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Finding the right early childhood education environment for your little one(s) can be a stressful process. There are several questions floating through parents’ minds when it comes to which facility would be the best fit for their family: How many days will I need to have my child in care? How much will it cost? How will I be able to trust a stranger with my child? How do I know if I’m choosing the right place? As someone who has worked in the early childhood education setting, worked for a state licensing agency, and have searched for the right daycare for my own child, I have put together a list of tips that I found to be helpful in choosing the right place.
1. Review the operation’s compliance history with state licensing
Regulated child care is the most important thing to make sure of. Any place offering services to watch your child(ren) for compensation needs to have some form of certification with the state in which you are residing. This goes for people offering in-home daycare services. You can find this information out by checking with your local state licensing office or search on the department’s website for this information. If the daycare is not licensed, registered, listed, etc., then you should continue searching for a regulated facility.
Reviewing the compliance history will also tell you how many inspections and investigations the facility has had. The end results of those inspections and investigations will show you what citations the facility received. Things to look for include issues with supervision, discipline, and any health and safety related issues. Each state has their own set of standards all daycare operations must follow so if you see that an operation has citations or validations of investigations, take the time to review that in depth. Just because a friend recommended a place to you doesn’t mean that it is a safe environment. Or just because the tuition for your child to go there is the best ever also doesn’t mean it’s safe.
2. Read reviews other parents have left about the operation
I will say, from personal experience, that I read reviews on EVERYTHING that I consider investing in. New car? New dresser? New toilet seat cover? New pen? Reviews.???? Reviews.???? Reviews.???? Obviously, weed out those reviews that are clearly not credible or you notice are just attention seeking people looking for a reason to be negative.
Credible reviews from other people who have had experience with an operation you are considering placing your child in will help give you some insight as to what to expect from the operation and what others like about having their children there. It made me feel better reading other people’s experiences because they were honest experiences into what to expect from the facility. The reviews were decision makers for me whether I would continue to consider a facility or not.
3. Take a tour
First impressions actually matter and taking a tour is one of the best ways you’ll be able to get a feel for the environment. I’m not well versed in the art of reading people’s energy or anything like that, but I do believe that you will get a feel for the energy of the operation and the people running it when you take a tour. Do they seem annoyed about giving you the tour? Do you feel rushed? Is there evidence of learning going on? What do the teachers’ faces tell you as you walk through? I once toured a daycare center and there was a particular teacher I remembered because when we walked by her classroom, she looked just plain miserable and looked like she hated being where she was. After she saw us peeking into her classroom through the windows while on the tour, she instantly perked up and put on a show like everything was perfect. Now, I totally get that we all have our good and bad days and maybe she was just having a bad day that could’ve been unrelated to work. But because of that one observation, the dynamic of the tour changed and I no longer wanted to consider this place for my son. Maybe she just didn’t like her job!
Many questions will pop through your mind on your tour and it’s important to feel like you can freely ask them anything you want. After all, you are dropping off your most prized possession with them!
4. Cleanliness and knowledge of staff
To continue with touring the operation, the appearance of the building and facilities will tell you how much they care about their working environment. Is the place clean? Can you smell the dirty diapers as soon as you come through the entrance? Are things in good repair?
Next, you may want to ask the caregivers about their curriculum and teaching philosophies. Are the staff members just glorified babysitters? Or are they interactive, purposeful, and caring educators? How will your child benefit from being there?
5. Can you see yourself being friends with the teachers
A friend of mine gave me some really good advice when looking for a place to put my son. I actually met this friend from a daycare center where I was working and ended up being her son’s teacher. She recently told me when touring a daycare to see if I could picture myself being friends with the teachers at the daycare. I never thought of it this way. You will have daily conversations with the people caring for your child so if you like talking to them like you would with a friend, then you’ll enjoy talking to them about your child’s day, development, and growth. If you wouldn’t want to be a friend with any of the caregivers, then why would you want them taking care of your child? Luckily for me, a friend of mine was already working at the daycare that I was really interested in and I ended up enrolling my son there. It was fate!
6. Notice the upkeep of the building
This is probably a no brainer, but I’ve seen my fair share of good and bad daycare environments. Some places were so bad, I couldn’t even imagine what the parent saw as a selling point for choosing that place for their child. The upkeep of a building is not only cosmetically pleasing, but it is a safety issue as well. If the paint is chipping off the walls, ceiling tiles misplaced or damaged, outside fences having missing or damaged boards, and so on, these are all hazardous to the children in care. Take a careful look at every aspect and that will also tell you how well your child will be cared for.
7. Trust your gut
Lastly, trust your gut! I was telling my family when I was taking a look at daycare centers that if I walked into a building and didn’t have a warm, fuzzy feeling about coming through the front door, then that place was going to be a no for me. I don’t want to have any doubts about bringing my child to such a place and not being 1,000% secure in my decision to have him there for any length of time. A mom’s intuition is always right and a dad’s concern is a legitimate reason to question things. In the end, you have to be comfortable where you will be leaving your child and trusting your precious little one to the care of others. Make sure it’s the right fit for your family!