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

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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.

How to choose a childcare center they'll love.

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?

(I’ve not mentioned some of the obvious things like opening hours, cost, age requirements, child to adult ratio, etc. I’m assuming those are a given and don’t need to be elaborated on.)

Choosing a childcare center doesn't have to be scary.

I know it’s a huge deal to think about entrusting your littles into someone else’s care. But know that there are lots of good childcare options available if you are willing to take the time you need to make a well-informed, careful decision.

You can do this mamas!! And guess what? Your children might just have the time of their lives.

Dear friends, are your littles in childcare? If so, do you have tips that I’ve not thought of that you’d like to pass on? If they aren’t in childcare already, would you ever consider it?

Love,
A

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29 Comments

  • Reply Livy 31 October 2010 at 8:50 pm

    Adriel,

    I'm so glad you wrote this! Your tips are so practical. You made me feel so much better about finding care for Laney when I was looking. I have found the perfect solution for us now though! My sister is at home with a baby and she is going to come to my house to watch Laney when I have to work.

  • Reply Jessica 3 November 2010 at 2:03 am

    Wonderful tips! I have still not looked into finding child care for my little girl, mainly as a result of my uneasiness with the idea. Your tips, however, comfort me and give me much to go by when, and if, I do decide to go that route.

  • Reply Anonymous 3 November 2010 at 2:39 am

    Bravo for good daycare! Having worked with a certain young woman..{ahem!}…years ago in my daycare center (The Cottage!)…..I can say that having good employees are one of the biggest positives any chid care center can have. So….if you are looking, be sure to ask these questions:
    1. How long has each current teacher been working there? The security and consistency that comes with the same teachers year after year is HUGE. Many children these days have enough change going on in their own homes….they need the continuity of the same caregivers. Typical child care workers burn out after 3-6 months. It is hard work, the pay is minimal, and the benefits usually non existent.
    2. What has the director done to ensure that she/he has attracted the best employees and that they will stay at the center? How does their pay/benefits/etc. match other centers in the area?
    3. What is the highest priority in an employee that the director is looking for? Education? (Sure, that is a good thing…..but is it the most important? I've hired people with Master's degrees and let them go after a few weeks…) Natural affinity for children? Understanding of child development? Sense of humor? Commitment to the children? Ability to work with others in a confined space — patience, kindness, nurturing?
    4. As Adriel suggested — stay and watch and get a feel for how the adults work together. Is there warmth and affection between people? is there a lot of sarcasm — are the employees cynical with the children?
    Or is there understanding and friendship and support between staff members? These people will be your children's role models…..
    that's it for now…….GO ADRIEL!!!! love reading your stuff. xo Sue

  • Reply adriel, from the mommyhood memos 3 November 2010 at 6:27 am

    YEAH! That is great advice Sue!!! I was hoping you'd see my post and add your two cents! (Worth far more than two cents of course!;) LOVED my years working at the Cottage! Best childcare center on the planet, I'm sure!!! 🙂

  • Reply Laura Elliott 16 November 2010 at 11:43 pm

    I have nothing but praise for my daughter's childcare centre. From the moment I walked into the centre I knew it was going to work out great. I am constantly amazed at how relaxed and content all the children are, how much my daughter is learning, the friendships she has made, the food that they provide, the behaviour they model, the info and support they provide to me as a parent. It's been a wonderful experience so far.

    Today is my daughter's day at home and she has already asked if she can go to childcare, that's a good sign! She also tells me the food is yummy.

    I will say that she has definitely enjoyed it more since she turned 2 as a baby it was a bit more challenging but still very good.

    Great tips, it is such an important decision.

  • Reply TammyRusso 10 June 2015 at 4:51 pm

    Really it is nice post and thanksgiving tips for choosing a child care center. You mention all important points in this blog when choosing a child care center. So find a best child care center for your child.

  • Reply Jeff Madison 14 April 2016 at 10:41 am

    I appreciate your tip on visiting a childcare center twice if possible. I would imagine that visiting multiple times would probably give you a full idea of what kind of things they do there. My wife and I are looking for a daycare for our daughter so we’ll have to be sure to visit a few times before we decide on anything.

    • Reply Adriel Booker 19 April 2016 at 10:42 am

      Good luck in your search, Jeff! Many great childcare centers out there. Hope you find the best fit for your family.

      • Reply Jeff Madison 20 April 2016 at 1:15 pm

        Thank you, Adriel!

  • Reply Nash Rich 18 May 2016 at 4:57 am

    I think you can gather a lot of information about observing a childcare. I thought it was a good tip to go more than once though. I feel like it would be a good thing to just drop in unexpected, and see how the staff acts. I liked that this brought up discipline policies. I’m a big believer in authoritative discipline. I grew up in a strict, but loving home, and I think my siblings and I grew up more behaved than most families. Not to brag or anything! Kids thrive off of love, but firm guidance too.

  • Reply Luke Smith 18 May 2016 at 12:54 pm

    I would think that any parent with kids about to go into daycare should check this out. There is a lot to think of like credentials, how things are structured, or even security. I agree it is a good thing to get to know what the place is like before hand.

  • Reply Zequek Estrada 14 June 2016 at 11:27 am

    I think tip six would be really helpful for choosing a daycare. It sounds like you can learn a lot about the staff and facility from just visiting the place. I’d imagine that mother instinct would also kick in if it wasn’t a good choice.

  • Reply Maggie Allen 29 July 2016 at 6:41 am

    It’s good to know that I should be visiting the childcare center twice if possible. I just thought that you would only need to visit the center once to make sure that it’s the right place. However, the idea of talking to current clients of the center is really smart. In my opinion, that could also show you what kinds of parents use the facility. After all, there is no one child care center that is better than everything else!

  • Reply Cynthia.M 30 October 2016 at 4:56 pm

    Well, very helpful tips. I think the third tip is really a great tip which I am finding. Thank you very much

  • Reply Baxter Abel 9 November 2016 at 5:22 am

    I appreciate what you said about visiting a daycare center twice with your child before selecting one in order to observe your child there and the other children. I’ve heard that music lessons can be offered at daycare centers; is that common? Thanks for the tips, I’ll be considering them the next time I’m looking for a daycare.

  • Reply Kairi Gainsborough 22 November 2016 at 2:55 pm

    My twin daughters are almost old enough to go to daycare, and it is time for me to pick one out. There are so many great options in the area, so I really appreciate the advice on how to choose one. It’s a good idea to observe the ratio of unstructured play time to productive time. I want my girls to have a good balance of both.

  • Reply Luke Smith 6 December 2016 at 9:31 am

    I appreciate your advice to try and observe how the childcare center employees interact with children. I can see how it would be more comforting to leave your children with employees who will play and have fun with them, instead of simply supervise. I would imagine that if you have friends who have used a child care center they would be a great resource for finding one for your own children.

  • Reply john Mahoney 14 December 2016 at 1:12 pm

    I agree that a great way to know when a day care is a good fit for you is to visit it and see how the personnel treat the children. This could help someone looking for a place to leave their kids to know if they will be well taken cared of and safe. I will make sure to look into this as I keep searching for the best place to leave my child. Thank you.

  • Reply Burt Silver 7 January 2017 at 5:27 am

    I wouldn’t have thought to visit the childcare center more than once. It makes sense, because you could take your kid to play once, and visit with the other parents another time. My wife and I are both getting ready to go back to work, so we need to find a good daycare center for our son. I would love to see how the other kids interact with him before I make my decision, so I will definitely have to do this.

  • Reply Luke Smith 7 February 2017 at 12:10 pm

    I definitely appreciate the advice you gave about looking into the security measures for signing kids in and out, and for having other people check out your children. In the world today you can never be too careful, and I imagine it would really help parents feel comfortable knowing what security measures were in place. I would also think it would be helpful to ask other parents if they have had experiences with a specific daycare, so you would know what to expect for your own children.

  • Reply Derek Mcdoogle 15 February 2017 at 8:58 am

    In your article, you advised that you should take your little ones along to the childcare center and ask if you can be with them for 30 minutes during one of the “free play” times and 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.). My wife is getting a promotion at work next month and someone suggested that finding a day care center for our kids might be a good idea. Do most daycare centers offer educational activities as well as physical activities.

  • Reply Kim Child 15 February 2017 at 4:47 pm

    Great points. As a parent of two youngsters (toddler and infant) I’d have to reiterate the importance of safety. When choosing a daycare you’ll need to be diligent in your search and ensure your childs safety. Safety comes in many forms and can be tested in many as well: unresponsible works, unsafe environment, unhealthy food, etc. So whatever you do, please take your time and do your homework. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply Olivia Nelson 31 March 2017 at 11:33 am

    I agree that you would want to know about the credentials of a child care facility before you choose it. It would seem that a good daycare would be run by trained professionals who work well with kids. I’m looking for a daycare for my son while I’m at work so I’ll have to find somewhere that has highly credentialed employees.

  • Reply Jenna Hunter 7 April 2017 at 9:24 am

    It was dandy to know from the text that one should ask to look at the menus and activity schedules, including things like nap times, meals, snack times, music, arts and crafts time, sports and games, free play, etc. My 3-year-old doesn’t like to be with other people ever since she knew how to recognize me at age two. When we find a great daycare will be sure to ask about all the items that are listed above!

  • Reply John Mahoney 2 May 2017 at 6:52 am

    I loved when you talked about making sure you choose a child care center that offers proper security for the kids the care for. Personally, I believe in consulting with several locations and programs before choosing the best place for my son to grow and start his learning. Someone recently mentioned that I should start looking into this and find a child care facility that suits the needs of my kids so I decided to start now, thank you for the article.

  • Reply John Slade 13 June 2017 at 3:20 am

    It was interesting to me that you suggest visiting the childcare twice during different times to get a better idea at the quality of care a center provides. I was reading about some of the benefits associated with sending a child to a childcare center, and my wife and I think it would be a good experience for our daughter. I think I’d be more confident in a care center’s abilities if I visited the center in person twice, so I’ll be sure to to do that.

  • Reply Finley Moreira 4 July 2017 at 2:36 am

    Your suggestion to visit the childcare center to observe staff is a really good idea. I’ve been considering sending my daughter to a child care center to make some new friends. I’d definitely be a lot more comfortable sending her to a place where I’ve taken the time to see what the staff and clinic is like.

  • Reply Marcus Coons 8 August 2017 at 9:26 am

    It really helped when you talked about taking your child with you when visiting the daycare to make sure you can see how they interact with other children and if they like it. I can see how anyone looking into this would want to make sure they also read online reviews and make sure you choose a reputable daycare for your kids. Personally, I would want to make sure I visit several child care centers before choosing the one I feel most comfortable leaving my son with.

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