Wednesday, January 2, 2013

How to find a great daycare

There is a lot of information online about this topic, as this is one of the most important decisions parents have to make: where to leave your child for several hours every day.

The first daycare Allie went to wasn't our first choice and we weren't happy with it, that's why she didn't stay there long. A piece of advice that we refused to take when I was pregnant was to start looking for a daycare early. For me personally that was a nonsense: how do I look for a daycare if there isn't even a person yet?  "When she's out of my belly, then I'll look," I thought. Well, that was not very smart. To make things worse, I didn't start looking when Allie was born. I actually didn't even start worrying about it until my 12 weeks long maternity leave was coming to its end. This is when I realized how precious the advice about starting early was. From what I hear  it's pretty common in the US, but in Russia or Belarus  (well, at least the time when I grew up) looking for a daycare during pregnancy is unheard of. I mean you can of course talk to your friends and figure out which daycare sounds good, but there is no such thing as "wait list for a daycare". When it's time to go, you just call a couple weeks in advance and then go. So that thinking got us to Allie's first daycare that didn't last. 

Anyway, this post is about how to find a good daycare, therefore I am switching to positive thoughts. For over a year Allie's been going to a GREAT daycare, so MJ and I had a chance to compare, understand and come to our conclusions what is important for us in a daycare. This is my personal outlook on the topic and what I am sharing is what I’ve learned over the last 2 years and what I wish that I’d known when we were initially choosing a childcare provider. If anyone from our neck of the woods is looking for a daycare, ours (that we love so much) is Children's Time.

Things to consider while looking for a daycare

  • Cost. Most people care about the cost, so it’s helpful to determine what your search range is depending on the budget and then go from here. When evaluating the cost of the daycare, it is important to take into an account:
-Schedule. How long can your child stay at a daycare without paying an additional (often by-a-minute) fee?  For example, at our daycare we drop Allie off around 8 a.m. and have until 5:30 to pick her up without extra fees. This is a great schedule for us.
-Food. Does a daycare provide any food? Sometimes it may be worthwhile to pay a bit more weekly and not have to worry about bringing breakfast, lunch and snack every day. At our daycare we had to provide Allie’s food until she turned 1 and from then on we didn’t need to bring anything. However, we still choose to bring organic whole milk (we don't have to though, the daycare supplies non-organic whole milk) and her snacks.
-If you have multiple kids of daycare age or expect to have another one soon, is there a discount that a daycare will offer if you have more than 1 kid at their facility?
Other than the cost, there are a lot of other things to think about.
  • Teacher-children ratio. The legal ratio in Maine is about 4:1 (four kids to one teacher), which seems fair. This is for the youngest kids. As kids grow older, the ratio changes a bit. Make sure the daycare you are considering is following the regulations or uses the ratio that you are comfortable with.
  • Walks/The outside area/playground. It’s great to ask during your daycare tour what the policy on outings is. Our old daycare, that luckily didn’t last very long, seemed to think of walks as a very special treat. Babies were only taken outside a couple days a week. Our current daycare takes kids outside twice a day, every day (given the temperature is not too hot or too cold). You also want to look at the playground. MJ calls ours “Baby Sandals”, because it’s so big, fun and clean.
  • The teachers, of course. Most (if not all) daycares will let you bring your child in for a little playtime before you commit to anything. You can hang out in the room where your child will spend most of the day in and see the environment, child-teacher interactions, behaviors, treatments, etc… Of course it’s hard to get to know a teacher in such a short time, but usually people get a good vibe or a bad vibe right away.
  • The space. Is it warm enough in winter/cool enough during the summer? Does it feel cozy? Does it look clean?  We loved ours right away. It’s not large, but it’s so nice and cozy. They rotate books and toys every week or so, so the kids get to play with different toys every week. No matter what time I show up at the daycare it’s always clean there and so are all the kids. They sanitize all the toys every evening. They always have a nice pleasant music on.  They have cool bean bags for the kids to sit on while they read.
  • Activities.  What are every day activities for kids of different age? Do they seem developmentally good? Challenging? Fun? Almost every day Allie brings home something she's made, so we knows she stays busy there. She also talks about all these book characters that we don't necessarily read about at home, so we know that teachers do lots of reading with kids.
  • The ages in a group. It seems to differ from place to place. Our current daycare's youngest group includes babies from just a few weeks old to 2,5 years old kids. I wasn't completely comfortable wit that at first. I was worried that Allie, being the youngest, is going to get "run over" by older kids. But that, of course, didn't happen, as the kids are always being watched, and moreover, I love that fact now. Older kids get to learn how to be gentle and caring with babies and babies have "role models" to follow.
  • There are a few more important factors to consider that our daycare mentions on their website, which I am going to direct you too rather than repeating the informant  I hope you'll find it helpful. I certainly did.
Another question to ask yourselves is whether you prefer a childcare care center or a home daycare. I wish I could compare these two and give you a nice analysis of one versus the other, but because I don't have any experience with the home daycare, other than my friends' stories, I can't really be a fair judge of that. I will say though that our daycare center has made us very happy. Kids are always stimulated to learn, exposed to lots of socializing and are so well cared for!
Good luck with your search!

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