It's best to look for a daycare center as soon as you can. Similar to when you were searching for a pediatrician before your baby was born, it's also wise to plan ahead and search for a good daycare in your area. Daycare centers usually have long waiting lists - especially for the Infant Program - so if you're too late, you could miss out on the opportunity to enroll your child into a good center and have to search for alternate centers in the mean time.
Searching and enrolling for a good daycare can be scary; it's hard to think about another person, or people, other than your family taking care of your children. If your child eats or doesn't eat specific things or sleeps in certain conditions, you will begin thinking: "oh, my baby will never eat!" or "she'll never sleep!". Oh believe, me, I've been there. That is why it took me over a year to enroll Kayla in part-time daycare; I wasn't even able to think about full-time. You see, Kayla naps in very specific conditions - pitch black room with a white noise machine. It's been that way since she was about 4mos old and I haven't really changed it other than remove one panel of the room-darkening drapes which didn't really make a difference. So needless to say, I was terrified that Kayla wouldn't eat or sleep.
On my quest to find a daycare center, I was looking for a center that would pretty much do exactly as I do it at home which is of course, impossible but that doesn't stop mothers from giving daycare directors the third degree and asking every question in the book and is exactly what you should do. The caregivers will be with your child for most of the day so you want to feel comfortable with the environment and the people who will become an integral part of your child's life. Here are some things to consider and ask when interviewing for a daycare center (this isn't an exhaustive list - I suggest you Google for a variety of questions but the ones listed below are key):
- make an appointment and speak with the director. Ask the following questions:
- are there part time and full time schedules available
- hours of operation including holidays
- drop off and pick up times and what are the policies (and additional charges) for late drop off and pick up
- availability of the director and contact information. When is she usually available? This is so you can know if you are to call at a certain time if you have questions or if she/he is readily available
- is the daycare licensed and audited on a regular basis? what are the frequencies for audits and license evaluation?
- qualification of all teachers, screening process for new teachers and if the screening process includes a criminal background check (you never know!)
- how often the teachers are required to 'refresh' or update their certifications
- are the teachers CPR certified
- children to teacher ratio
- what is the center's policy around illness
- what is the program/curriculum? how often are the programs rotated/updated
- how does the center deal with inappropriate behavior (biting/hitting etc) and what are the discipline protocols
- how does the center deal with
- ask to review the center's license and feedback/audit reports
- turn-over rate of teachers
- ask for references
- take a tour of the center and visit every room. Take a look at the surroundings and where your child will be eating, sleeping and playing
- is each child assigned a crib or floor mat
- what things do you need to bring for your child vs what the daycare provides
- does the daycare provide meals if so, what meals are provided vs what you need to bring
- is the environment clean
- are things organized (as best as possible)
- look on the walls - are there information boards that are updated for parents to read?
- what is your gut instinct about the center? this is very important - if something doesn't sit right with you about anything within the center, cross it off your list. The last thing you need is to feel uneasy and anxious during the day while your child is under their care
- stand outside and wait for parents as they pick up their children. Ask them how/what they feel about the center and the teachers/staff. Word of mouth feedback is extremely important as parents will openly discuss the positive/negatives about the center
The more comfortable you are with the daycare center in which you enroll your child, the more pleasant the entire process will be. Knowing that your concerns and feedback will be addressed immediately and effectively will reduce your anxiety ten-fold and your child will be happier in the process (as will you!)
Home Daycare facilities
Don't discount home daycare facilities during your search. While it's true that home daycare centers aren't audited by the government, they do have to adhere to government policies when taking care of children. As with with regulated facilities, home daycare centers can be reported to the government and investigated if there is any misappropriate behavior.
You may have heard horror stories about home daycare facilities - caregivers place babies in a playpen all day, poor facilities etc - and while it's sad that abusers of these facilities give home daycares a bad name, there are some excellent facilities that are well-equipped with great programs for children.
With home daycares, you have to be a bit more diligent in your research. Visiting the home and asking very pointed and detailed questions is a must. In addition to the above questions, you must also ensure that there is no smoking in the home or surrounding area. Make sure that the entire house is child-proof and if there are any pets, ensure that they kept away from the play area. While having pets can benefit children from a learning perspective, they cannot be left alone unsupervised with the children. Always always, go with your instinct (as with anything) when you visit and interview a home daycare. Because they are not regularly audited by the government, your best bet is to go with a word-of-mouth referral and/or your gut instinct.
My daughter is in a home daycare run by a woman who has 30 years of experience, is certified in Early Childhood Education and has incredible learning programs for the children. I was referred to this center by my best friend who had his son enrolled as an alternative because his son was on the waiting list for the toddler program in a larger facility in our neighborhood. It ended up that he was reluctant to withdraw his son from the home daycare and only did so because he would have lost is ($400) enrollment fee. I am incredibly please with my decision because Kayla loves it there and since she started, her language has increased significantly I can't believe that at 22mos, she's saying or doing the things she does.
Just because a school is labeled as "Montessori" doesn't necessarily mean it's a true Montessori school with accredited programs and facilities. There has been a Montessori boom in the last few years with parents clamoring to get their child enrolled into a Montessori school however, not all schools are equal. While there are some excellent Montessori facilities, there are also not-so-great ones. As with any daycare center, be sure to ask for references and the most detailed of questions. Montessori schools are audited on a regular basis however, the difference is between a regular daycare center and a Montessori school is that Montessoris are 'graded' meaning, you can research and find the top Montessori schools in your area based on government audits and results. The staff at highly rated Montessori schools are screened closely for certifications and experience. Top Montessori schools charge top dollar - up to $1400/child/month - but that is because they are accredited and well-rated.
Then I've heard about some regular daycare centers relabeling themselves as Montessori to justify charging a higher enrollment fee. Be aware of such facilities. If you are thinking about enrolling your child into a Montessori school, make sure you are diligent in your research and ensure that the school you are considering is a "true" Montessori.
It is up to you as a parent to decide what is best for your child. Which ever is the path chosen, just make sure that you follow your gut instinct and do your research before enrolling your child into any school.