To ease the pressure you naturally feel about finding the most nurturing and safe environment for your child, it's smart to begin your search for daycare early. Make your first inquiries about six months before your child will start attending. In some areas you may need to get on the case even earlier.
You can use this set of questions as a guide when you sit down to discuss a center's program with its director. Read the questions over carefully before your first visit, and make notes on additional questions that occur to you. Visits may be as short as 15 minutes or as long as an hour; the more time you devote, the better.
Interview With Daycare Director
Name of Daycare Center:____________________________
Name of Director:___________________________________
A trustworthy center has been in business for a while and has solid, up-to-date credentials; clear rules and regulations; and firm policies on operating hours, pickup and drop-off times, and when children are too sick to attend.
1. How long has the center been in business?________________________
What are the center's accreditations?_______________________________
2. Do you have space for my child? Yes / No
If not, can we get on a waiting list, and how long is it? ______________________________________________________________
3. What are your hours?__________________________________________
What is your holiday schedule?____________________________________
What other days is the center closed?_______________________________
How flexible are you with pickup and drop-off times?____________________
4. What are your fees?____________________________________________
Is there a late-pickup charge?_______________________________________
How and when do you bill?_________________________________________
5. Do you encourage visits from parents? Yes / No
6. What do you expect from me as a parent? ______________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________
Employees should have at least two years of college education, a background in early childhood development (though many states don't require this), and training in CPR and other emergency measures. Caregivers should be responsible, enthusiastic, and well prepared. You'll want them to share your basic philosophies on key childrearing issues such as sleep, discipline, and feeding. A center with good staff benefits is likely to have a lower rate of teacher turnover, which means consistent care for your child.
1. What are the staff's credentials and training? ______________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________
2. How much do you pay your staff?_______________________________
Do they get benefits? Yes / No
3. How long does a staff member stay at the center on average?___________
4. How do you screen staff?_______________________________________
Look for a center with small groups of children and plenty of staff. The preferred ratio of caregivers to children varies, depending on group size. For example, in a group of 10 children between the ages of 24 and 36 months, the National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends having one caregiver for every five children.
1. How are the kids grouped? Mixed age / Grouped age
2. What is your teacher-child ratio in each group?___________________
A desirable daycare center will have a well-thought-out curriculum with a variety of activities. The schedule should change regularly so children have opportunities to learn new skills and don't get bored. TV and videos should play little if any part in the day's events.
1. What is your educational philosophy? ______________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________
2. How do you discipline a child? ______________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________
3. How do you comfort a child? ______________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________
4. What will my child be doing on a typical day? Is there a good balance of active periods and quiet times? What about extracurricular activities such as music and sports? ______________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________
5. Do the children ever watch TV or videos? If so, how are the programs selected? How much time is spent in front of the television? ______________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________
6. Am I welcome to drop by sometime to observe the goings-on? ______________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________
Hygiene and Safety
A good center is sanitary and observes basic safety rules. If you see poorly maintained equipment or the place seems dingy and cramped, keep looking.
1. Do caregivers wash their hands after diapering and feeding? ______________________________________________________________________
2. Does the inside area have fire extinguishers, working smoke detectors, enough exits, and a first-aid kit? Is it childproof, with safety caps on electrical outlets, gates on stairs, covered radiators, and cleaning and medical supplies stored out of any child's reach? ______________________________________________________________________
3. Do you have a sign-in and sign-out sheet? Are the doors secure so strangers can't just walk in? ______________________________________________________________________
4. What is your sick-child policy? ______________________________________________________________________
5. What is your policy on taking action in an emergency? ______________________________________________________________________
6. Do you have a safe, enclosed outside play area? Is there adequate padding under climbing structures? ______________________________________________________________________
7. How often are the toys cleaned or replaced? ______________________________________________________________________
Food and Sleep
Obviously you want your child to get nutritious meals and snacks, though you should also note whether they seem to be selected with an eye to what kids typically refuse. Make sure all four food groups are covered. If your child has food allergies or dietary restrictions, discuss them with the director. For sleeping, bedding should be fresh and firm, and nap areas should be clean and quiet.
1. Do you provide lunch and snacks? Yes / No
If yes, how many meals are given, and what foods and drinks do you generally offer?_________________________________________________________________
If no, what should I bring for my child? ______________________________________________________________________
2. Are toddlers fed on demand or on a schedule? ______________________________________________________________________
3. Where do the children sleep?_______________________________________________
Do you have a nap schedule?_______________________________________________
Take a moment to ask yourself the following questions during your visit.
1. Do the staff and children seem happy and engaged? Yes / No
2. Are crying kids responded to promptly? Yes / No
3. Is the center clean and pleasant? Yes / No
4. Is the noise level acceptable? Yes / No
5. While you're at work, will you feel at ease knowing your child is here? Yes / No
Ask each daycare for a list of past and present references. Call these people with specific questions (don't ask whether they like the center; ask what they like about it and what they don't). If their kids no longer go there, ask why.
1. Would you suggest some parents I can call for references?
National Institute of Child Health & Human Development
National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1313 L St. NW, Suite 500, Washington, D.C. 20005. http://www.naeyc.org