Note: These tips were submitted by a parent after visiting 12 different daycare centers in search for a place for their young toddler. That is a lot of good data! Unfortunately, some of these suggestions may not be realistic for parents or daycare providers but WILL definitely give you somethings to think about when you are visiting and considering daycare centers in your area.
Talk to ALL the teachers
Teachers can totally make the experience magical or unsettling in a daycare situation! Don’t just say hi. Sit down with the teacher and try to see what makes them tick, after all this could be the person responsible for loving and disciplining your little person for 30+ hours a week.
Many daycares have shifts to accommodate more hours. This means the teacher you meet at 7:30 am may not be with your child all day. If you are seriously considering the daycare, come back at different times to make sure the teacher you really like isn’t followed by one you don’t. We found a couple of these cases. We really liked the 6am-3pm teacher, but then met the afternoon teacher and felt my stomach turn as she aggressively reacted to an unruly toddler.
Ask the Uncomfortable Questions
This is an interview process. You are trying to separate the good from the bad. It is not a time to worry about offending people or asking awkward personal questions. As you talk to the teachers, ask them why they work there. Have they thought about leaving? Ask the administrator how much training occurs, why not more? Why do teachers or parents leave the daycare? Ask for detailed teacher backgrounds.
If something catches your eye, ask about it. Don’t assume away anything. Uncomfortable questions help in two ways. First, you get more and maybe better information. Second, they can be stressful and kind of annoying, allowing you to see a little more about how this person reacts. Remember, your questions are simple relative to four screaming 2yr olds, so answering should be easy.
Visit During Chaos
Again, teachers make or break the daycare. You want to find a daycare where the teachers are there because they truly love children. They have a unique way of connecting with your child and helping them grow and learn. People who, when faced with 5 screaming 2yr olds, smile and calmly start to figure out the problem. But you don’t know how they react unless you stress test them, so visit during high chaos times: lunch time, transition from lunch to play time, right before pick up (kids are antsy to leave and the teachers have had a long day). Visits during these times help you see how your little person will be treated when things are rough.
Initially, we gathered some info, called our potential daycares, and scheduled a time to visit the facility, but I started to get the feeling that we were getting rehearsed speeches and answers. So, we started making the same screening calls, scheduled an appointment but then came about an hour early. We just claimed to have mixed the times up but we noticed our visits felt a little more unscripted. Not being expected gave us a more genuine picture. After calling a few day cares you will get a feel for the schedules and can figure out how to avoid naptimes.
Explore the Facilities
As you tour the facility be sure to really explore what is around. Your little one surely will. Ask to go in all the rooms your child can access. What condition are the rooms in? Potential hazards? Make sure to walk the play ground. Does it look fun? Any major safety concerns (ex. is your kid a climber that may figure out how to get 10ft in the air)? Also, is it secure from the outside, no one can get in or out?
Aside from safety, look for kid friendly amenities like, fun toys, mini tables & chairs, kid size sinks in the bath room & the classroom, windows at kid eye level, comfortable nap cots, etc. Personal advice: 1) look at the kitchen 2) and ask where cots are stored. One daycare used the bathroomas a storage closet, which had no physical separation to store the cots. We know adults can be inaccurate, shall we say. Kids starting to potty train have to be worse!
Study the Child-Teacher Interaction
Pay special attention to how the teachers interact with the kids. Talking to them is a start, but you can learn a lot from watching. Do the teachers talk to them in an age appropriate way? Do they interact with them on their level? Are they fully engaged with the kids? Meaning, is the teacher fully ‘there’ or appear distracted or nonchalant? Do they engage in a positive way: eye contact, smile, approachable, reassuring touch, etc? How do they discipline the children? Is this inline with your beliefs? These are difficult things to measure but give you insight into how your child will be treated and loved while they are away from you.
Ask About Rates Last
Go thru the visit ask all of your questions, spend time with the teachers, watch the kids, and get a really good feel for the daycare before you ask about the rates. Every family has some type of range they can afford for child care, but you don’t want to let that skew your decision. Inquiring about rates up front could possibly turn you off to a great daycare or put a rose colored tint on a below average one.
We are not perfect. We have biases. By putting financial discussion at the end, you are a little more objective as you walk the facility and talk to the teachers. You may not be willing to live with the lack of cleanliness or nutritionally questionable menu, if you are not already seeing the advantages of a cheaper alternative. Few of us have limitless cash so we are forced to stay within our means. But, within a given price range there are going to be several daycare options and finding the best option is important.
Be Willing to Make Sacrifices
We make choices about how we spend our paychecks and this should be no different. Actually, we believe this should be at the top of the list. If you are finding your top daycare options are a little out of your range, have the conversation about where the extra money could come from. What can you do without to have your little one in a better place?
I am speaking from experience, so I know it can be difficult to do. For us, it looks like we will be spending about 60% more than we originally planned for and we are okay with that. We just keep thinking that we are entrusting our little girl to someone else and the money loses significance. There will be some “I like”, “I want”, and “I need” that never happen, but feeling confident our child is in a good place goes far beyond that.
Don’t Ignore Your Gut
In the end, no matter how much research goes into it, you will make a leap of faith. You will have to believe that everything you have seen and heard is accurate. So make sure you don’t rationalize away concerns. This is not a process to give someone the benefit of the doubt. If you didn’t have a great feeling about the place when you left, trust your instinct and keep looking. You know your child better than anyone and if you don’t feel good, it probably isn’t a good fit. Do your homework. Know the daycare in and out. And, as you decide, listen to that little voice inside.
Good luck! <3