Speak with the Director and ask questions
The first thing to do is to speak with the Director of the childcare center. Keep your antenna alert. Some people are very good at advertising; Some are not great at selling but might be the better childcare provider. When you are searching, you must concentrate on the term “care”.
Try to find how caring the Director herself/himself is. Come up with a set of questions for the Director. Ask about the student/teacher ratio. Ask how many teachers and kids are there in the class of your child. Walk away if you are not comfortable with too many kids in one small room, even if the standard student/caregiver ratio is maintained.
Another crucial question is if there is at least one teacher who will be there the entire day. We would avoid a daycare if we find that different teachers are serving in the morning part and in the afternoon part. Many Directors have a tendency of pushing by stating that only one spot is left in the class your child will be going. Please do not rush based on that. You may feel a similar rush when you buy a house. Make sure to visit all the daycare centers you have listed before making a final decision.
How much does daycare cost?
When we lived in the East Coast, we found that childcare costs about a thousand dollars per month or a little more. Based on the quality of the daycares, the cost could be a little lesser than eight hundred dollars. Price-wise it is way better in El Paso, Texas, where we currently live in. You will probably not get a daycare that costs more than five hundred dollars a month unless it is a Montessori.
Does the daycare meet state-mandated standards?
Every state has rules to maintain a student/teacher ratio based on the age group of the class. Good daycares always maintain the standards. The ratio becomes bigger as the kids grow up. Make sure to talk to the Director about the ratios.
Read about minimum standards for childcare centers from this link published by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Please take a look at the standards carefully and try to discover if the employee-power/children ratios and all other metrics are maintained in the daycare you are considering. I think the office of Family and Protective Services of every state has such child care standards and regulations.
Speak with the Teachers
Talk to the teacher who will be taking care of your child. You might get a very little time to talk to the teacher because the teacher will be in the classroom. The target is not to interview the teacher but just to understand how caring she/he is. I am pretty sure all daycare teachers have the license and training to work as caregivers. They know what they are doing. You will need to find out if you are satisfied.
When talking to a teacher, you cannot ask her to come outside the room because that will increase the children/caregiver ratio even if it is just for a minute. Since you will be talking to the teacher inside the classroom, try to keep the conversation short.
You may ask the Director if you can observe the class for a few minutes. We rejected a few daycares just by observing the class for some time. Most daycares will allow you to observe a class for ten minutes; some will allow longer.
Location of the daycare
Location is crucial. The location aspect comes from two angles. First, is it close to your workplace? Second, is it located in a safe place? It is very convenient to drop off and pick up a child if the daycare is close to your workplace. However, if you cannot find a good daycare near your workplace, you have to sacrifice the proximity-convenience.
The second item we find non-negotiable is the safety of the place. We need to remember that all daycares that are running must be licensed and must have passed the safety regulations. We are not discussing if you are satisfied with the minimum safety standards, rather we are talking about the intuition of safety that is not defined by any standard code.
A few daycares in El Paso are inside shopping malls. We tried to avoid those daycares. Some daycares had very easy access to the classrooms, which made us uncomfortable. We saw a teacher of a daycare pushing a baby-trolley with three babies on the patio of a building where there were many shops around. Rejecting this daycare was quite easy for us. Trust your instinct when searching for a daycare.
Food quality and serving strategy
Your child eats most of the meals and snacks of the day in the daycare if she/he stays there from 8AM to 5PM. For infants, breastfed or not, you will need to provide most of the food.
Make sure to convey any instructions you may have to the caregiver of the class. When an infant drinks milk from a bottle, the bottle finished or not, should be discarded within two hours. This is because bacteria grows very fast in the bottles even if it is kept in the refrigerator. This is not maintained in many daycares.
Sometimes we found that our son had been fed from the same bottle several times throughout the whole day. The rest of the bottles were untouched because the first bottle was not finished.
Keep reinforcing the instructions so that caregivers care about the instructions. Make sure not to annoy them. One good way is to say that the pediatrician instructed us not to feed the same bottle of milk more than once.
Many daycares provide food in the toddler sections. Daycares maintain standards when they provide food. Most daycares that provide food can give you a weekly menu. If both parents are working, it might become very difficult to prepare meals for the whole day for a kid. Many times, kids may not even touch the food you have prepared because it is different from what her/his friends are eating. When the food is provided by the daycare, all the kids are eating the same food, which is an encouragement for many kids. Moreover, daycare food is most of the times healthy because they generally prepare a menu keeping nutrition and variety under consideration.
What do the kids really do the entire day in a daycare? Well, in the infant class two naps are common. In the toddler class, it is generally just one nap. Reading books, singing, drawing, playing with puzzles, and playing outside are common activities in the toddler sections.
The infant sections do not have such activities but they have activities relevant to the development of motor skills. This includes teaching the infants how to grab things, helping them sit, and stand. Our son quickly started to sit and crawl within a few days after he started to go to daycare. The caregivers told us how to arrange pillows around to train Dear Son to sit.
Speaking with infants is something that the teachers of a good daycare will do diligently. Infants learn words from people surrounding them.
Babies like routines. Daycares are good at following routines the whole day. Ask for a weekly curriculum of activities to every daycare you visit when you are searching for childcare.
Search on the Internet for compliance history and complaints
Search for compliance history and recorded complaints of each daycare you visit. A good source is the website of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. If you go to this page you will find a search form, which will guide you to find particular daycares you are interested in. You will be able to see compliance history, violations, and complaints.
Do not forget to check for self-reported incidents as well. Search on Yelp and forums for any comment from anyone. Talk to parents whose kids are in that daycare, if you get a chance. Gather as much information as you can and make your decision based on the information, your instinct, convenience, and above all whatever you think is the best for your child.
Are classrooms well-lit?
We like classrooms with a lot of natural light. It was not a deal-breaking criterion but we rejected one daycare because the classroom was dark and crowded. Toddlers generally get a chance to go out once or twice a day based on the weather. Infants have a very little chance to go out. Therefore, a classroom full of natural light is preferable.
Not a deal breaker but we carry very little or no cash with us nowadays. We do not carry checkbooks with us either. If a daycare accepts only checks or cash then it would become inconvenient for many parents. If credit or debit card payments require 3% charge, then it is another item to keep in mind that the monthly childcare expense is higher than expected.
Note: We first published this post on Jun 29, 2016. We have reposted this after some modifications.
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