10 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Child Care Center
If you’ll be returning to work after your baby is born, you probably know that open child care spots can go faster than ice cream melts on a hot day. Still, for your child’s well-being and your own peace of mind, it pays to get picky and there’s a lot to take into account before making your decision.
As you begin your search, check our Child Care and Preschool Listing and the Louisiana Believes website to select a few centers you are interested in touring. The lists include pertinent information about the centers such as star rating, license type, ages, and location. Once you have chosen a few centers, be sure to check the center’s health and safety record.
Jenna Conway, Assistant Superintendent of Early Childhood for the Louisiana Department of Education and a mother of two who has gone through this process before, suggests, “The Department of Education licenses all child care centers, and the history of inspections is available online. You will want to look for repeated violations of important regulations like supervision. It’s critically important that centers ensure children are always supervised.”
Your next step is to visit the centers of your choice. “Every center should be willing to have you visit and walk-through the facility to see what’s happening in classrooms. You should pay attention to the setup of the classrooms, making sure that they look safe, clean, and age-appropriate for your children,” Conway adds.
As you tour the facility, be sure to bring along these important questions to ask because the answers will help you determine if you’ve found the right place for your child–or if you need to keep looking.
1. What activities will my child do?
The code word to listen for is “curriculum.” With emerging research about early brain development, top child care programs aren’t glorified babysitters. They’re full-featured learning environments, even at the infant level because learning starts from birth.
“There are all sorts of age-appropriate curriculums available now, from baby sign language in an infant room to early reading, nature, science, art, technology, and drama programs for toddlers,” says Kris Murray, author of The Ultimate Childcare Marketing Guide and a consultant to the childcare industry.
Conway adds that the state encourages centers to use a quality curriculum that is aligned with the Louisiana standards. This helps teachers provide activities and organize the day in a way to encourage children to learn and grow, ultimately so they can enter kindergarten ready for success.
Each program is typically organized into themes. If the theme is insects, for example, your toddler might be asked to dress up as his favorite bug for the drama unit, paint a bug for the art unit, and learn about insects in the computer lab for the technology unit. To you though, it may all just look like fun and games. But, that’s the idea. “Children learn best through play,” Murray notes.
2. What’s the teacher-to-child ratio?
It’s important for your child to get plenty of attention, especially the younger she is. For Type I Centers in Louisiana, infants under one year need an adult to child ratio of 1:6 (one adult per six infants). For one year olds, the radio should be 1:8 and for two year olds, the radio should be 1:12. Type II and Type III Centers have a ratio of 1:5 for infants under one year, 1:7 for one year olds, and 1:11 for two year olds. However, small class sizes are usually preferred.
The ratio between the two is important because it will show just how much attention will be available for your child. The state observes all publicly-funded child care classrooms and focuses on the interactions between teachers and children on the following areas: caring and responsiveness, routines and organization, and language and learning. Some of the things they look for specifically are: Are there warm and caring interactions between teachers and children? Do teachers quickly respond to a child’s needs? Are there clear routines for children? Is there frequent dialogue between the teachers and children?
3. What’s your policy about unannounced visits?
“The best answer is, ‘No problem. We have an open-door policy.’ Impromptu parent visits should always be welcome,” Murray says. After signing your child up, you should be able to drop by anytime.
4. How will I know what my child did all day?
Some child care centers will distribute a daily activity sheet detailing what each child experienced that day, such as what she had for snack and how often her diaper was changed. Even better is paperless communication. Many daycare centers offer email or text messages two to four times daily.
And, it’s a big plus. Imagine sitting in a meeting and getting a text from your child’s child care or preschool with a video or photo of a picture he just painted. “Real time streaming helps you stay connected to your child’s day,” Murray says. When you pick your child up, you can say “Look at the cute pictures I got from you today,” and talk about them together.
5. What are the qualifications of your caregivers?
Knowing how the director trains the teachers in the facility is an important piece of information that can lead you toward making the right decision. Conway shares, “Many centers now encourage their child care teachers to have or earn a child development credential (CDA) and all child care teachers in publicly-funded centers will have to have this credential by 2019. The state also requires a minimum amount of training, including orientation, and 12 additional hours of training each year.”
Supporting the teachers is another beneficial aspect to the job because child care teaching is a tough job. “Children do best when their teachers are satisfied, which largely depends on the relationship between the directors and the teachers,” she adds. Knowing how the teachers are treated will help you get a feel for the environment.
6. Are drop-off and pick-up hours flexible?
If you work from home sometimes or need a half-day help here and there, look for a daycare option that works with your nontraditional schedule. Child care that’s less than full-time is a growing trend. “For a monthly membership fee, many child care centers will allow you to drop off your child whenever you want,” Murray says.
7. What’s the security situation like?
Most child care programs are safer than they were five years ago. Some now, for example, have biometrics at the entrance. Instead of punching in a code at the door, you’re required to place your finger on a pad to enter the building. “Stricter regulations on safety and background checks are now required in many states,” Murray says.
When touring a child care center, ask whether the children are monitored by a secure webcam. Is the feed distributed to the director’s office so there’s oversight of what’s happening in the classroom? (Good.) Can you have access to the feed as well? (Double good.) Not only does camera surveillance provide peace of mind because you can see what’s going on, it allows you to engage in your child’s day (“I saw you help Sam pick up his crayons. That was so nice of you.”) “You get to spy with a positive purpose,” Murray says.
8. How often do the kids get to go outside?
Beyond extremely hot or cold weather, “there’s no excuse for children not to get outside every day,” Murray says. Your child care center should support the full health of the child, which includes spending time in nature and being active.
9. What’s your disaster recovery and emergency policy?
If there’s a fire or disaster at the school, you want to know that teachers have been properly trained to respond quickly and effectively to get every child out. Every teacher should be trained in CPR, too.
10. Ask yourself: Am I comfortable with the environment?
After you’ve narrowed it down to your top picks, spend an hour or two observing a classroom when the kids are awake (not at nap time). What’s the vibe? The daycare center should feel open and warm-hearted. Teachers should look like they’re happy to be there and engaged with the children. If you get a good feeling about the place, chances are your child will like it too because he’ll pick up on your satisfaction.
Confirm your selection by finding out what everyone else has to say. Review testimonials from other parents on the daycare center’s Facebook page and review sites such as Yelp. “Sometimes there are disgruntled employees or an occasional unhappy parent,” Murray says. If you see 10 great reviews and one negative one, you’re probably fine. Look for a preponderance of positive.”
Child care centers in Louisiana are making significant investments in quality which leads to there being many great options for families in Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas. “The state is unifying the early childhood system, and child care is achieving higher standards and professionalizing their workforce. Child care can no longer be considered babysitting, but is truly early childhood education.
Child care centers are more focused than ever on providing children with quality interactions and instruction that helps prepare them for kindergarten,” Conway says.
Armed with these helpful suggestions, the only thing you have left to do now is find the child care center that works best for you and your little one. ■