By: Abby Keane
Now that you’ve selected which type of care will work best for your family (or you’re still unsure and want to check out both), how do you choose a specific family or center? The first step is the drive-by. Look at where it’s located – is it a busy main road, or a quiet side street? Is it on a lot of property with tons of outdoor space, or a small lot with a single slide? Is there enough space for you to safely drop off and pick up your child(ren)? What is the general feel of the neighborhood?
Next, call and make an appointment to visit each of your locations. You will probably get a feeling about the places as soon as you arrive. Do you feel welcome? How do they respond to your child(ren)? Are they comfortable involving your child in whatever activity the group is doing, and are they able to engage him/her? One of the things I loved about the daycare we chose for our boys was that, on the day we visited it was yucky and rainy, as it had been for a few days. When we pulled into the driveway, there was a brief break in the rain, and the teachers had immediately gotten all the kids into carriages, carriers, and buggies and gotten them outside for some fresh air. Considering that the first word out of Finn’s mouth most mornings is “Outside?,” I knew this would be a good fit. Once you enter the home/center, be sure to look around at all the areas your child(ren) will be – is it bright and colorful, are the kids’ projects on display, how are different subjects like math and science incorporated?
What are the important things to ask during your visit? BRING A LIST!! You’ll feel silly, but the providers are absolutely used to this, and you’ll feel silly calling them back a million times to ask all the questions you forgot. First, ask about the teachers who will be interacting with your child(ren) every day that they’re there. In Massachusetts, an assistant teacher must be 18, and a teacher must be 21. Ask whether the teacher(s) are Lead Teacher or Director qualified (see different qualifications here). Ask about the turnover rate of teachers – consistency is key when kids are little, and you don’t want them to have to figure out a new caregiver every few months. Ask about the daily schedule, as well as the curriculum plan. Yes, there is a curriculum plan even for the littlest ones! Our daycare actually emails out the curriculum on a weekly basis, along with all the activities so that the parents know exactly what will be going on, and will also have a good idea of what to ask their child(ren) about at the end of each day. Ask what the discipline method is/how the provider creates a safe environment for all the children. Ask if the kids go on any field trips, or if any guest speakers or outside activities are brought in. Make sure you see all the areas – where your child will play, eat, sleep, have his/her diaper changed, everything! Finally, be sure that they are licensed and insured – not just homeowners insurance, they should have daycare insurance as well.
Definitely tailor your questions to your individual child(ren). My kids have super-sensitive skin and get diaper rash very easily, so I asked about the frequency of diaper changes, and what happens if there’s a *ahem* messy diaper in between scheduled changes. Don’t be afraid to ask anything and everything. You are leaving your most precious possession in the whole world with these people, you have to feel comfortable!
Finally, trust your gut. You have that mom instinct, the one that tells you things like when your kid is getting sick, even if he seems fine right now. We visited a few different places, and while a few were “okay,” as soon as I visited our choice, I knew it would be a good fit for my boys. By going with my (okay, our, I’ll give my husband a little credit) gut feeling, we ended up at a fabulous place where the boys are having a blast. The first weekend after starting daycare, Finn said to me at breakfast “Kids?” (On daycare days, we tell him he gets to go play with the kids.) I said “No, it’s a mommy and daddy day, you’ll see the kids Monday,” and he started crying and saying “Kids, kids,” over and over. While it made me feel like chopped liver, it also thrilled me that he enjoys his time there that much. I hope you are able to find a place that does the same for you and your family!