Finding a good day care that is right for your family can seem like a daunting process. I’ve been asked by friends, acquaintances and now fellow parents for the inside scoop time and again. Since this is obviously a hot topic, I’ve decided to compile my ideas in one place to help anyone facing the day care search!
This post is specifically about day cares (as opposed to nannies) since that is where my expertise lies after 9 years in the biz. Below, I’ll walk you through the decision making process from specifying your needs all they way to making the big decision.
There is a lot that I want to share with you about this topic. So much that I found it a bit too much for one post. So, I’ve created a Free Printable Booklet to help you on your journey!
The booklet expands on the ideas below. It includes a worksheet that helps you pinpoint your priorities, an organizer to help you keep track of your research, and details on exactly what to look for and what to ask at your day care visits. Sign up for my email list and the booklet will be delivered to your inbox shortly.
In the meantime, let’s get started!
So, you’ve decided that it’s time to start looking into day cares for your little one. Getting a little bit organized in the beginning can make a big difference! A great first step is to check in with yourself (and your co-parent) about your specific needs.
Specify Your Needs
It will be helpful for you to get a good sense of what you are looking for before you start making calls and scheduling appointments.
First of all, take a look at your schedule. Do you need full time? Part time? What price range can you afford? Are you looking for a particular educational philosophy (montessori, waldorf, etc.)?
If you’re flexible, or not quite sure yet, that’s OK! Just have a general idea of what you’re looking for in mind.
If you have specific needs, it will save you a lot of time and effort to ask about availability before scheduling a visit.
Get in Touch with Your Priorities
Some parents start right off with a certain parenting philosophy in mind. Others are working it out along the way. In either case, there are bound to be things that will make or break a day care for you.
Take some time to think about how you want your child to be cared for. Does your child need a lot of active play? Does your family have a special diet? Are you OK with TV or movies as part of the day care curriculum? Do you subscribe to a specific discipline strategy?
If you’re looking for a day care for your baby, think ahead. While your little one may not need discipline or solid foods right now, it wont be long before they do! It’s a wonderful thing to find a day care you can stick with in the long run.
Take some time to think about your priorities and discuss them with your co-parent and/or a friend. Having a clear idea of what is most important for your child will help you spot the day care that is right for your family.
Now that you have some idea of what you’re looking for, it’s time to start making some calls!
You can find day care referrals from:
- Other parents. Ask around at the park, on you local facebook parent groups, playgroups, schools of older children, etc.
- The Yellowpages. Both the physical book and the website have day care listings.
- Online Searches. Do a search for day care in your area and see what comes up!
- Referral Services. Santa Cruz County has a Child Care Switchboard that refers Family Child Care Homes. Find your local referral agency here.
- Craigslist. Many Family Child Care Homes advertise on Craigslist.
- Local publications for parents. Growing Up in Santa Cruz has a day care and preschool guide. Check for a parenting magazine or paper in your area.
The interview and enrollment process of each day care will differ, but if possible, ask about availability during your initial phone call. Some day care providers are willing to spend some time chatting and will be happy to answer some of your “make it or break it” questions over the phone as well.
Feel it out and get as much information as you can over the phone. This can help to save you a lot of time and energy visiting day cares that simply won’t meet your needs.
If a day care sounds great and has a wait list, it may be worth the time to get on the list. There is generally no cost or commitment involved. The day care will simply call you when there is space available.
You can always say “no, thanks,” if you’ve found a great place in the meantime, but it’s good to keep your options open!
It’s best to make your visits when day care is in session, so you can see the teachers and kids in action. It’s also preferable to bring your child along so you can see his or her response to the setting.
During the visit, you’ll likely get a tour of the facility and have a chance to get your questions answered. Hopefully, you’ll have some time to simply observe as well.
What to Look For
When you arrive, take a look around. What is the overall feeling of the room? Joyful? Homey? Or is it more institutional? Take a moment simply to observe if you can.
Watching how the kids and care givers interact can give you a lot of information! If you’re lucky, you’ll see some kind of conflict and get a front row seat for how the care givers handle these situations.
As you look around, take note of how the room is organized. Are the toys in good repair? Are things well organized and sanitary?
The day care’s license should be displayed. You can check on the status of a day care’s license through your state’s Department of Social Services.
Remember the priorities you established earlier? Have them in mind or bring a list along if you like. Feel free to ask detailed questions to make sure that the day care is able to meet your needs.
In larger centers, you’ll likely have a teacher dedicated to showing you around and answering every one of your questions.
If you are visiting a Family Child Care Home, keep in mind that the provider may be in charge of children during your visit. If he or she seems too busy to have a lengthy conversation, ask for a follow up phone call so you can get all of your questions answered.
In any setting, do be respectful of the care giver’s time and the day care schedule. Remember, the first priority is the children in care! If you feel you need more time than the visit allows, ask if it’s possible to schedule a second visit.
Making the Decision
When it comes down to decision time, review your notes, then take a deep breath and assure yourself that you’ve done your due diligence.
Next, check in with your gut. How do you feel about the day care? Do you feel that your child will be well cared for? That he or she will enjoy time at day care? Do you feel that you can communicate openly with the care giver(s)?
It’s unlikely that you’ll find a day care that does things exactly the way you would – and that’s OK! In fact, it’s good for kids to learn to be flexible! The important thing is that you feel good about the way your child is cared for when you’re away.
I wish you luck in your search!Please share!