Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What to REALLY Look for in a Daycare

Ok the purpose of this post is not to debate on whether you should go back to work, get a nanny or work part time from home.  If you are reading this I am going to go ahead and assume that you have decided a daycare center is your best option.  And that you are mostly looking for infant care, like I was.  Now I am going to tell you what to really look for, so you can learn from my mistakes.

We started looking at daycares when I was about 3 months pregnant.  I had heard they can have long waiting lists, so I wanted to start early.  We toured one center near our house, and really liked it.  The owner was nice, the center was clean and their curriculum seemed to be extensive.  So we stopped looking and decided to go with that one.  In hindsight that was a dumb decision.  I mean I put more thought into choosing a designer purse than I did a daycare center.  But I really didn't know what to look for and according to the little daycare checklist I printed off Baby Center or something, this place was great.  But after 3 days I was singing a different tune and totally freaking out.

To start your search:
- ask friends and neighbors for suggestions - since we don't have many friends near our house with kids, this one was hard for me.  Even if you don't know your neighbors (like us) go knock on their door if they have kids and ask them for suggestions.  I don't care if it seems crazy.  You need first had experience and referrals on this one
- consult online reviews, although know that these can be rigged or biased with bad reviews from crazy parents
- consult this site, which will direct you to the place your state posts daycare center violations and reviews
- read up on your states minimum requirements for things like number of cribs, outside playtime and feeding standards.  That way you are not impressed with centers that tell you they do certain things, when it is just the min required by your state anyway.

Next, tour some options
- be sure to tour the centers WHILE THE KIDS ARE THERE.  This may seem obvious, but The Husband and I went to ours after hours since we have to work.  Things can be very deceiving once they are all clean and packed up for the day.  You need to see how the teachers are interacting with the kids.  I don't care if you have to miss work.  You must tour these places during the day!
- ask tough questions - I printed out a checklist online that seems to cover the basics.  I didn't really know what to ask about since I didn't even have a baby yet.  But you better believe when I changed centers after only 3 days that I asked the new place some much tougher questions.  Here are some things to cover:

General Questions
  • Video of the classes I can access online? not necessarily a deal breaker
  • Access codes for door? make sure the place is secure and it is hard to get into
  • Directors hours?  Lead teacher position? center directors are not usually there during all open hours, who is in charge early AM before they get there?
  • Parents night out option? some centers have occasional Fri/Sat nights they offer care, not a deal breaker
Ratio - baby to teacher ratio, many states require 1 teacher for 4 babies
  • When does first teacher come in?  And next? what is the back up plan if a morning teacher calls in sick?  Make sure they have a quick answer for this one!
  • Breaks and lunch periods, is there fill in?
  • Turnover of teachers?
  • Number of playmats to baby ratio - make sure there are plenty of activities for even the youngest baby
  • Use of swings - a high number of swings in the room probably means babies spend a lot of time there.  Beware of places that use swings as babysitters!
  • Average amount of playtime/interaction for each baby in a 3 hour period - need to be more than just feeding and changing!
  • Do they work on tummy time there?
  • Each baby have own crib?  Are they napping in the cribs?  Or in a swing?  to me, crib is preferred
  • Regular changing schedule or as needed?  some places seem to do a schedule, with a change every 2 hours or so.  As needed is preferred.  Ask to look at an activity log for one of the babies - they should have at least 3 changes between the hours of 7 and noon!
  • How do they handle it when babies are sleeping and are in need of a change? 
  • Are the babies held to be fed?
  • What if baby takes a break during feeding – will they feed rest 10 to 15 minutes later?
  • Will they accommodate your baby's bottle temp preference?  Room temp, hot, etc?
  • Look in the fridge where bottles are stored.  Is it clean?  Organized?  Each baby's bottles separated?
Daily Activity Sheet
  • Spots for information on playtime, feeding, napping and changing?
  • Ask to see one that is being used that day, make sure they are filling it in as they go!
Older Children Classes
  • Outside playtime?
  • Learning aspect?  Do they have a curriculum?
  • Is food provided by the school? Is it healthy?  Look at a sample menu.
  • The center can not give out parent info, but they should be able to have parents contact YOU if you want a reference
  • Don't be afraid to approach parents in the parking lot of the center and ask how they like it.
  • Do the other parents and kids look like people you would want to hang out with?
  • If you are able, do a pop in visit during the day without an appointment.  Check in the infant room and see what is going on - are they teachers interacting with the kids?  If you can't go for a pop in visit, see if your mom or a friend can go for you!
In conclusion, appearances can be deceiving, so do your research.  Trust your gut and if something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't!  Choosing a daycare is a very important decision, especially since your child will spend more time there than with you during the week.

***If you are looking for care in the North Austin/Round Rock area, feel free to email me and I will talk to you more about my local research and where Baby H is currently enrolled.

1 comment:

ajbrown78blog said...

Hi there! Some good information here..thank you so much! I clicked on the "link" to take me to the site where I can check violations and reviews but it says not found? Can you tell me what site that is? Or send me the link? I'd love to check it out (for my daughter's daycare)!