Choosing a daycare can be a daunting task.
There are many home daycares and daycare centers out there, but space is so limited that we, as parents, often have to make choices about where to send our kids months in advance (sometimes even before our baby is born.) When considering a daycare, the sheer amount of information parents have to process and weigh can be overwhelming and it can be hard to keep track of everything. While my husband and I were able to stagger our work schedules and keep our son at home until he was 9 months old, many parents have to send their babies to daycare at just a few weeks old. Leaving your baby with anyone may stir up a whole host of emotions, but taking notes and asking questions when meeting with potential care providers helped me stay focused on the task at hand. Of course, daycare cost was a big part of the decision-making process for us, but there was so much else to consider. Now that our son has attended daycare for some time, I realize that there were things I focused on then that are not a big deal now, and things that I hadn’t considered that I now realize are important.
I’ve come up with a list of 16 questions to ask when you are choosing a daycare; some questions are best asked of the daycare provider(s), while some are questions you should ask yourself.
Questions to ask the daycare provider(s):
#1: What will my child’s daily schedule look like?
This question can often be answered ahead of time if the daycare has a website or a listing on a site like Care.com. If you visit a daycare center, you might also be able to find this information in their handbook or in a visitors’ packet. When choosing a daycare, we narrowed down our daycare list first by looking at the diaper change schedule. Some daycares’ schedules stated that they only changed diapers on the hour, rather than as-needed, and we felt strongly that our son’s needs (rather than an arbitrary time) should dictate the diaper schedule.
#2: Where will my child sleep, and what kind/size bedding do I need to provide?
It’s helpful to know if your child will sleep in a full-size crib, a travel crib, or a playard, and where their naps will take place. You might also want to ask if music will be played during naptime. Our daycare assigns each baby a crib, and when they get older, they sleep on a mat during nap time.
#3: What will you provide, and what do I need to bring?
Some daycares include lunch and snacks with tuition, while others don’t. Some daycares specify the number of diapers and wipes you need to provide daily, while others keep a stock of them and let you know when it’s time to restock. It’s also helpful to know what other items should be kept at daycare, such as sunscreen, bug spray, and indoor/outdoor shoes.
#4: How will I know what my child does each day?
It’s helpful to know what your little one did at daycare, especially if there is a problem of some kind. Our daycare provides us with a daily sheet at pickup; it includes information about our son’s lunch and snacks, wet/dirty diapers, activities/curriculum, supplies that are needed, and any upcoming events. They also provide us with an incident report if our son gets injured in some way while in their care. Some daycares provide paper sheets, while others use a computer program to generate and share digital reports.
#5: What safety/security measures will you take to keep my child safe?
Unfortunately, in this day and age, school violence is in the news altogether too frequently. It’s helpful to know what the child sign-out procedure is like, if adults need to show IDs to get into the building, and if/when the outside doors are locked. You could also include questions about what happens in case of an emergency, like a fire.
#6: How do you deal with discipline issues?
While children are learning about physical and social boundaries, accidents and incidents are bound to happen. It’s helpful to know what the policies and practices are when it comes to discipline, especially if the daycare’s practices are significantly different than your practices at home.
#7: Do you have a set curriculum for learning?
Some daycares have a play-based curriculum, while others have a more structured curriculum with units, standards, and assessments. You may find daycares that practice a Montessori or Waldorf or Reggio Emilia approach, or possibly a combination of multiple approaches.
#8: When will you be closed, and do you have a set yearly calendar?
You might want to know if the daycare will be closed when area schools have a snow day, and how you’ll be notified if they do close. I’m a school teacher myself, and the fact that our son’s daycare rarely closes on snow days is a big plus for me; it gives me a bonus day to work in my home business!
#9: Are drop-off and pick-up hours flexible, and what happens if I arrive late?
It might also be helpful to ask, if your child is going to attend part-time, what it might cost to add an additional day to their weekly schedule.
#10: What is your illness policy, and is my child required to be vaccinated?
Many daycares have policies regarding fevers and rashes, and contagious illnesses like croup and flu. Knowing the daycare return policy can be helpful for planning absences from work and having a backup child care plan.
#11: What is the child-to-staff ratio?
Rules are different in Vermont for home daycares and daycare centers and can change based on the ages of the children being cared for.
#12: Will my child be in a group with others of the same age, or is it a mixed-age group?
One thing to consider here is the amount of interaction you would like your child to have, and which age groups you’d like them to interact with. Home daycares tend to have less staff and fewer children in their care, and they may not be divided by age. Our son’s daycare is divided loosely by age, but mostly by ability and activity level. His group sometimes combines with the infant group or toddler group, but generally, he spends his time with the other “mobiles.” I like that he spends the majority of his time with little ones that are at similar developmental stages, especially when they play outside. It gives me peace of mind that he won’t be knocked down by bigger kids that can move much faster.
#13: If the children are grouped by age, when will my child move to the next group, and what changes will come along with that move?
In some cases, the cost of daycare may decrease when your child moves to another age group. There also may be schedule changes, curriculum changes, and different expectations for behavior.
#14: Do the staff have professional degrees and/or training in childhood development and/or early education?
As a teacher myself, I felt strongly that my son’s teachers have formal training, and that they understand and be able to implement a developmentally-appropriate curriculum.
Questions to ask yourself:
#15: Do I want my child to go to a home daycare or a daycare center?
This is perhaps the biggest question of all, and your answer will likely depend on the answers for many of the other questions in this list. You may find it helpful to rank the characteristics by how important they are to you and narrow down possible daycares from there.
#16: Can I see myself hanging out and chatting with the provider(s)?
This may seem like an odd question, but your child may spend more time with the provider(s) than with you on a daycare day, and getting along with them can ease the stress of leaving your child in their care. While there are often many policies and plans involved with daycare, things can go wrong; it’s important to know that you can communicate easily with the provider(s) whether there are problems or if things are going swimmingly.