Choosing the right child care program is overwhelming. There are so many questions to ask and issues to address — most parents don’t know where to begin. Rest assured. We narrowed all the important pieces down to three basic components you should look for in a quality child care program:
- A well-trained, consistent caregiver.
- A setting that keeps your child safe and healthy.
- An environment that enhances your child’s physical, mental, emotional, and social growth.
A well-trained, consistent caregiver.
There are qualities every parent wants in a caregiver. You want someone loving and responsive, a playful partner who is sociable and interested in children. The best caregiver a parent can find is someone who:
- hugs, rocks, cuddles, seeks eye contact, talks with and enjoys the child
- responds to child’s smiles, skills and interests
- discovers ways to expand on children’s play to help them learn new skills
- introduces new ideas, objects and games
- supports children in building relationships
Aside from someone genuinely interested in caring for your child, you also want someone well-trained and experienced in the field. A few basic questions can help you narrow down the choices:
- Does the caregiver hold a Bachelor’s degree in a child-related field?
- Has the caregiver worked in child care for at least two years?
- Does the caregiver understand what children need to learn and grow?
- Does the caregiver give children age-appropriate lessons and toys?
A setting that keeps your child safe and healthy.
It stands to reason that nothing is more important than your child’s health and safety. From simple tasks like hand washing to fire and other emergency drills, the right child care program leaves nothing to chance. Always check for the following health and safety measures.
- Children need constant supervision, even while sleeping. Discipline should be positive, clear, consistent and fair.
- Hand washing and diapering. All caregivers and children should wash their hands often, especially before eating and after using the bathroom or changing diapers.
- All children should be up to date on their immunizations. Ask the child care program for records.
- Toxic substances. No toxic substances belong anywhere near your child — from cleaning supplies and pest killers to radon, lead, asbestos and other dangerous substances. Check also for poison control information.
- Emergency plan. The right child care program implements a plan for sick, injured or lost children. Check also for first-aid kits and emergency contact information.
- Fire and other emergency drills. Drills practiced at least once a month put a plan in place for fires, tornadoes, floods, blizzards, earthquakes and other disasters.
- Child abuse. The right program monitors to ensure no caregiver is ever alone with a child. Comprehensive background checks also ensure caregivers are trained to prevent, recognize and report child abuse.
- Beyond keeping medications out of reach of children, trained caregivers must give the right medicine, to the right child, in the right amount, at the right time.
- The safest playgrounds are regularly inspected, checked for dangerous substances and hazards, and built with age-appropriate equipment.
- Adult to child ratio. Especially for babies and young children, child care programs thrive with a small number of children assigned to each adult.
An environment that enhances your child’s physical, mental, emotional, and social growth.
More than just watch your children, you want a caregiver trained to help them flourish. The best environment for your child to thrive features:
- Spacious rooms with quiet areas for your child to nap on his or her own schedule.
- Energetic and patient caregivers genuinely interested in keeping your child alert, content, clean and engaged.
- A stimulating environment with plenty of verbal and physical interaction between children and caregivers.
- Age-appropriate toys in good condition.
- Daily activities including singing, talking, reading, dancing and on-the-floor playtime activities.
- Separation by age group. Toddlers play best with other toddlers — rather than more delicate infants.
5 Steps to Choosing the Right Child Care Program
Knowing what to look for in a child care program is half the battle. Next is knowing how to choose the perfect program for your child. The following five steps will take you from the research phase through final decision.
- Do your research. Start with recommendations from other parents and your pediatrician. Find parents on the playground, in the waiting room at your pediatrician or at a mommy-and-me class. You can also jump on the computer and search for child care referral services online. Start building a list of names.
- Interview centers. With a list of options in hand, screen each one over the phone to narrow down your choices. Scratch any program with inconvenient hours or unfriendly staff off the list.
- Visit in person. Walk in, check for the basics, and trust your gut. If you have doubts about the program, then it’s probably not the best choice for your child.
- Check references. Rather than ask the staff, hear about the experience directly from past and present clients. While the child care program can easily edit or forge a recommendation letter, actual clients can paint you a clearer picture.
- Stop by unannounced. The last step before making your final choice — catch them off-guard. Before the staff has time to prepare, stop by unannounced for a truer picture of the child care program. Be wary of any program unwilling to allow unscheduled visits.