One of the first major parenting decisions you will have to make will be to put your baby/toddler in daycare.
It is a big decision and will represent a huge change in your child’s life.
I believe that a child who goes to a daycare that is right for them will start blooming, acquire new skills, significantly develop linguistically, physically, motorically and socially. As a parent, you should be sending your child off in the morning with the confidence that they are being nurtured, loved, that they are safe and enjoying themselves. On these feelings, you should not compromise.
And again, as parents, it is our job to do the research, be prepared and above all, trust our instincts. Remember, this is the one place that your baby is spending most of their waking hours in, so your choice should be made wholeheartedly.
I don’t believe that THE perfect daycare center exists, as it is a dynamic environment. However, you should decide what is important for you and what is less crucial and make compromises based on that.
Before making a final decision, always try to get recommendations from friends, acquaintances or parents in social media about the daycare.
Distance from home, price and schedule are obvious and crucial ones and some of the first things to ask about when you first contact the daycare.
If the daycare meets these practical needs, the next step would be for you to schedule a visit. I recommend, if possible, taking someone you trust with you to the visit, ideally a fellow mom who already has their child in daycare, as she will be able to compare.
What to look for during the visit?
Main caretaker - this one is tough to describe because it is mostly going to be based on your instinct and your own judgement. Be extremely observant. What are your general impressions? Are they warm? Attentive to the children? Empathetic? Patient? Genuine?
Observe the dynamic between the kids and the staff. Is there distance between them? Do the kids seem comfortable and in their element? Do you see the staff sitting on the floor together with the kids and engaging with them at their level?
Security - This is a huge one and seems totally obvious but it is often overlooked. Is the place toddler proof? Look at the electricity plugs, are they covered? Do the kids have access to the dangerous areas of the kitchen (stove, cleaning products, medical cabinet)? How accessible is the daycare center? Is there a guard in the front? A code to get in at the door? Is the staff first aid certified?
Child to Staff ratio - this will very much depend on the age group in each class, but you want to make sure that it is not too little, because in that case your child will lack the social interaction, and it definitely should not be too high - that could potentially be dangerous since there isn’t enough staff to properly look after the group.
Hygiene/Cleanliness - Inevitably, in a room full of toddlers, there will be a lot of microbes and you can’t expect everything to be spic and span. However, there needs to be a minimal standard as this may affect your child’s wellbeing. Look at the floor, the toys, the tables where they eat, the sandbox they play in (if applicable). Ask how often are the kids’ bottles and dummies cleaned? How often do they do nappie changes? Are the kids running around with runny noses? Soiled clothed?
Activities - this is a very big one to my opinion as I believe that day care should be an educative, enriching experience. This is the place where your child should experience with different materials, colors, clay, paint, music instruments etc. Are the type of toys in the daycare triggering and encouraging children’s imaginations (such as kitchenettes, doctors kits, different types of dolls, books etc..)? Is there a sandbox? Yard? Garden?
Are they being introduced to animals? Plants? Vegetables? What age appropriate physical activity are they doing? Are they doing a variety of creative activities?
I personally believe that a TV/ipads in the daycare is a red flag. Studies have proven time and time again that limiting kids' screen time is key to their personal development. Day care should be the last place where your kids should get screen time, to my humble opinion.
Transparency - Communication and transparency is key to building a trusting relationship between the parents and the daycare center; it will help reassure you that your child is in good hands.. Ask if there is a whatsapp group or facebook private group where the staff shares daily updates and pictures of the kids.
The best way to understand how transparent the daycare is would be by asking other parents whose children are in the daycare. When they pick up their kids, are they being told consistently that everything was great or are they being told about the child falling/not feeling great/not participating/not sleeping/eating well. Your child will have their good days and their less good days at day care, just like you do at work. You want to know that the staff is sharing even the not so great parts with you so that you can better help your child through and support them at home. This is extra important for the smaller age groups who don’t yet talk.
Sleep Schedule and sleep arrangements - it is important for you to know what the schedule is like so that you can adapt your routine at home in order to prepare your child for the daycare’s schedule. During your visit, make sure to ask to see where the kids sleep and how they sleep. Are there enough beds for everyone (seems so obvious, but you’d be surprised) and are you comfortable with the sleeping arrangement? Can your child bring his own pillow/fluffy animal/blanket or whatever he needs to feel more comfortable and snuggly during nap time.
Menu - Last but definitely not least, ask to see the menu. Is it healthy, nutritious and varied? Are the fruits and vegetables organic? If your child has any food allergies, make sure to ask how they will manage it.
I hope this helps!
Happy daycare search :)