When my husband and I started looking for a childcare facility to take care of our son two days a week, we had a wish list. I’m not a Pinterest mom who believes children should be housed in a pristine, white-furniture-only institution where things are sterile. We wanted a place where our kid could play, preferably outdoors at times, and paint and get messy like kids are supposed to. Those were the good ol’ days of my childhood. Why deny this fun to my firstborn?
Every family has different needs when it comes to childcare (Full-time or part-time? Religious-based or not? Geographic location? Center or private, in-home care?), so some of these ‘wish list’ items may not apply to you. Here are the questions we asked that helped guide us to our childcare decision.
- What is the teacher to kid ratio? The state of Pennsylvania does have mandatory stipulations on how many supervisors there need to be for every child, but you may not want to reach the max on that. The more attention your child receives, the more the caretaker can identify issues, make sure they stay out of trouble and are safe when playing.
- How much does it cost? If money grew on trees… Alas, it doesn’t and cost is a factor. We are a middle-class family. Some childcare facilities are more expensive than college now. Two kids? That check eats your mortgage payment for breakfast. The cost was definitely a factor for us.
- Did they offer us a tour? Our facility offered us a tour to go over several things while we were there; some of those things are detailed below. It gave us an opportunity to evaluate the environment in a number of ways. It also showed they had nothing to hide.
- How clean is the place? One of my favorite smells is when I go to pick up my kid at daycare and there is the fresh smell of cleaning solution after they have wiped down their toys, mats and high chairs for the day. It helps me feel secure that they are doing what they can to prevent germs from being spread and my kid from being sticky. I want my kid to get dirty and have a good time — and then be hosed down by someone afterward, before he is returned to me.
- What does a daily schedule look like? Our baby still isn’t old enough to sign up for soccer, but it’s nice to know it’s an option at his daycare when he is. His daycare often has the kids painting and has splash days and playing outdoors (what is this concept, you say? I will fully encourage my kid to have a scraped knee every once in a while if it means he was running on a playground somewhere). It’s also important to us that he maintains a nap and feeding schedule that’s consistent. Our center documents his diaper changes, feedings, and naps and gives them to us in a report every day.
- How well did they respond to us in the search process? If a daycare center didn’t respond to me as a potential client, it made me nervous that it may not respond to an emergency, a request for a chat or something else I feel is important as a parent. No dice if they didn’t return my call.
- How long have other families been there? Sometimes when there are a ton of new families at a daycare, it can be a sign of growth and new leadership. But it was important to us that our center didn’t have a lot of turnover with their families — when families don’t want to pull their children out, it’s a good sign.
- Did they offer meals?For us, it wasn’t that we didn’t want to feed our kid; we found it ideal giving him a bottle after he woke up and then letting him have a breakfast with the other babies when he got to school about 45 minutes later.
- How do they respond to allergies?We have a kid who has a weird allergy to apricots, meaning we have to be careful with all stone fruits. If your child has a peanut allergy, is the facility peanut-free? Do they document this in the file so if there is a substitute, they know when they feed him? There are many factors with allergies — including symptoms to look for — and understanding any treatment medication (Benadryl, Epi-Pens or other).
- Does my child like it there? Lucky for us, our son loves his daycare so much that there are days he doesn’t want to leave. If your child is unhappy, doesn’t like the facility or comes home crying quite a bit during the first few weeks, make a change. Nobody wants a miserable child, no matter how convenient the location, the cost or the staff. Re-evaluate and find an alternative where your kid has fun at a place that checks off your boxes.
Carley Lucas is a working mother of one hysterically giggly 1-year-old boy. She, her son and her husband live in Central PA and firmly believe a household of laughter is the best form of medicine for any situation.