so much brain development happens in these first few years.
Are there books and educational toys available for the children? See if they’re up-to-date, in good condition, and age-appropriate. Are there any creative materials like crayons and non-toxic paints? How accessible are these items to the children—is it scheduled play, or can the children use the toys and materials freely?
9. Planned activities
What other education programs does the childcare center offer? For example, language lessons, counting, painting, pottery, music scheduled into the plan can easily enrich your child’s day. Find out the ratio of free play to planned play.
10. Overall atmosphere
First impressions are important in any area of life, and it is no different with childcare. You can ascertain the quality and organization the facility based on whether or not you and your child felt welcome, how friendly and relaxed the employees are to you and to each other, whether or not teachers made an effort to engage your child, and how organized they seemed when answering your questions. If the “vibe” of the place is wrong, then your child may not be very happy at that location.
Visit several of your top picks before you decide which one will best suit your child’s needs. Stay for at least an hour to watch the daily routine, check out the facility, and ask questions. Bring the above checklist so that you don’t forget anything. With dedication and preparation, you will find the right childcare for your child.