9 Things to Consider When Choosing a Day Care for Your Child

9 Things to Consider When Choosing a Day Care for Your Child

Expert tips on what to look for when deciding on a day care center for your child.

By Judy Koutsky

As a working mom to two young kids, I know how important it is to find the right day care center. I put my boys in day care when they were 18 months old, and I toured countless facilities before making the choice that worked for me. Of course, a lot of it comes from your gut, but we asked some experts what to look out for when deciding on the right place for your precious little ones.

1. Age-appropriate activities. You want to find a facility where the learning environment and activities are appropriate for each child's age and interests and include a variety of programs that support physical, cognitive, and social/emotional development, says Marty Jacobs, MSW, senior manager of family services and advocacy at Child Care Resources in Seattle.

2. Screen time. When I toured facilities, everyone’s opinion differed on the amount of screen time that is OK. Some places believed a movie at the end of the day was OK to let kids chill out. Others said computers and iPads were OK, as long as the kids were using learning apps. When you tour facilities, ask about screen time and make sure it fits with what you want. I personally wanted no screen time, so I only considered places with that philosophy.

3. Size. You want there to be enough adults to supervise and interact with the kids, and you want the overall number of kids small enough to ensure your child won’t get lost in the crowd.

4. Cleanliness. If parents walk into a day care and it doesn't smell good, looks messy, has chipped paint, or even the outside is not inviting, those are red flags, says Blythe Lipman, author of several parenting books including Help! My Baby Came Without Instructions. Kids quickly spread germs, and you want an environment where there is good hygiene.

5. Licensing. A good day care should be licensed, meaning it has to pass rigorous inspections several times a year, says Lipman. Going to a licensed center offers extra peace of mind for the parent.

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6. Teaching style. You want the teacher's interactions with children to be responsive, respectful, nurturing, and ultimately encouraging so your child thrives, says Jacobs. You want the teachers to support children's social development and encourage them to resolve conflicts with others. Ideally, you’d also like the staff to have a background in early childhood education and be engaged in ongoing education and training, suggests Jacobs.

7. Dedicated staff. You don’t want a center where the teachers or administrators keep changing. This creates an unstable environment, and it’s hard for the children to nurture relationships with the caregivers. Ask how long the director and other key teachers have been there.


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8. Strong leadership. With any company, behavior and work practices come down from the top. You want a director who loves children, hires good teachers, and has some sort of business background, notes Lipman. I would add that you want a director you don’t mind interacting with. Because you will be interacting with her pretty regularly. You want her to be open to criticism (not defensive), have suggestions if there is a problem, and have a background in early childhood education so she knows what’s important (and what’s not).

9. The program should reflect parents’ beliefs. You want to make sure the philosophy on toilet training, discipline, learning, and other key developmental areas are along the lines of what you believe. Additionally, making sure the program reflects the cultural, ethnic, and religious or lifestyle practices your family believes in could be an important point to consider, says Jacob.

Ultimately, you’ll go down the list of pros and cons, but I found that I knew immediately after touring a center whether it was a good fit. I was lucky enough to find places where my kids were loved, nurtured, and their development was fostered in a way that made me feel good when I wasn’t with them.

What made you pick your day care center?

Judy Koutsky is the former Editorial Director of KIWI magazine, a green parenting publication. She was also Executive Editor of Parenting.com, AOL Parent and BabyTalk.com. Follow her on Twitter @JudyKoutsky.

Image ©iStock.com/CEFutcher

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