My son is just shy of 16 months old, which is near peak age for separation anxiety and difficulties with transitions. Toddler age children have adjusted to strong habits and daily routines that guide their daily lives. Of course there will be the occasional change or shift in daily routines that can’t be controlled, but for the most part – their eating, sleeping, and play time routines are pretty set. Any significant shift in these routines is difficult for them to understand, and in turn, adjust to.
Our family was recently put in the unfortunate position of having to change our son’s daycare on very short notice. The option was out of our hands, and we were given a mere two weeks to find a new full time daycare. As you know, I’m a full time working mama and my husband also works full time, and that is our only option if we want to make ends meet – so full time daycare for our kiddo is a necessity.
During this hectic and stressful search for the perfect new daycare for my little guy, I learned a heck of a lot on the way. There are very specific things you should be looking for when touring and deciding on the right daycare. As a new parent, some of these things may not be all that obvious. Having a plan of action and list of preferences can make the selection process a whole lot less daunting, especially when having to choose from SO many different options. This step by step guide will help any parent make sure they’re taking everything into consideration when choosing the right daycare for their children. I’ve also created this handy daycare questionnaire and checklist you can take with you on your daycare tours to help during your search.
1. Decide on a General Location
First and foremost, you have to decide on whether it’s more important for you to find a daycare near home, or near work. For me, these are two very different things. I deal with a near 1.5 hour commute to work, each way. A daycare near work would just not be feasible, I wouldn’t want to make my son sit through that kind of commute every day. However, if you don’t face a long commute home, finding a daycare near work may be a better option in case you ever need to quickly reach your children. Also, most daycares require you to be within a one hour travel time in case your children get sick and need to be picked up.
2. Figure Out a Budget
Daycare is pricey. There are no surprises there. Our daycare costs nearly as much as our monthly mortgage! Yup, it’s quite the investment. But it’s worth it knowing our son is in good hands and is being properly prepared for grade school. The price tag makes it all the more important to find the right daycare. You want to know that your hard earned money is going to a place you trust, and can grow to love! After all, these are the people looking after your children, which is priceless. That being said, childcare options are endless out there, and the price range is highly variable.
At home daycares, faith based organizations, and nanny shares tend to be more affordable and can be great options. Private daycares and preschools have other added benefits that may make all the difference for busy working parents. For example, larger private facilities generally offer longer care hours, healthy meal plans, daily reports and photos, and stronger education based curriculums compared to other options. However, smaller more personalized care ensures your child gets 100% of your caregivers attention at all times.
Once you weigh out all your options and land on a specific price range you’d like to stick to, decide on if a monthly or a weekly payment works better for you and your family. This is a question you want to ask when talking to different daycares. Some only offer one or the other, while others offer both and you can choose which option is better for you. In our family, we prefer the weekly payment versus one lump sum monthly payment.
3. Consider Meal Plan Options
This was a big one for us. Childcare options are pretty much split down the middle when it comes to meal plans. Nearly half offer full meal plans that include breakfast, lunch, and a snack, while the other half only offers a snack, if anything. This may pose an added expense that is often overlooked as some daycares have extremely high tuition rates and do not offer meals. This would mean it is up to the parents to pack a whole days worth of food for their children everyday to take with them to daycare. The cost of daily breakfast, lunch, and a snack, not to mention the added headache of planning, organizing, and packing a daily meal pack for your kids is not a small price to pay, and should be taken into consideration when selecting a daycare.
4. Review Daily Schedules
Every daycare or child care facility follows a general daily schedule. This was an important one that we overlooked initially, and learned the hard way. Our son’s first daycare, which he was with since he was an infant, followed a specific sleep, eat, play schedule throughout the day. When transitioning him to a new daycare, we failed to compare the daily schedules of his old daycare with the new daycare. It turns out, their eat, play, sleep schedule was very different to what he was used to, which made the transition so much more difficult.
If you’re transitioning your child to a new daycare around the toddler age, this is especially important. It completely ruined our son’s night-time sleep schedule for a good week before he was able to adjust – not to mention, we had to totally change our at-home routine as well to reflect the new daycares. A pain in the a$$ that could’ve totally been avoided if we had paid closer attention to the daily schedules of the daycares we were considering during the selection process.
5. Research Curriculum or Daily Activities
Since we are not able to be with our son all day, which is still something I have tremendous mom guilt about sometimes, we wanted to at least make sure his day was full of fun and educational activities that would help boost his development and prepare him for kindergarten. Any parent knows that children’s minds grow and develop so fast, it’s unbelievable how much a little toddler can learn in just a week! Preparation for school age is much more successful if educational development is introduced from a very very young age. A good daycare should aim to develop skills like focus, discipline, socialization, and teamwork which are the building blocks to becoming a well rounded, prepared, and well behaved kindergartner. The ability to instill a love for learning early on is one of the greatest benefits of daycare in my opinion.
Do your due-diligence about the offered curriculum before selecting a child care facility. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAYEC) offers accreditation for facilities that offer a well established and proven educational curriculum that benefits children’s growth and development. This is a great place to start, however, not all great schools are NAYEC accredited. Make sure to read through any brochures or pamphlets the daycare offers, research their website, and check out online reviews to compare your options. This way, you can make an educated decision about your child’s pre-k education.
6. Teacher Turnover and Shift Changes
One of the big indicators of a school’s all around trustworthy-ness is digging a bit into teacher turnover rates. In addition to asking about proper training and background checks, make sure to ask how long teachers have been with a facility as well. Longer retention times indicate a happy healthy environment for the staff and, in turn, for the children. If it seems like turnover rates are high and teachers or administrative staff don’t seem to stay very long, that could be a red flag.
Any issues that impact a teachers decision to stay long-term at a childcare facility will more often then not spill over to the children as well. That’s what happened with us. Our initial daycare had extremely high turnover rates with higher administrative staff, which we always thought was strange, but attributed to coincidence. Nope, that was definitely not the case. High turnover was directly due to internal issues that eventually lead to the closure of the school, which put us in this situation to begin with.
Another thing to keep in mind is the general shift changes that may take place during a normal day. My son for example, has a different teacher in the AM then he does in the PM. Make sure to meet any of the teachers that would be caring for your child before committing to a facility. Your parent instincts tell you a lot about someone when you meet and talk to them face to face. Also, make sure the teacher’s schedules are relatively regular. The new daycare we selected seems to have a different person there every morning, which made our son’s transition all the more difficult. How can a child adjust if he’s being dropped off with a new stranger every day. Daily staff consistency can make a huge difference for a little one.
7. Comparing General Classroom Style and Environment
This could be the final deciding factor when it comes to selecting the right daycare for your little ones. After touring several facilities, some may be pretty similar and offer all the same things. The layout of the classrooms and general environment may make the small difference it takes to choose one facility over the other. Overall, children learn better if they’re in an inviting, bright, and happy environment. Bright colors, adequate space to move around, lots of natural light, a variety of toys and activities, and a safe and inviting outdoor play area are all things to look for when touring childcare facilities.
I’ve toured so many daycare facilities at this point, I’m familiar with all the potential layouts. Half wall rooms vs. fully separated classrooms. Small, dark space with one window vs. floor to ceiling windows with tons of natural light. Really cluttered classrooms with very little open space vs. large open play areas. Dinky playground with one slide vs. huge playground with cushioned ground and tree-house. Cafeteria style lunch room vs. separated eating table for each classroom. The varieties are endless. Make note of all these details when touring different centers as these small differences can have a big impact on how your child will perceive learning in the long-run.
8. Daily Reports
The final tip I have has everything to do with how well connected you are with your little one throughout the day while you’re away. The tech world has developed tons of cool apps that daycares can use to send parents updates about their kids throughout the day. Pictures, daily meals, diaper changes and potty breaks, even full videos of your kiddo playing, can be sent straight to your phone! The apps can also be used to send parents weekly newsletters, meal plan menus, reminders on closures or parent teacher conferences, door code changes, and other correspondence. This makes communication with the daycare so much easier.
As busy as life can be, it’s super hard to stay on top of emails all day which makes it easy to miss important announcements from the school. Having the option of opening up a quick app on your phone to access all that information is so much faster, more convenient, and just gives you some extra peace of mind. Many daycares still don’t offer daily report apps, but I’m telling you – this is definitely worth it. Once you’ve had this, you can’t go back to anything else without feeling totally disconnected.
Welp, that’s all I got! I hope this guide and attached questionnaire and checklist are helpful in your search for the perfect daycare.
Until next time!