How to Find the Best Daycare for Your Baby

Leaving your baby in someone else’s hands while you go back to work is an adjustment and emotional process for you and your baby. We give you the tools you need to select the right childcare for your bambino, from how to start the process and what to look for while you’re at the daycare, to questions to ask the director and teachers, and much more.

Also considering a nanny? Read: How to Find the Best Nanny for Your Baby

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photo: thedanw via Pixabay

Things to consider:

  1. What factors are most important to you? As you begin your search, think about the non-negotiable factors in your choice: Is it cost, location, the type of childcare? Is it a place that specializes in special needs? Or dietary restrictions? Do you want a religious-affiliated care provider? Whatever is important to you, write a list with your partner to stay on track.
  2. Location is a big deal when considering your options. Some parents opt for a center closer to home while others choose a location closer to their workplace. Take into consideration pickup and drop-off times, traffic, and who will be picking up and dropping off your baby when choosing the best location for your family.
  3. Timing. Many desirable daycare options have a waitlist, but just because it has a waitlist doesn’t mean it’s theright fit for your baby. But it may mean that you have to plan ahead a bit earlier than you were expecting in order to find the best options that will work for your family.
  4. The type of daycare. There are two main varieties: childcare centers (traditional daycare) and family childcare (in-home daycare). With each type, there are things to consider and specific questions to ask potential providers (we will cover the questions in a bit). Traditional childcare centers are regulated by a state agency, while in-home daycare isn’t. Both offer your baby the opportunity to socialize and gain independence and have a set schedule, but how that is carried out will differ from place to place.
  5. Cost. Typically, traditional daycare tends to be a bit more expensive with rotating teachers and workers and more classes, which means more kids, while in-home daycare means fewer workers and fewer kids and usually lower costs. Each state regulates the kid-to-teacher ratio for childcare, so find out what it is where you live.
  6. What’s included.  Each daycare is a bit different in what they provide for your child (i.e. food, snacks (as they get older), diapers, wipes, crib sheets), so it’s important to check out our questions at the bottom to help you get the full picture when you’re talking to each of your potential providers.

photo: bethL via Pixabay

How to start the process of finding a daycare:

  1. Talk to as many working moms and dads as you can to get recommendations. If you don’t know many working parents, places like Facebook have mom and dad groups for many cities where you can glean lots of valuable information. The more people you can talk to, the better. You will probably start seeing the same places and people being recommended over and over.
  2. Each state has an agency that regulates daycares. Look them up online and find out which daycares are licensed and whether they have any violations.
  3. Contact the providers and set up an interview and tour. This appointment resembles a job interview. Remember: You are hiring them! Use the questions at the bottom of this article to lead your discussion. During this time it’s also good to get a list of references you can contact.
  4. Drop in unannounced. Don’t let them know you’re coming and drop in. Try to do this at a different time of day than when you were there for the interview. This gives you a chance to catch them during a typical day when they aren’t expecting company. Stick around for 30-40 minutes and watch the interactions, the flow, and how they handle day-to-day activities and issues like safety, how they feed the babies, where the babies are sleeping etc. If they have a problem with you dropping in unannounced and wanting to stay for a solid amount of time, then it could be a red flag that they have something to hide.

photo: Sander van der Wel via Flickr

What to look for:

  • -General cleanliness of the facility or home. Are there broken toys laying around?
  • -Basic safety. Are there fire extinguishers? Smoke detectors? Is furniture stable and tip-proof?
  • -When they are feeding the babies, are they holding the bottle and looking into the baby’s eyes or propping the bottle and not engaging with the baby?
  • -Are they making eye contact and interacting with the babies while changing diapers?
  • -Within 15 minutes of a baby falling asleep in an apparatus such as a bouncy seat or exersaucer, are they moving them into a crib?
  • -How engaged are the children in the daycare? Are the babies and kids interacting with the staff and each other?

photo: PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay

Childcare Center Questions

  1. Are you accredited by the state or nationally? Or are you a part of a quality-rating system?
  2. What are the educational requirements of the director, staff, teachers, etc. Is a college degree required? Is a background in education essential to work here?
  3. What kind of curriculum do you use? Why? Can I see it?
  4. Can you give us a run-down of the daily schedule? What happens when it comes to play time outside? How many children are outside at one time? How do you keep it safe? Are there external gates? If so, are they locked?
  5. What are your procedures when it comes to discipline?
  6. If a child hits or bites my child, how will I be notified? What is your policy about hitting and biting?
  7. What meals do you provide? Where do the meals come from? Can we see a sample menu? Do you cater to special needs (i.e. gluten free, vegetarian, etc.) Do you serve breakfast?  Can we pack lunches for our child?
  8. Can we have a copy of your parent handbook?
  9. What are your policies on sickness, vacation time, giving medication, etc.?
  10. How do you handle things like: emergency evacuations, injuries/accidents, field trips, criminal background checks, immunizations and adult-child ratios?
  11. How is security handled here? What is the check-in/check-out procedure?
  12. What do you find to be the most effective way to communicate with parents? How is feedback from parents received (literally and figuratively)? Are there parent events?
  13. Do you have mandatory continuing education training? If so, how often?

In-Home Daycare Questions

  1. Are you licensed, certified or registered? If so, through whom? How can I verify this information?
  2. How did you get started doing this? What’s your background and experience? Do you have qualifications or a degree?
  3. With kids at different ages, what kinds of activities do you plan? Do they get one-on-one time with you to foster their development? Can you give examples?
  4. What does your daily schedule look like?
  5. Can you show us your outdoor play area? Is it fenced with soft surface materials and appropriate equipment?
  6. What is your discipline policy? And how do you communicate about discipline issues with parents?
  7. What happens when hitting or biting occurs?
  8. How do meals work? Do you prepare all the meals? What nutritional standards do you follow for meals and snacks? Can we see a menu? Do you cater to special food needs (allergies, gluten free, etc.)?
  9. Can we have a packet of info that explains tuition payment, back-up child care and policies regarding medication, sick care, vacation, etc. For example, what happens when you’re sick?
  10. How do you handle the following: first aid, suspected child abuse, communicable diseases, evacuation plans, injury/accident reporting, criminal background checks, TB testing, immunization reports, transportation of children?
  11. Do you go on field trips? How and where?
  12. What type of curriculum do you follow? Why?
  13. How do you communicate with parents (daily notes, activity ideas, conferences, open-door policy)?
  14. In what ways are you continuing your education? Do you attend workshops or continuing education classes or network with other providers?
  15. What is the ratio of adults to kids?

General Questions for All Daycares

  1. What is the youngest age you accept?
  2. How does napping work?
  3. Will my baby have their own crib that is exclusively theirs even when they aren’t at daycare?
  4. Do you provide clean sheets? How often are sheets changed?
  5. How do you keep daycare items (toys, floor, tables, cribs) clean?
  6. Do you check on the babies and older kids while they’re napping? How often?
  7. Will you keep my baby on their same schedule they have at home?
  8. Can I bring breast milk and/or formula for bottle feedings?
  9. Can I leave extra diapers, clothes and sheets here so I don’t have to pack them every day?
  10. Do you change cloth diapers?

After you’ve done your research, asked your questions and basically become a parent with major detective skills, grab that non-negotiables list you and your partner created and figure out which daycare ticks all your boxes.

Above all, trust your gut. If you tour a daycare and don’t have a good feeling about it, trust it! It may not be apparent to you at the time (or ever), but going with your gut will help you feel better about you’re decision when you’re back at work.

Sarah Blight


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