What Everyone Should Know About Picking a Preschool or Daycare
1. The facility should be licensed by the state. Daycares in most states must be licensed by that state, and in addition, most must pass health department regulations. Ask to see the license and the certificate from the local health department. Preschools may or may not be as tightly regulated in your state but do your homework and find out what they should have and then ask to see a copy! Additionally, if the facility is accredited by the NAEYC, you can almost certainly be guaranteed quality learning and care.
2. Every daycare and preschool sets its own hours of operation. Some open extra early and some stay open extra late. Some even offer weekend care. You need to decide if the hours that the facility operates works within the schedule you must keep. In addition, if you only need part time care, you should find out if the facility allows this and offers prices that reflect this part time status. Some centers say that part timers are welcome but then don’t discount for the days/time not used.
3. Some facilities serve snacks and lunch while others expect you to provide your own food for your child. Which do you prefer? Are you allowed to pack your child a lunch if he/she does not like what is being prepared at the center? These are questions you should ask if they are important to you because different places have different rules about this.
4. Find out how long the teachers and child care providers have been working in the facility. A daycare or preschool with high teacher turnover suggests that the employees are not happy and if the employees are not happy, this may not be the best environment for your child. In addition, if the staff is constantly changing, this does not provide your child with any stability.
5. Check the certifications or trainings of the staff. Teachers should be degreed or at least have specific early childhood training. This is not a total assurance that the teacher will know everything that there is to know about teaching and working with your child but it does help. Sometimes you will run across a fantastic caregiver or teacher who has a lot of real life experience but not actual classroom training. Use your judgment in these situations.
6. The number of children per class and the number of staff members in that classroom are crucial factors. If one staff member is responsible for the care of too many children, accidents are bound to happen. The appropriate number of children per classroom depends on the children’s age but a general guideline is that one staff member to 10 two year olds, 12 three year olds, and 15 four year olds. Obviously the more staff per children, the better. Be wary of centers that state a very high teacher to child ratio. They may be counting the director, the cook, the custodian, etc; these people are not actually assigned to direct care for a classroom of children.
7. Go in, unannounced, and observe the center in action. If the center does not allow unannounced visits, this should be a sign that they have something to hide. When you visit, check out what the children are doing. Children should seem happy and busy. There should be enough toys for everyone to play with Staff should handle conflicts between children in a positive manner.
8. If your school aged child will be attending either before or after school, make sure that the center provides a reliable means to transport your child to school. If the school is within walking distance, be sure that the center provides an escort to walk your child to school. If your child will be riding a school bus, be sure that someone will be waiting with him/her for the bus to arrive and that they will be there to get the children off of the bus again in the afternoon.
9. Check out the daily schedule. Be sure that the schedule reflects a balance of time for large and small motor development as well as a balance between quiet and more vigorous activities. The center should provide a chance for children to be creative and a chance for children to play together. Play is an important means of learning for young children.
10. Some centers have a large room where children can run and exercise when it is too cold, hot, rainy, etc to go outside. This is definitely a plus because young children do need to move around, a LOT! But, do be sure that such play is somewhat structured and not a free for all where children are more likely to get hurt. Make sure that children are well supervised during such play and at all times.
11. Some of the newer centers boast security cameras where you can watch your child play during the day. Others have other security measures. Find out how the center keeps your child safe. Make sure the playground is fenced in and children can’t just wander off. Make sure that only the proper people can pick up your child and be sure staff follows through with this. Better to have grandma or grandpa inconvenienced when they are asked to show ID then to have some stranger walk off with your child.
12. Go with your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. On the other hand, if it seems like a warm and welcoming place, then it probably is. Most importantly, keep in touch with the staff and listen to your child. You’ll know if you’ve made the right choice and if you have not, you can always find some place else!