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Tips on Choosing Quality Day Care for Your Child

Choosing a day care center is an important decision facing many parents today. Because day care has become a multi-billion dollar industry, centers have become very prevalent in most cities. This can make choosing the right one seem like a daunting task to parents. After all, your son or daughter will most likely be spending several hours each day–without you– in the center that you choose. Naturally you have concerns for his or her safety, happiness, education and more. This sort of pressure is enough to make parents more than a little stressed. Many parents aren’t even sure what qualities they should look for in a day care center. And while only you can decide on the best placement for your child, there are some important things to consider when weighing your options.

Does the center meet the basic requirements for a daycare in your state?

First and foremost, all centers–including home day care centers- must be licensed. Your first request should be to see the current license for the facility. Also, all day care facilities are required to keep the most recent report from their regulating entities, usually the Department of Child and Family Services or the Department of Heath and Human Services, on file. Ask to see it. This report contains any violations found in the last visit by the governing entity. All centers are also required to have clear emergency plans for events such as fires, severe weather or other crises, so ask for an explanation of these plans. Next, inquire about the staffing. What are the qualifications for the center’s staff? How many years experience do the staff member have working with children? Does the center meet the requirements for child-to-staff ratios? The ratios vary depending on the age of the child, but this guide will give you a basic understanding of staff requirements: http://www.childcarenetwork.cc/pdf/Staff-to-Child_Ratios.pdf Once you are satisfied that the center is appropriately staffed and licensed you can begin to consider other attributes of a quality center.

Is the center clean?

This one seems obvious. However, when you are doing a preliminary visit to the day care center, ask to see the ENTIRE center. Many parents just follow along on the tour and only see the areas that the staff member chooses for them. Sometimes you have to ASK to see the kitchen or the bathrooms or the outdoor play area. Don’t be shy! You are making a decision regarding your child’s safety and well-being and you child is counting on you. Look around the kitchen where your child’s meals and/or snacks will be kept and prepared. Is it clean? Open the refrigerator and cabinets. Are things neat? Are they labeled? Is there milk and juice available in the refrigerator? Is there a clear list of children with food allergies? Is there a weekly or monthly menu posted with healthy meals and snacks? How about the bathrooms? Are they clean? Is there plenty of hand soap, paper towels, bathroom tissue and so forth? If you have a child still in diapers, what does the changing area look like? Are there supplies like disposable gloves and disinfectant available? If your child will be napping at the facility, make sure to see the cots or mats that will be used to ensure cleanliness and ask how often the cots are cleaned. Is there a FENCED outdoor play area? Does the equipment seem to be in good repair? If any portion of the center seems unkempt or lacks supplies, or if areas are denied to you as “off limits” during your visit, then cross that center off your list.

Is there a schedule of daily activities?

A quality day care center will offer engaging, educational activities to the children every day. At the very least, there should be art projects, scheduled story times and other language activities like puppet shows and flannel board activities, fun science projects and math activities. Even infants should have a regular schedule of music and story time. Centers that have no scheduled activities are simply babysitting, and for the money you will be paying for daycare you can do better for your child. While you are visiting the facility, look for child-made art and other projects on the walls. If there isn’t any, chances are the children aren’t engaged in such activities. Be sure to ask about the center’s television/video policy. Many quality centers will allow a child-appropriate video or two each week, but it should be kept to a minimum. I’m betting you already have a television at home, so why pay to have your child watch one elsewhere? Day care is a wonderful opportunity for your child to learn (or hone) his social skills, make friends, improve communication with other children and adults and interact with children of various ages. None of which will take place if the center is merely placing your child in front of a television for hours on end. If you have an older child who will be attending the center after school, inquire as to whether the center provides homework help to the children.

What is the center’s parent visitation policy?

As a parent, you should ALWAYS have access to your child. Centers that only allow parents to visit during specific scheduled hours should be circumspect. What is their reason for not allowing open visitation from parents? Is the center only clean first thing in the morning? Are their staff-to-child ratios only adhered to during certain times? Are they planting the children in front of a television for several hours during the day? Parents have the right to check on their child at any time, so if a daycare center discourages parental visits I would pass them by and look for another facility. Let’s be clear, though; CONSTANT drop-ins are a disruption to scheduled activities. So while you should always have the right to come in and check on your child, you need to be as unobtrusive and respectful as possible to the staff and their activities with the children.

What do other parents have to say about the day care center?

One of the best indicators of a center’s quality is simply word of mouth from other parents. If possible, visit the facility in the early evening when many parents will be picking up their children after work and gather as much information as possible. Asking vague questions like “do you like the center?” may only garner you a one-word response, so be specific. Ask parents’ opinions as to what are the best attributes of the center and what are the areas in which the center needs improvement. Be sure to ask how long their children have attended the center as well. You may get very different answers from new parents verses veterans of the center. Finally, many commercial day care centers are listed with the Better Business Bureau and this is a good resource for information on ratings, complaints, closings, and so forth. http://www.bbb.org/

Choosing a quality daycare center for your child is a difficult– but not impossible– task. The most important thing to remember is that you are your child’s advocate and his only voice when visiting the facilities. You need to be prepared to speak up and ask questions on his behalf. Prepare your questions ahead of time and rehearse them if necessary. Don’t let any staff member brush aside your questions or concerns and if you don’t get satisfactory answers, then move on to another center. With some preparation and determination you can find the center that is right for your child.

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