The Division of Child Development has compiled the following list of questions and issues that you may want to discuss with a potential child care provider. The Division recommends that parents make multiple visits to facilities to gain a first hand knowledge of the child care program.
Planning for the Visit:
In preparation for this visit, you should take a checklist with you to remind you of things to look for, and to record your observations. If you have additional questions, add them to the checklist. You should call the program in advance to arrange a convenient time for your visit. If appropriate, take your child along and observe their reaction to the program.
Choosing a daycare center for your child involves asking plenty of questions and being observant. Start your search about six months before you'll need childcare (the best centers fill up fast), and use the following list of criteria as a guide. If you find a center that scores a perfect ten, you've found childcare gold.
Of course, that goal is pretty lofty; only about 7,000 centers have been accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) — the highest standard around — so you'll have to decide what's most important to you and choose from among your best options. "For us it was location, location, location," says BabyCenter mom Laura Mason of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. "We wanted a daycare within walking distance of work, since our son is breastfed and won't take a bottle."
Whether you choose a formal child-care center, family day care, or in-home care, there are some basic things you should know and insist upon. To help you make this all-important decision, we've talked to mothers and other experts who have been in the child-care trenches. Here are eight ways to size up a child-care option:
1. Look down. When you're visiting a potential site, pay attention to how the staff interacts with the children. Ideally, a caregiver should be on the floor playing with the kids or holding one on her lap. In their early years, babies need close, loving, interactive relationships with adults in order to thrive. That's why it's especially important that babies' first caregivers be warm and responsive, and that even in group care, infants and older babies get a healthy dose of one-on-one time. (Though individual states set their own staffing ratios for child-care facilities, the American Academy of Pediatrics specifically recommends a ratio of one adult for every three babies up to 24 months of age.)