My daughter has been going to the same daycare since she was just six weeks old, and her teacher is as much a part of my family as many extended members are. The Kid With One F loves going there, and I usually overshare ample pictoral evidence online of how much I appreciate the service rendered to me so that I can go out and make my shiny pennies.
Picking a daycare can be rough, especially if you're a first-time parent. Couples have a hard enough time leaving a child with their own parents some times, let alone a complete stranger. Plus, many of us have memories of bad daycare experiences, especially if you grew up in the poor areas like yours truly.
So I thought I'd pass on some of the things I've learned about what makes a great daycare and what makes a crappy one. Here's ten tips.
1. Check the State Agency: In Texas we have the Department of Family and Protective Services, and their site is the first place you should head when looking for a daycare provider. In addition to letting you search for care based on zip code and operation preference like home-based or commercial, they maintain extensive records on site inspections.
2. Look for High Turnover or Low Parent Satisfaction: As I said, my daughter has been with the same provider for most of her life. In that same amount of time I have known only two kids to drop out from care, and they were siblings whose parents had a radical income shift that allowed one to stay home with the kids. Ask the provider how long each kid has been with them, and if possible ask to speak to the other parents as to their opinion on the teacher and the facility. If they like the place, they should be more than willing to tell you so.
3. Make Sure They Have a Curriculum: There really isn't anything like the first few years of your kid's life. Learning is indistinguishable from fun, and for the amount of time your child is likely to be spending at the facility you're going to want to see them engaged in some sort of structured education. Basic alphabet, fun little science projects, and the use of a program like ABC Mouse are all good indicators that the provider takes the idea of early childhood preparations seriously.
4. Pictures and Videos Are a Huge Plus: All day long I get notifications from the daycare filled with pictures of baking projects, play time, the kids helping each other build things, and all the other activities. If I don't get them in a text, they're posted on the daycare's Facebook page so all the grandparents can see. My boss' grandson's daycare has a live video feed that you can turn into. Nothing makes you feel better about leaving your children in another's care like being able to see images of them,
5. The Teacher Should Express a Willingness to Work With Your Needs: Every parent has a different idea of what makes for perfect child-rearing... and most of us are probably wrong, but that's not the point. The point is that you have your needs, and a daycare provider that won't respect that is probably not worth much. Our daughter was cloth diapered, which (Pardon the pun) can be a huge pain the ass. Our provider got on board with it immediately because it was important to us. If you go in for an initial interview and the provider outright dismisses everything you're concerned about, you'd better start looking elsewhere.
6. The Teacher Needs to Act as a Partner in Discipline: By far the most important thing a kid is going to learn at daycare is to socialize, and just as every new tribe of humans who meets another new tribe of humans has done since time immemorial, there will be conflicts as a result. You have to reinforce good behavior both at home and at the center, and this is going to involve a lot of conferences about who took whose toys and what we need to get across the idea that that stuff is wrong. Any provider worth her salt is going to expect you to be an active partner in getting your child to learn how to deal with other children.
7. You Want a Playground: The chances of you not having heard of the obesity crisis in this country are as low as the nutritional value of a Hot Pocket. Sure, you can blame it on video games if you want to, but if you give a kid a place to run around believe they will run around. Having a safe place to do it in is vital. Sixty percent of school principals say that kids function better with an outdoor recess, and any parent can attest to how important burning off some of that endless childhood energy is.
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8. There Should Be a Definite Business Plan: This is more for home-based daycare. Even running a center out of your house should come with a distinct business plan, and anyone that is not treating it on that level should probably be considered flaky. What's your provider's plan for if she gets sick, or has a family emergency? Do they schedule vacation days for themselves so they don't get burned out? If they don't have the answers to these questions, then they aren't really as invested in being a reliable service as you might like, and you'd better have a back-up plan.
9. Check the Menus: Texas has several programs that reimburse daycare providers for the cost of meals provided that menus reflect set nutritional standards, and just like with exercise you can't put enough emphasis on trying to get kids to eat healthier diets that aren't as rich in sugars as most of us grew up on. A good daycare will happily tell you what they're feeding your kid.
10. Listen to Your Child: So you've picked a daycare, and now your kid is going there regularly. My advice is to listen to them. How do they react when they see their teacher? Do they run up and give them a big hug? Do they seem happy when you come to get them, or are they miserably counting down the minutes? If it's the former, congratulations on finding a good provider. If it's the latter, you still might have a good teacher, but only if they're willing to work with you to resolve whatever is making your kid unhappy. Regardless, any consistent aversion to going to daycare should be cause for concern. Good luck out there.
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