How to Choose the Best Daycare Center

Initial Phone Call

The first thing to do when looking for a daycare center is get together a list of the centers you want to call. You may get this information from the phonebook, the Department of Human Resources or other agency in your area that monitors daycare centers, or a private company or organization in your area that maintains a current referral list. When you sit down to make the initial call, you need to have a list of questions you want answers to. I made a list with space between each question for me to write the given answer. I then made several copies and wrote the name of the center at the top. Also, at the top, I noted the phone number, name of the director, and address. Some questions you may want to ask are:

  • Is the center licensed?
  • What ages the center accepts? How are the groups divided? This one is important to me. Some centers automatically move the children to another room at one year old. However, that may not be best for the child. They may not be developed enough for that move. Other centers move children up according to their stage of development, not age. Also, some centers keep all infants together. However, this may prevent the younger infants from having adequate time to play on the floor since they may be “trampled” by crawling babies. I feel crawling babies should be in a separate room or have their own play area away from the younger babies.
  • Does the center have an opening when you need care?
  • What are the center’s hours of operation? What is charged if you are late? This may be very important if you work odd hours or occasionally have to work late.
  • What is the weekly or monthly rate charged for each age group?
  • What training do the caregivers have? How many have training in first aid? How many are certified to do CPR on infants and children?
  • Are there any caregivers below the age of 21? 18?
  • What kind of approach towards teaching and caring for children does the center take? You will find developmentally based programs — everything is based on the developmental needs of each baby; custodial care — children’s physical needs are taken care of. However, they are in large groups; sometimes with inadequately trained staff, there is little one-on-one attention; Curriculum based centers — very young children are expected to be members of a group, learn, eat, and sleep on a schedule.
  • What is the child to staff ration? The minimum requirements vary from state to state. The National Association for the Education of Young Children has their own guidelines which are usually much more rigid than you state may have. See links below.


Illness Policy

Also, you may want to ask questions about their illness policy during the initial call. I recommend this because there is no use going to visit if their illness policy is too liberal. Many are! The questions I recommend are:

  • Is a child allowed in the center with a fever? The only way a child should be admitted with a fever is with a note from their doctor stating that the child has nothing contagious. The center I had my daughter in originally allowed children with a fever if the parents said they were teething. Well, of course, every parent said the child was teething so they would not have to miss work. My daughter stayed sick all the time.
  • When are parents called for illness and injury? Answers will vary. Most centers call you for every serious injury, some also for minor injuries. For illness, the parent should be called immediately upon it being discovered.
  • What is done to clean the toys? How often is it done? The answer should be they are washed DAILY with a disinfectant.
  • What is the procedure for changing diapers? This you may want to wait and ask at your visit. However, if you have already been told, you can watch and see if that procedure is followed. If you do not bring it up, they may do as they do every day instead of doing it right just because you are there.

First visit

You should probably make an appointment for your first visit so that you can be assured the director will be there and that you will not short staff them while someone shows you around. During that first visit, carefully observe while discussing in more detail some of the questions you have already asked or others that concern you. Take a sheet of paper or notebook and note the following:

  • How long has the center been running?
  • How often is there staff turnover? This is important for two reasons: Children should be able to rely on their caregiver to be there for them; and, high turnover rates may indicate poor management.
  • Is the building safe, clean, and well-maintained? Are the rooms well lit, of adequate temperature, and designed with enough room for play? Are there smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, an escape route map and clearly marked alternate exits?
  • Is the diaper changing area separate, easily accessible, and well maintained? Is there a safety belt? Is fresh paper laid down for each child? How do the caregivers react to a child with a dirty diaper?
  • How do the caregivers respond and interact with the children? Are the children encouraged to try things on own? Do caregivers participate in activities or just watch?
  • Is the program flexible to meet individual needs?
  • Are there plenty of age-appropriate toys? Are they easily accessible?
  • Are parents welcome anytime? If not, turn and walk out. You should have total access to your child at all times!
  • Where are the children fed? Are younger babies held? Older babies in highchairs? Are the highchairs in good condition with safety belts? Are toddlers seated at appropriately sized tables? Where is the food stored?
  • Are the cribs in good repair? Does each child have his or her own sheets and blankets? Do you have to supply them?
  • Is the kitchen clean, well-equipped and inaccessible to children?
  • Are all hazardous substances out of the reach of children?

And Finally . . .

After your initial visit, drop in a couple of times. This is VERY important because things may look very different if you are not expected. Also, you may be able to use these visits as an opportunity to discuss concerns you have from your initial visit, other questions you may have thought of, and to get an idea of how sensitive the center is towards the individual child. Ask general questions about potty training, pacifiers, breastfeeding mothers, etc. You may find that even though you like the facilities, their views on certain things may be dissatisfying. If something bothers you about the center, it may not be the right place for your child. However, be sure and discuss what bothers you with the director. You may just have misunderstood something you heard or saw. Give the center a chance to address your concerns before you move on to another center. Also, keep visiting after your child is enrolled. Drop in on your lunch hour or some other time occasionally. That way, you can make sure everything stays to your liking.

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