How to choose a childcare center they’ll love: Tips for the first-timer

Sending your little one to a childcare center is a big deal. The thought might have you trembling in your boots, counting down the days, or a bit of both. For most parents, these types of decisions don’t come easily. Many of us agonize over finding that perfect scenario where our little one will not only be looked after well, but will grow and thrive in a way that will uphold our family values and the foundation that we’ve worked hard to establish.

Although childcare isn’t a replacement for good parenting by any means, I do believe that it can compliment your parenting if you choose wisely and consider what’s important for your child and your family.

As a mom, I’m very concerned about ensuring my children have the best possible care, and I’m naturally skeptical about giving others that sort of authority in their lives. But I have also been on the other side of the coin (working at a childcare center for four years), and I know that I know that there are many opportunities for kids to get excellent care outside of the home when that is needed and/or desired.

Tips from a mom/former childcare employee for choosing a childcare center:

1) Visit the childcare center twice if possible.
Take your little one(s) along to the childcare center and ask if you can be with them for 30 minutes during one of the “free play” times. Watch not only your child, but see how the other kids in the place enjoy it (or not), and observe the staff closely (attitudes with one another, with the children, etc.). Try to also visit between 5:00-6:00pm when other parents are typically picking up their kids after work. Chat with a few of them about the center when they’re not in a rush to get to work.

2) Observe the childcare center employees and ask about credentials.
Observe how the employees relate to the children: Do they just supervise or do they enter into play? Do they speak politely to them? Do they engage in conversation? When giving instruction are they clear and helpful and respectful? Also observe how they relate to one another: Do they honor each other, lend a hand, support each other, joke inappropriately in front of the children? What can you observe about their general attitude toward work? Also find out what are the main qualifiers for being employed in the center (current first aid certificates, a certain type of degree, background check, etc.).

3) Look at the balance of structured vs. unstructured time in the childcare center’s daily schedule.
Ask to look at the menus and activity schedules, including things like naptimes, meals, snack times, music, arts and crafts time, sports and games, free play, etc. Look for a good balance between structured activities and creative/free play.

4) Enquire about the security of the childcare center.
Find out the security measures for signing kids in and out as well as having people other than parents pick up the child (i.e. grandparents). If they have a great system in place, no doubt this one will make you feel much better. Also check out the other security measures like playground gates, safety surveillance cameras, and the layout of the children’s bathrooms.

5) Familiarize yourself with the childcare center’s discipline policies.
Ask about discipline policies and give a few example scenarios that you imagine might be common for your child to see how staff would respond. (You should also request a written document that you can take home and look over). Make sure to ask clarifying questions if anything is unclear.

6) Get a general feel for the overall atmosphere of the childcare center.
What is the “feel” of the center? Is it welcoming? Is it friendly? Is it clean and well-maintained? Does it feel creative and stimulating? What type of learning is most valued? Are manners modeled? Do employees look well-groomed (professional) and seem to enjoy their work? Will the kids get input on things that are important to you? (That could be religious teaching, cultural exposure, etc.) Does it look like a fun place to be? Are kids encouraged in curiosity, physical play, reading, music, or whatever is most important to you?

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