Choices for Early Education & Care
Are you searching for a healthy, safe place for your newborn to thrive while you are at work? Is your 14-month old ready for more socialization? Do you want to introduce your 30-month-old to specific learning methods? Are you unsure of what to do with your 4 year-old-while when you return to work before he starts school?
There are many reasons families seek child care. These tips will help you gather information, do the legwork and ultimately, trust your judgment.
Know Your Options
You'll need to choose a type of early care. Choices include in-home care, licensed daycare centers, preschools and home-based daycares, as well as unregulated providers.
Before you begin your search for a caregiver, assess your needs. Do you require regular or occasional early morning or late afternoon care? Does your child need diaper-changing? Do you need transportation to be provided? Does your child have special needs or dietary restrictions?
Licensed daycare centers offer many advantages, including having several caregivers on the premises, making it unlikely you’ll need to scramble for substitute care. The spaces in a center are typically kid-friendly and designed with safety in mind. Care givers are prepared to handle the physical needs of a young child and many are effective potty-trainers. (See a recent MetroKids article on day care potty training.)
Child-to-caregiver ratios, safety requirements and criminal record checks are standard at government-regulated centers. Centers usually have defined policies and procedures, such as that only preauthorized adults with ID may sign out your child. Centers frequently offer convenience services with the working parent in mind, such as holiday camps, sick care and video monitoring.
In-home care provides some parents with the comfort of knowing their child is in a familiar environmen. Nanny or au pair agencies can help you find a care giver that meet your needs. A recent MetroKids article offers ideas and online resources for in-home care.
Preschools offer different opportunities for young children, but often require potty training and do not accommodate children who require full-day care. Preschools may hire certified early childhood educators with training in child development and have more clearly outlined policies so that you’ll know what to expect. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), children with early education score higher on measures of thinking ability and language development, and have more secure relationships with both adults and other kids.
Home daycare providers tend to have more flexible hours and policies. They can be especially helpful if you work an atypical work schedule. If it is important that your caregiver is willing to make lots of individual accommodations (irregular naptimes, for example), a home provider might be your best choice. Some home providers are regulated, but many are not — and you should look for other ways, such as
recommendations and your observations, to assure yourself of safety.
Begin Your Search
Once you have decided what type of care and services you need, begin your search early. Ann Douglas, author of Choosing Childcare for Dummies, suggests starting as early as you can, because some providers have waiting lists.
Your local referal agency can discuss state licensing requirements and suggest ways to collect information about complaints or violations. Ask about financial assistance programs for which you might qualify. (See box below to find your local referral agency.)
Remember, a licensed day care center or family child care home meets basic health and safety standards, but licensing rarely involves evaluating a program’s quality or educational merit. An accredited early childhood program must meet additional strict standards for facilities, health practices, curriculum, teacher training and other factors.
Visit and Assess Quality
Although websites and phone calls can answer many questions, parents should also visit a child care facility to assess its quality.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends you consider the following guidelines as you evaluate the quality of a provider.
Supervision. Are children supervised at all times, even when they are sleeping? Is discipline positive, clear, consistent and fair?
Handwashing (diapering). Hands should be scrubbed with soap and water for at least 10 seconds and then rinsed and dried. The faucet should be turned off with a paper towel.
Child-staff ratio. One-family home caregivers should care for only two babies.
Immunizations. Does the provider have records for all children?
Toxic substances. Are cleaning supplies and pest killers kept far from kids?
Emergency plan. Are first aid kits and emergency plans in place? Are fire drills practiced monthly?
Child abuse. Can caregivers be seen by others at all times so a child is never alone with one caregiver? Have all caregivers hadbackground checks?
Medication. Is it kept out of reach and labeled?
Staff training. Have all caregivers been trained in first aid and CPR?
Playground. Is it developmentally appropriate, clean and inspected for safety?
Trust Your Judgment
Beyond your checklist of criteria, you should feel a sense of trust in the caregiver and program and that your child will learn and grow happily within this environment.
One of the most helpful factors to observe is the interaction between caregiver and children. Does there seem to be good communication? What is the caregiver’s interpersonal style?
Consider how the provider’s philosophy of child rearing, discipline, education and nurturing meshes with your own. “Like it or not, the buck stops with you,” says Douglas.
Michele Ranard is a school counselor and freelance writer.