No one wants to be away from their child if they can avoid it, but the busy lives of most parents mean that 24/7 availability just isn't realistic. While you are away at work, you want your child to receive the best care possible. You don't simply want a day care service that watches your child; you want an enriching environment that will help your child to grow and socialize. While day care services are common, it can often be difficult to find the right service that will perfectly fit your child. Although there is no substitute for parental intuition, these four tips will help you sort the wheat from the chaff when evaluating day care programs.
There's No Substitute for Personal Experience
Even if you ignore every other tip for evaluating day care centers, there is one step you should never skip: the in-person visit. You will likely meet with the coordinator and possibly with some of the staff, but simply stopping by for this kind of guided visit isn't enough. You should always request to sit in on a normal day and observe. While observing, pay attention to how the children interact with each other as well as with the caregivers. It's easy to focus too much on the behavior of the staff, but the ways the children socialize with each other are equally important.
Make Sure Your Approaches Mesh
The last thing that you want is to send your child somewhere that conflicts with your own approach to parenting. When speaking with the care coordinator, discuss issues such as discipline, free vs. structured time, sleeping and eating schedules, and even parental visitation. Most child care centers should have clearly defined policies that cover all of these topics, and the staff should be capable of discussing each with you in a knowledgeable and professional manner.
Remember, you aren't looking for right or wrong approaches. Rather, you should be attempting to determine whether the policies of the caregiver align with your own parenting style. If there are major incompatibilities, you should be prepared to move on even if the day care center seems otherwise qualified.
Always Ask About Hiring and Training Practices
Ultimately, it is the caregivers at a day care center who are interacting with your child on a day-by-day basis. One of the most important things that you can do is to determine how those staff members are hired, what training they receive, and what minimum level of education and experience is expected. There isn't necessarily a right or wrong approach to hiring caregiver staff, but you should be comfortable with the answers that you are provided. If you feel that staff members are not adequately prepared to deal with your child, do not be afraid to walk away.
Are the Activities Enriching and Meaningful?
Some child care centers focus on keeping children occupied but do not structure their activities specifically to be engaging and enriching. Discuss the activities that your child will participate in and, more importantly, discuss how the activities were designed. Does a significant amount of thought go into activity planning? Even for very young children, there is a significant amount of pedagogical expertise required to create activities that foster growth. Properly designed activities can help to give your child a leg up once they are ready to begin formal schooling.
Above all else, trust your instincts. Selecting a day care service for your child is about finding somewhere that your child will be comfortable, accepted, and happy. If something feels wrong to you, move on and look for a better option. The time you take to find the perfect service for your child will be worth it over the long run.