Babysitting Series: Finding the Right Daycare
After being a preschool teacher for over three years, I learned how hard it can be to find good childcare. All of the preschools that I worked at were very different from one another, but each taught me something new about how I would want my children cared for in the future.
I know, three years isn’t really much work experience. And I am 23 years old, so often I have people assuming they know more about childcare than me since they are older. Which could be true, I am no “expert” but I did study this in college, have work experience at preschools and with being a nanny, read book after book about childcare, and now I am a mother. So, take my advice with a grain of salt as this is all based on my experience and education!
The purpose of this blog post though is that hopefully I can help educate some parents out there who have no idea how to choose the right preschool/daycare, who assume they are all the same, and don’t know what to look for in a school.
Before I start talking about preschools, I wanted to take a minute to share some information on your child’s brain development. This will explain why I am so passionate about proper childcare, and very picky with who watches my daughter.
The first five years of your child’s life are so vital to their development. According to First Things First, 90% of a child’s brain develops by age 5. That being said, it is even more important that your child is shown the proper love and care during the first five years of their life!
According to the Center on the Developing Child by Harvard University, “Early experiences affect the development of brain architecture, which provides the foundation for all future learning, behavior, and health. Just as a weak foundation compromises the quality and strength of a house, adverse experiences early in life can impair brain architecture, with negative effects lasting into adulthood.”
Please take some time to check out the First 5 California website to learn more on how you can help your child learn and grow through these vital years in their life.
Now that I have shown why the first five years of a child’s life are so important, I can finally get into the actual post!
When looking for a preschool, you should start with figuring out what kind of care you want and need for your child: how many days a week, how many hours a day, what type of preschool you would like, the philosophies you want the teachers and school to follow while interacting with the children, etc. I always tell parents to learn towards schools that are child-led in their playing and learning. But that is entirely my opinion, you need to choose what works best for you and your family.
Once you have your list of wants, you should ask for recommendations from friends, neighbors, relatives, Facebook groups, Yelp, that lady at Target whose kid goes to school, basically anyone who has a child in daycare. Honestly, a school can tell you their approaches on childcare, but the best way to know if you will like it or not is to find someone whose kid goes there so you can get an honest review.
As soon as you find a school you like, you should schedule a tour with the Director (or sometimes the Assistant Director). This is how you will get to look around at the classrooms, meet the teachers and get a feel for the environment, While on the tour, there are a few things I think you should look for that I think a lot of parents don’t consider when they are in their search for the perfect daycare.
1. Look at the artwork on the walls - is it all crafts or are there also art projects?
There is nothing wrong with crafts, but you want to make sure a majority of the work your child does is allowing them to be creative. You don’t want every art activity to be “paint in this box only” or “draw a rainbow”. Which they should be doing those things occasionally to learn how to follow directions in a school setting, but make sure some of the art is them deciding what they want to create.
2. Look at the flow of the classroom.
My best definition of the classroom flow is that the room naturally goes from quieter activities to the louder ones. Typically there is a quiet area for reading, an art section, science, math, dramatic play, music and movement, etc. You want to make sure the music and movement area (the loudest by far) is not right next to the quiet area. I know this doesn’t sound important, but it actually does improve the classroom when the room has a flow to it!
3. Take note of how the teachers are responding.
Are they caring and inviting when you walk in the room? If you have your child with you do they talk to your child? Are they getting on the child’s level when they talk to them? Do they use kind words? Is the classroom overall a positive environment? I could go on for hours about this specific topic alone, but use your best judgement to determine how you feel about the teacher’s response to you, your child and the students.
4. Pay attention to the type of play the children are doing.
Is it open/free play, where the children determine what they are playing with? Is it a child-led activity? Are there plenty of supplies and toys in the classroom for the children to play and learn?
5. Try to see how clean the classroom is.
Obviously the room gets dirty every day, but make sure you don’t see a ton of dust or extremely dirty toys.
Either right before or right after your tour you should be given some time to ask questions to the director. So I compiled a list of questions that I think are important to ask!
1. What is the ratio for my child’s age group? And will it change as they get older?
Typically every state has their own laws on ratios for classrooms, but some schools strive to be lower than the state ratio. For example, in California the ratio for a two-year-old classroom is 1 adult to 12 two-year-olds. But you may find a school that strives to have a 1:10 ratio or 1:8.
2. What is the sick policy?
This will give you an idea on how they handle sick children. Typically it is a 24 hour policy, but ask just to be sure.
3. How much is tuition (or the cost to enroll your child)?
This is obviously very important if you are on a budget, and if you can’t afford it as if they have any advice on getting grants. I remember at one of my preschools I had a single mom of two boys and her tuition was paid for by the state.
4. What is the policy on vacation time?
Most schools still have you pay for childcare when your child is sick or on vacation, so it is important to ask this question if you plan on going on any long trips.
5. What is the cleaning process/routine for each classroom and what cleaning products are used?
I try to only use organic, non-toxic products around Izzy so this would be very important for me to ask if I were touring a school. It is nice to know how often the toys are cleaned and with what products, When you have dozens of children touching the same toys, you can assume there are plenty of germs going around.
I hope this post was very informational! If I could, I would write a whole book on this topic as I feel I wasn’t able to fit everything I wanted to say into this post. Please let me know if you have any questions or would like any advice. Remember that this is all based on my experience and education, and my views may differ from yours or someone else’s.
“Brain Development.” First Things First, www.firstthingsfirst.org/early-childhood-matters/brain-development/.
“Brain Architecture.” Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture/.
“Activity Center.” First 5 California, www.first5california.com/learning-center.aspx?id=9&sub=38.