The process of finding the right daycare option for your child can be a daunting one — here are some questions to help guide your search, and narrow down the options.
1. Where is the daycare center located, and more importantly, how far is it from you?
- How close is it to home, and how long will it take to get to daycare in the morning and evening? Do a test run. Is it on a busy road that will get congested during rush hour?
- Many daycare providers charge, sometimes by the minute, if you are late to pick up your child. Will you be able to be on time every day?
- Along the same lines, how far is daycare from your office (if you work somewhere other than home)? Many daycare providers ask that you pick your child up within an hour if he/she gets sick; is that doable?
2. What are the hours?
- Do the hours meet your needs? For reference, any daycare providers in our area are only open until 5:30 p.m. Make sure the hours match your lifestyle.
3. What does it cost?
- What is monthly/yearly tuition, and does it make sense for your family?
- Are there any discounts for siblings?
- Are there any discounts if you pay yearly or half-yearly tuition in a lump sum?
- Do costs decrease as your child gets older?
4. How many teachers are in the room?
The student-to-teacher ratio in a licensed center should be mandated by the state. Make sure the daycare center you’re touring is following the rules!
5. What is the class size?
- How many other children will be in your baby’s class? Are they all the same age? (At our daycare, there are 15 babies in our daughter’s class, which is a larger group than many centers we toured. The benefit of being enrolled in a larger facility is the students are all within three months of my daughter’s age, and at similar levels in terms of development.)
6. What is the curriculum?
- Is your daycare play-based or academic based? Our school uses a Montessori-style curriculum. Find out details about the curriculum, and ask to see a lesson plan.
7. The good, the bad, the dirty: What is the cleaning protocol?
- How often are toys cleaned, sheets laundered and hands washed?
- What types of cleaning products are used?
- If there’s illness in the room, what additional procedures are put in place?
- Germs are pervasive, so cleanliness is a valid concern!
8. Teacher retention rates
- What is the turnover rate for teachers at the daycare you’re touring? A high rate of turnover is a major problem daycare centers face.
- What security policies does the center employ? Are there gates outside? Is ID required to pick up children?
- Are there cameras in the room? Can you tune in during the day to see how your children are doing? If not, will there be any video available whatsoever in case of an incident?
10. Level of communication with parents
- How do teachers communicate with parents?
- Are progress reports given nightly?
- Is there an online forum where you can communicate with teachers and other parents?
Other questions to consider:
Closed for Business
- How often does daycare close, aside from major holidays? If the daycare is faith-based, it might also close for religious holidays. Does it shut down at all during the summer? Some daycare providers will close for a week or two during the summer. How does the provider handle snowy days, if you live in a climate where it snows during the winter? When and how does it inform parents of last-minute closures?
“Free” Time Off
- Does your child earn a “free” week off at all? In other words, if you take a vacation with your family during the summer and your child won’t be in attendance, do you still have to pay your daycare provider for that week?
Illness in the Classroom
- How does the daycare provider communicate with parents when children in the room come down with contagious illness? An email? A note on the door?
- When are children allowed to return to daycare following a fever? Many daycare centers say a child must be free of fever (which they define as 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher) for 24 hours before they can return to school. The same question should be asked of vomiting.
- How often are children exposed to music and art?
- Does the school take field trips with children? Where, and how often?
Parties and Entertainment
- Do the daycare operators hire any entertainers, or do special activities like parties? How often?
Read about how I survived the first week of daycare – and my tips for a successful first day.