I have had the honor of working with children and families around the world for nearly 15 years.
As most of you may know, I've worked in Early Childhood Education for 15 years in many capacities including owning my own childcare programs, having my own class in a center, to training daycare providers for the Department of Defense.
I have had the opportunity to observe some truly AMAZING childcare programs and some that weren't so great.
I thought I would share my top 3 tips when picking a quality childcare.
- OPEN DOOR POLICY As an owner, trainer and parent this is so incredibly important. If your child is in someone's care, you should be able to show up, anytime, unannounced. I encouraged my daycare parents not to tell me when they were coming. I wanted them to feel comfortable in knowing that they could come anytime and that there was nothing to ever hide. Now, as an owner I will say, showing up right when your provider got everyone down for nap is not cool. So keep in mind your children's schedule and be respectful, wrangling kids isn't easy so mutual respect is 100% needed.
- SAFETY Your provider can not and will not be able to watch your child 100% of the time, they will have to make lunches, change diapers, and a million other things. A good provider knows this and prepares their space to make sure that it is not only fun and inviting but also safe for when their back is turned. When you go to do your interview with a potential daycare, look at the space, especially from your child's level and ask your provider what safety precautions they take
- Are doors locked?
- Is there a hot water control to prevent burns?
- Is there long hanging curtains they cut pull down or get tangled in?
- Is there easy access to knives in the kitchen?
- Are there weapons in the home?
- How are medications stored?
- Are there any pets and will they be in contact with your child?
- For centers-How many staff members will be in contact with my child during the day? Centers generally have a high turn over rate, you may be surprised how many times they have someone else in their room other than the teacher you have met or know.
- For centers- HOW ARE YOU ENSURING YOU STAY IN RATIO? This is a HUGE question. I know from experience that this is one of the main issues for centers, rooms are often over ratio (too many children and not enough adults) and this is when a majority of accidents happen. Knowing your center has a plan to prevent this is super important.
- What is their sick policy? You are going to want to know this right off the bat because this is going to determine how often your child is sick and how many days of work you are going to miss. Of course, in a childcare setting, you can clean 24/7 and someone is still going to get sick but are they taking steps to minimize this as much as possible?
- EDUCATION Early Education is so incredibly important. Picking a program is a personal decision based on what you would like your child to learn and your values. Everyone is looking for something different so this isn't a one size fits all. However, your program should offer some sort of educational opportunities. Art, science, math and reading are all easy and cheap to do on a daily basis, even with infants. In my experience, "Play Based" has become a bit of a buzz phrase as far as childcare goes but it's also become a bit of a loophole. Some providers say "we are a play based program" so they don't have to do any work. NOT ALL do, but some do and you should be aware of this. Play based learning doesn't mean you just throw a bunch of kids in a room and let them play with no sort of educational activities and a good provider knows this. Is your provider rotating toys? Are they offering other activities for them to do? Is the space engaging and inviting? Are the toys and activities age appropriate? Personally, I like to see that the provider is also expanding their education. We can all learn more, no matter how old and experienced we are, so a provider who is willing to continue learning and willing to implement new things is a keeper in my opinion.
There are many other things that you can look for in a good childcare program but these are my top 3 things I look for. Always trust your gut, if you go for an interview and you get a bad vibe, trust that.
Last note, mutual respect is so important. My goal as a provider was always to create a partnership. I remain friends with many of my daycare parents even years later, not because we didn't have disagreements but because we had mutual respect for each other and had open communication.
Open communication is key. Once your relationship becomes an "us vs. them" situation things get toxic and can go south real quick. Ask your provider how they are doing, is there anything you can do to help or support them? Yes, you are paying them, but they are still a person who may need to just vent for a minute or bounce an idea off of. Working in childcare is lonely and often thankless, so being kind and seeing your provider as a person goes a LONG way. Communicate schedule changes ahead of time, be open and honest with your provider about any issues you have so you can work through them together.