CHOOSING A DAYCARE CENTER
Move aside, college savings: the issue of spending a fortune on kids’ needs is now surfacing far earlier. Parents in the U. S. invest over $9,000 a year per child in daycare services.
If you’re going the professional-daycare route, it makes sense to plan carefully before committing such a big share of family income.
Where Is the Center Located?
Not just in absolute distance from your home, but in convenience to your commute routes and the kids’ schools. And don’t forget to check daycare possibilities at the school itself and at your own workplace.
Observe the immediate neighborhood around the center as well: check the motor traffic, nearby businesses and residences, passersby and other people in the vicinity.
What Safety Precautions Are in Place?
Any responsible daycare center will require staff certifications, visitor sign-ins, and proper authorization for picking children up. Other indications a center is looking out for the children’s well-being:
- Outside doors are kept locked, and outside play areas are fenced.
- Play areas for older children are secured against toddler access.
- First-aid supplies and fire extinguishers are easy to spot and use.
- The center has well-defined plans for illness and larger-scale emergency—and every staff member knows their part. Fire (and other) drills are held regularly.
- At least one staff member is always on duty for every fifteen children (every ten children under three years old).
- The area is kept clear of tripping hazards.
- Anyone allowed to take a child home is also allowed to drop in at other times (places that restrict parental access may have something to hide).
Is There Room for Spontaneity and Active Play?
Some daycare centers fill all the kids’ time with screen entertainment or structured “educational” activities—not a good sign. Young children need to exercise their own imaginations and also their physical bodies. When you visit a center, look for “open play” areas indoors and out. (A place with outdoor play space is preferable, but if you must take an indoor-play-only option, find a center with a large “gymnasium” area. An indoor gym is a good idea in any case: there are sure to be days when outside weather keeps everyone indoors.)
What Do You—and Your Child—Really Think of the Place?
“Gut feelings” are more reliable than they often get credit for. Don’t become one of those sad stories that start with, “I felt something was wrong—I just couldn’t think of a logical reason.”
Besides trusting your own feelings about facilities, staff, and general “fit,” bring your child for a preliminary visit and let him form an opinion. To avoid confusing legitimate dislike with ordinary newcomer nervousness, talk about each visit with him afterwards: “What looked like fun there? What did you like? What didn’t you like? What do you think of the adults and other kids? Why?” (Remember, “so-and-so creeps me out” is a valid reason for caution, even if it’s hard to articulate just what’s creepy.)
Once a daycare center passes the above tests, you can commit to it in peace of mind. Just remember to stay updated on the place and its activities, via your child!