Trying to find child care can be a very difficult task. There are so many choices; So how can you be sure you are making the right decision for your child? Your infant or preschooler will spend the majority of their waking hours in child care, so choose carefully.
Choosing Quality Child Care
You want your child to be happy and most importantly, safe, but how will you know if the center or registered family home is a good place for children?
Plan to visit several centers. If you are ever told that you may not visit any of the classrooms, leave. A good center is accustomed to having visitors and should welcome you. While touring a center, plan to spend 30 minutes or more in the classroom your child will be in so that you can get a feel for the teacher and how she does things. Watch for the following:
- Does the teacher talk to the children in an appropriate way? Does she pay attention to them and listen to them?
- What is her method of disciplining children? Does she yell at them? Physical punishment is not allowed in a child care center; if you see a child being spanked, hit or shaken, tell the director immediately. Report the incident to the Department of Family and Protective Services at 1-800-252-5400.
- Look for a teacher who seems to enjoy what she is doing. Does she give hugs, pats on the back, and allow children to sit on her lap? A loving atmosphere in the room will help you child adjust and feel secure.
- Infant teachers should hold, cuddle, and rock babies. This will not spoil them. Babies should not be left in their cribs for long, but should be involved in activities that provide stimulation, such as playing on the floor. Playing on the floor is an important way for infants to learn about their world through exploration. Babies also need to go outside daily. Fresh air is good for them.
- Be wary of a center where children cry for a long time and no one provides comfort. Children cry for a reason and teachers should know what that reason is. Being new at a center is a very bad reason to let children cry.
- Look for teachers who understand the different developmental stages children go through and know what is "normal" for the age range they are working with.
- Count the number of children for which each teacher is responsible. There is a staff to child ratio that the center may not exceed. If you have questions about the number of children a teacher is supervising, ask to see a copy of the Minimum Standards for Child Care Centers. Each center is required to have one on hand.
Once you feel comfortable with the teacher, look at the room and outside play area. Ask yourself the following:
- Does the room seem like a fun place to be? Would you want to spend up to twelve hours a day there?
- Are there a variety of activities for the children to do? Are they stimulating and developmentally appropriate?
- Is the room safe? Are there any obvious safety hazards? Are children prevented from engaging in unsafe activities?
- The room should be neat and orderly. Children need to know where things belong and how to put them away. Neatness and order teach discipline.
- There should be a place in each room where children can get away from it all, such as a cozy corner, been bag chairs, etc.
- The room should be set up in learning centers, such as art, dramatic play, discovery/science, blocks, music, and manipulatives. There should be enough toys so that children can play without fighting.
- Toys should be stored on shelves, and all pieces and parts should be available. Broken toys should be thrown away if they are not fixable. Toy chests are not appropriate.
- Are there enough toys and equipment on the playground so that children can run, jump, climb, and play?
- Don't forget that children need to go outside daily, even during cold weather. No, they won't catch colds from this! Viruses, not cold weather, cause colds. Unlike adults who tend to stand still, children run around outside so they don't feel cold . If they are dressed appropriately, they will be fine.
After School Care
School age children have special needs, too. Look for the following:
- A large room just for them. School-age children need lots of room and a small room with lots of kids just won't do.
- Toys and games should be geared for school-age children and should not be leftover preschool toys.
- Furniture should be sized for them. It isn't fun to sit in a little pre-school chair when you are too big for it.
- Children should not have to do homework if they don't want to. Children need to unwind after a busy school day, and they need time to play. However, a place for homework should be provided so that children can work on it if they choose to.
- The teacher in this room really needs to be energetic. She needs to be willing to be involved in activities and outside games. She also needs good organizational skills because she will undoubtedly be caring for a large group of kids.
- For all age groups, check the daily menu, which should be posted. Centers are required to serve either breakfast or a morning snack, lunch, and an afternoon snack. The menu should be well balanced and enjoyed by the children. Children should be given seconds and should not be forced to eat anything.
Once you have placed your child in care, continue to drop in occasionally. Get to know your child's teacher and share information about your child with her. When there are problems, which is common, don't be afraid to talk to the teacher about them. Remember, no one can possibly do things exactly the way you would do them at home. Overlook small things, but for more serious issues, talk to the director. Most problems can easily be resolved. However, if you are really unhappy, don't be afraid to move your child to a different center. Not every center or home provider can meet the needs of every child. By doing a little checking, you can find a happy solution to the day care dilemma.