When considering an appropriate day care for your kids, how do you choose among the various programs available?
What are some important factors to consider? Drawing on the advice of reputable organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, I’ve compiled a list of things to think about as you evaluate your options.
It’s advisable to contact each day care director and ask for permission to see the actual spaces where your kids would spend their time before you make any decisions.
Look around and ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the space clean and well-maintained? Is it decorated in happy, kid-friendly colors? Is the space kid-proof? Are electrical outlets covered? Are medicines and cleaning supplies kept out of the reach of kids?
- If there’s an outside play area, is that area also clean and well-maintained? Is it enclosed and safe from traffic?
- Is the space well-stocked with age-appropriate toys for different kinds of play? Is there a library with a broad selection of books for kids of different ages? Are there non-electronic games that stimulate kids’ cognitive learning like chess, checkers, puzzles and word games?
- Are the restrooms clean and safe?
It’s also advisable to ask each day care director, or alternatively the senior staff member in charge, the following questions during your site visit:
- Is the program accredited and licensed by relevant state and federal authorities? What are the program hours? Can parents sign up for specific days of the week, or must they commit to the whole week? Is the program open only during the school year or also during holidays?
- How much does the program cost? Is payment due in full up front or on a month ly basis? Will parents be charged a late fee if they’re late for pick-up? Are needs-based scholarships available?
- Does the program have a specific child care philosophy? Does it follow a particular curriculum and pedagogy? Does it have a set schedule for each day that includes age-appropriate indoor and outdoor activities that encourage learning? Are there activities that prepare kids for reading, writing, math, and science?
- What is the age range of the kids, and how many kids are there in the different age groups? How does the staff ensure that the individual needs of each kid are met?
- Does the program track kids’ developmental milestones, and does the schedule regular meetings with you to discuss your kids’ development? Are parents allowed or encouraged to stop by at any time? Does staff welcome parents’ ideas?
- What is the staff-student ratio, and what kind of credentials does the staff have? Are they certified and licensed in early childhood education? Do they have experience assisting kids with special needs? Does the staff receive ongoing training in working with kids?
- How are staff screened, and how long have they been working there? Are staff subject to state and federal background checks, including fingerprinting?
- Are one of more of the staff certified in CPR and first aid? Do staff know how to respond to an allergic reaction? Are they trained in how to prevent injuries? What is the policy regarding immunizations? Do all staff and kids have the required immunizations? Does the program keep records to show that all staff and kids are up-to-date on all their immunizations?
- Does the program have an emergency preparedness plan, including for fire and flooding, and is staff trained on how to handle emergencies? Do staff conduct regular fire drills? Does the program have a written plan to follow if a child is injured, sick, or lost?
- Are staff trained on how to administer medications to kids? Are all medications labeled to make sure the right kid gets the right amount of the right medication at the right time? Are records kept to show when kids received medication and how the medication was given?
- Are nutritious meals and snacks provided to kids at appropriate times? Are the kids supervised at all times, including when they’re sleeping?
- Is there a written policy that spells out how behavioral issues are dealt with? Does the policy make it clear that there will be no spanking, humiliating, or excluding kids? Are kids taught and guided rather than just punished? How does staff mediate in conflicts among the kids?
- Does the staff maintain a list of who’s allowed to pick up your kid, and do they check that list when your kid is picked up?
Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences, and Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.