When it comes to knowing what to look for in a daycare, it can be tough to know where to start. There are so many options available, and each one seems to offer something different. How do you find the best daycare for your child? What should you be looking for?
When I was looking for a daycare for my daughter, I was surprised when other moms were suggesting I start to look for a daycare while I was still pregnant. The reason for that is because in my area of New Jersey, it’s not uncommon to get waitlisted to a daycare for months.
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Nevertheless, I didn’t feel ready to go searching for daycares. I enlisted the help of my mom friends and the good ol’ internet so that I knew the right questions to ask and what to look for in a daycare. I toured a few daycares, and some were great, some were way out of our price range, and some were just flat-out disappointing.
But ultimately, I found a daycare facility that I LOVED, and continued loving for the next 3 years that my daughter attended the daycare.
To help save you time on researching such important decisions, I’ve put together a comprehensive guide of what to look for in a daycare for infants so that you can peace of mind knowing you found the perfect place.
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Benefits of daycare
There are many benefits to sending your child to daycare, including:
- Daycare can help your child learn social skills and how to interact with other children.
- It can also help them learn to share and take turns.
- Daycare can also help your child develop a sense of independence. They will learn how to do things for themselves and how to problem solve.
- You child will get used to having routines and structure in their day.
- Daycare can also help prepare your child for school. They will learn how to follow rules and how to get along with other children.
- If you need guaranteed childcare because you work, daycare is the best option because depending on the type of daycare, they don’t close if a caregiver is sick.
Daycare won’t always be the right choice for every family. If it isn’t, then don’t feel guilty about that- there’s nothing wrong with staying at home with your child instead or getting a nanny!
However, if daycare is the best option for you and your baby, feel confident in knowing that your child will benefit greatly from it.
Cons of daycare
There are some drawbacks of putting your baby in daycare like:
- You can’t be with them all the time.
- They might learn bad habits from other children (like hitting or biting).
- They may not get enough attention or one-on-one time with their caregiver.
- They will get sick often (at least in the beginning).
- It can be expensive, especially if you have more than one child in daycare.
Because there are some drawbacks about putting your baby in daycare, make sure you weigh those carefully against other childcare options to make the best decision for your family.
Home Daycares vs Child Care Centers
You may have heard of both home daycares and child care centers, but what are the major differences between these two child care options?
In a nutshell, home daycares, as the name implies, are child care businesses that are run inside someone’s home. Child care centers, on the other hand, tend to be larger daycare facilities run in commercial buildings.
So which one is better: home daycares or child care centers? Both of them can offer quality child care. They each have their pros and cons, so you may want to take a look which one will serve your needs better.
Home daycares tend to be lower priced than child care centers, have smaller class sizes, and offer more flexibility. On the other hand, because of its small size, kids of different ages, so both infants and older toddlers, will be in the same class. It’s also possible that you will still need a contingency plan for when the home caregiver is sick or on vacation and needs to close the daycare.
Child care centers are great because there’s usually lots of staff so you don’t need to worry about coverage in case one person gets sick. There may also be more structure, routines and learning curriculums as children are separated by age. However, they tend to be much more expensive and have strict hours of operation that you could be charged for if you drop off or pick up your child outside of their stated hours.
When to start looking at daycare?
It’s never too early to start looking for a daycare for your infant. In fact, many parents get a head start on their search while they’re still pregnant. The reason for this is because as I mentioned above, it’s not uncommon to get on a waiting list to a daycare. Waiting until your child is born and possibly not getting into your first choice of daycare can be stressful for parents who are returning to work.
I know that you may feel like looking at daycares before your child is even here forces you to think about something that you’re not ready to deal with right now. However, if you want your baby to have a good daycare experience and choose a place you feel comfortable with, you need to start looking early.
The process of finding a daycare can take several weeks or longer depending on how many options you have in your area and availability at the daycare center you want to enroll in.
What to Look for in a Daycare
Here are some key characteristics of a good day care center:
Of course, a safe environment is always number one in any parent’s book when it comes to the well-being of their child, so to start off, look for a childcare center who treats safety as a priority. Nothing makes a parent feel more secure than knowing their child is in good hands.
Look into how the daycare ensures that your little one will be safe from harm—things like tracking attendance diligently, running in-depth background checks on staff, a stocked first aid kit, and maintaining an “open door” policy for caregivers to voice their concerns.
What you want to avoid: a caretaker who leaves children unattended, seems distracted or away from the room, or does anything else that makes you feel like your infant isn’t 100% safe.
For example, I once toured a daycare that had no front door security and had one of the classroom doors wide open to the outside. That was a huge red flag for me and made me concerned about how loose they were being about safety. Sure enough I Googled the daycare and found a report of child abuse at that center. It was years ago, but all the more reason there should have been more precautions taken.
If you’re anything like me, the sight of dirty dishes in the sink or toys on the floor will undoubtedly make your inner neat freak stand up and take notice. If the daycare doesn’t look clean, it can also be telling about their poor hygiene standards.
The child care provider should have their own cleanliness rules they follow and enforce, which can include things like washing hands after diaper changes and ensuring that babies aren’t sharing teething rings and pacifiers.
What you want to avoid: a facility that is disorganized and doesn’t seem welcoming because of a messy environment.
Before your child even sets foot in the daycare, there are some important questions you should ask. First of all—and this is an obvious one—does the provider have necessary certification and staff training to watch young children? There are some daycares that hire caregivers who have an early childhood education degree, although it’s not necessary for caring for infants.
It’s also very helpful to know how many children she watches per day and if there are any special circumstances that would warrant extra supervision, such as a child with special needs, infants, toddlers or children on medication.
What you want to avoid: a caregiver who doesn’t have proper certification or sufficient experience with the age group or special needs children that will be under their care.
4. Learning and Developmental Environment
Once you’ve found a safe, clean childcare setting, it’s time to assess the amount of things your little one can do at the center during the day. It’s vital for your infant’s development and learning to be in a stimulating environment.
For younger children, this would mean finding out if there are enough toys and activities to keep them engaged and entertained throughout the day. Your children should be constantly learning—from the type of toys they play with to the way they interact with their caretaker. Kids learn more about socialization in daycare than you might think!
You can rest assured that your child will be an active learner if he’s being surrounded with age-appropriate toys, books and other resources and daily activities as part of the child care program to encourage development.
What you want to avoid: an understocked or disorganized classroom, or one that has toys that are not age appropriate.
5. Kind Daycare Workers
The way your child’s caretaker interacts with them says a lot about how your child will be treated and the level of attention and affection they’ll receive.
First, watch how the provider interacts with your child when you’re in the room. If she plays with your baby, asks questions about your little one’s life and day, and listens and answers your concerns, it’s a good sign she’s a caring individual.
If possible, you should also see how the provider interacts with your child when she thinks no one is looking—does she still take care of him in the same loving manner?
What you want to avoid: a caregiver who doesn’t pay attention to your child and seems disinterested in your child’s preferences and needs.
6. Hours of Operation
Ideally you want your child in daycare for as little time as possible, but the hours of operation are important to consider if you’re working. If you need someone who can watch your infant during the day when you’re at work, make sure their schedule fits in with yours.
What you want to avoid: a provider who opens too late or closes too early, and conflicts with your work schedule.
7. Parental Involvement
Your provider should be open to your suggestions and requests—and equally as important, respect you as a parent and value your input.
You want a daycare that values parental involvement and encourages parents to ask questions or voice concerns about their child. This means making you feel comfortable to stop by unannounced at any time during the week, inviting you to attend special events and meet-and-greets, and offering open communication (perhaps through email or a designated phone number).
What you want to avoid: a daycare that doesn’t value your involvement, keep you in the loop of your child’s progress, or address your concerns.
8. Adult to Child Ratio
A good ratio of adults to children ensures your child’s safety and gives them more individualized attention. Like most daycares, the number of kids per caregiver varies depending on the age group.
The ideal ratios for infants are 1:3 or 1:4, as in one adult for every three or four infants in the classroom. This will allow the caregiver to pay attention to a child’s particular needs without getting overwhelmed. Each state may also have their own requirements for ratios in childcare programs.
What you want to avoid: a facility where caregivers don’t adhere to the suggested child ratio and have too many kids in one classroom.
9. Food and Nutrition
The food served at your child’s daycare should be prepared with fresh ingredients and meet minimum standards for nutrition. Remember, this is what your baby will be eating during the day, so it must be safe! If you’re comfortable with the provider’s menu choices (or lack thereof), then go for it!
They should also allow you to prepare and bring in your own food for your baby, if that is your preference.
What you want to avoid: meals consisting of processed, prepackaged foods and junk food.
10. Medical Policies
You’ll want to find out how the daycare manages illnesses and emergencies. Will sick children go home until they’re better? What if an emergency arises during the day—will you be notified immediately or kept in the dark?
What you want to avoid: a daycare that won’t call you when your child is sick, sends ill children home without alerting parents, and doesn’t follow proper medical procedures.
Discipline at a daycare should be developmentally appropriate—meaning, it’s not too strict or lenient. Providers use positive reinforcement to show children what they’re doing is wrong, and you should see your provider give clear, concise instructions to kids about what they can do instead.
What you want to avoid: an environment that seems hostile and where the caregivers are constantly yelling at children.
12. A Structured Routine
Kids like consistency and it’s important that the daycare your child attends provides a consistent, daily routine. At the same time, providers should understand your child’s needs and flexibility is key.
What you want to avoid: an unstructured environment where rules change from one day to the next or caregivers cannot communicate routines currently in place.
13. Methods of Communication
It’s also important that the daycare has a way of sending communications and important notifications to parents about their children. For example, my kids’ daycare uses the Brightwheel app, which is a great way for child care center to communicate when your child ate, any bowel movements, naps, and other important information. They also use it to send cute pictures of my kids during the day.
What you want to avoid: no clear method or policy of communication to parents throughout the day.
Some daycares can be pricey (I pay almost $3,000 for 2 children in daycare!!), but you should always check to see if they participate in financial assistance programs. Many centers also offer flexible and part-time rates and will work with your schedule.
What you want to avoid: a daycare that charges more than what you can afford or doesn’t participate in government assistance programs.
You’ll want to consider your child’s commute to daycare; after all, it’s important they get there and back safely. Also, access to public transportation is useful if you’re taking the train or bus.
What you want to avoid: a long out-of-the-way communite, a highly trafficked area where cars, bikes and pedestrians are present, or no easy way for you to drop off and pick up your child.
16. Handling allergies
If you have concerns about allergies, discuss them with the daycare and see how they plan to handle your child’s food allergies. Also, inquire if they use latex balloons or offer nut products—if so, is there a safe zone for children with nut allergies?
What you want to avoid: a facility that has no protocol in relation to handling allergies or does not enforce them.
17. Respects breastfeeding
If you’re breastfeeding your child, the daycare they attend should support and encourage breastfeeding. You’ll want to be sure they have a clean and comfortable area for pumping if needed and that staff is trained on how to handle breast milk.
What you want to avoid: facilities that discourage nursing or those who don’t provide lactation rooms with running water.
Frequently Asked Questions
Choosing the right child care for your child is important to their development, so do your research!
Once you’ve made the final decision on a place that makes both you and your child feel safe, start looking forward to all the fun they’ll have while spending the day with their baby peers!
You can also get started on planning what you’ll need to pack for daycare here.
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For more helpful resources, you may like:
- What to Pack for Daycare: A Comprehensive Daycare Bag Checklist
- How to Deal with Working Mom Guilt
- 11 Useful Pumping at Work Tips for Moms Returning to the Office