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10 Things to Look For In a Day Care

Deb Dellapena

Deb Dellapena

Staff Writer & Copy Editor

Posted October 1, 2014

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You may not even have a child in your arms yet (hello, belly!), but you’re already looking for a place to keep it safe. The daycare hunt can be stressful, so rely on fellow parents — and your instincts — to make the search simpler.

Choosing a daycare can be daunting. When you think about it, you’re trusting a stranger to take care of your child. “Here’s the most important thing in the entire world to me,” explains Brandi Davis, ACC, of Child & Family Coaching in Philadelphia and author of OK, I’m a Parent, Now What? “And I’m going to leave him here for a few hours.”

With so many options and things to consider, we’ve zeroed in on a few to focus on when choosing.

1. Plan ahead.

Just like deciding to have a baby, you thought about it beforehand. Take the same approach with choosing a daycare. Davis advises to think about it a year in advance. One Philadelphia couple found themselves “Going wherever we could get in,” says Michael of Philadelphia. “Wait-lists are common,” she says, “Especially if it’s a great place and a lot of people are excited about it.”

2.  Get happy.

When visiting the care center, check to see if the kids are happy, smiling, and having fun. Look for kids who are engaged with coloring, reading, playing with blocks. Keep in mind, not all kids are happy all the time. A baby might be crying, a preschooler may be having a melt-down at drop-off. If kids look lost, bored, or don’t know what to do, that could be a red-flag.

3. Harmony.

Look for pleasant interactions between staff as well as relations with the kids. Notice if teachers coo or talk sing-songy to the babies. Are they listening to a toddler tell a story about mommy’s birthday party with interest? Look to see if teachers and aides get along and are genuinely happy to be there. Are you comfortable with the way they are talking with the children and between themselves? Davis suggests listening in on classrooms as you visit. “You want the teachers to be excited about kids and working with kids.”

4. Multiple choice.

Check to see if there is an abundance of toys and other playthings your child can experience. For infants, a quality daycare cleans toys regularly to reduce the spread of germs. Do the toys look cared for and unbroken? Look for dress-up clothes, artwork-hanging on walls, seasonal decorations, and storage bins of play toys, books, and coloring devices (crayons, waterproof markers etc.). Do you notice whether there is a variety of toys, or will your child be playing with the same car every day?

5. Right and wrong.

Parents often forget to consider how a daycare disciplines. “Discipline is used to get rid of unwanted behavior,” says Davis. Ask administrators and teachers how do they teach wanted behaviors, like hanging coats in cubbies? Kids spend several hours at daycare and are bound to do something they’re not supposed to. What happens when Aiden pushes Jenna out of line? Does the school’s idea of discipline match yours?

6. Fresh air.

Being active is a big part of being young. Check whether the playground is safe, padded in appropriate areas, and secured by a fence. Ask about outdoor time and frequency. Summer and winter months can be extreme. Most daycares will ask parents to send in outdoor gear like sunscreen, swimsuits, water shoes, and snow boots and pant for outdoor play. Ask what the daycare’s policy is and make sure it matches your child’s needs. “Keep in mind there are policies for when it’s too cold or too hot, when it’s safest to keep little ones indoors,” says Davis.

7. School mantra.

Most schools have a philosophy: it could be an academic environment, fostering the idea of community, or an emphasis on play. “I was looking for stimulation, structure, and interaction. Our son doesn’t do well in free-for-all situations,” says Stephanie of Philadelphia.” You want to make sure the school’s philosophy meets and matches your, adds Davis.

8. Top-notch teachers.

These days, most daycares require teachers to be certified or have a Bachelor’s Degree in education or child development. This makes your child’s caregiver qualified to understand where your child is developmentally, how to speak to them, and enables them to know what is mainstream as well as know if there might be a red-flag situation that may need to be addressed. Make sure lead teachers have a child development background and a “good solid base in all things children,” says Davis.

9. Safe site.

Ask about the center’s emergency plan for fires, severe storms, or intruders. Does the school check ID at the door? Is the door locked at all times? No one wants to think about an intruder, but the possibility is real.

10. Your feelings.

It may seem silly, but do you feel comfortable being there? Davis says to ask yourself: Do you want to be there? Do you feel the teachers and administrators are addressing your concerns and answering your questions? Do you feel heard an understood? Chances are that if you feel good about the center, your child will, too!

Comments (3)

  • Corey March 13, 2014
    at 8:20 PM

    What a great article. I wish I had thought of some of this while looking at schools for my daughter. I never even considered asking about discipline style. That will definitely he added to the list of questions when I look at preschools for me son.

  • Eileen March 14, 2014
    at 7:11 AM

    I am a preschool teacher. Brandi’s suggestions are great ones to follow when looking into preschools for your child

  • Tom March 14, 2014
    at 7:59 PM

    It always seems that the most important decisions are given the least amount of intelligent thought. Perhaps it is because selecting that perfect place for our children is so foreign to our normal experience that we completely abandon any effective logic and rely only on our momentary emotions. Obviously Brandi has given it a lot of thought…And it shows. There are steps to find the best options that complement how we raise our children. Thank you Brandi for sharing a logical and thoughtful structure we can follow in making this most important decision.

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