You're not alone if it makes you nervous to think about leaving your baby with someone else. It's a big decision to let someone else take care of some of your child's needs, especially if this is your first child. But if you want to go back to work, you won't be the only one: Some estimates say that more than 70% of all primary caregivers have jobs outside the home. And that means there are many great ways to take care of children, like nannies, babysitters, and more.
Daycare, at a group center, or in your own home is one of your best options. There are a lot of places where your child can get excellent care from licensed, trained staff in an environment where they can meet other kids their age and learn from them.
Here's what you need to know about daycare: the pros and cons, questions to ask potential providers, and what to look for when you visit a daycare center.
Different kinds of daycares
A daycare is a place where parents can leave their kids with other kids of different ages for the day. You can do one of two things:
Group daycare is run like a school and is licensed by the state. Children of different ages are usually cared for in groups. Some of these are run by companies that hire people.
In-home daycare is a type of child care run out of the providers' homes, who often also take care of their own children. Not all states require in-home daycare providers to be licensed, so make sure you know the rules before sending your child (or while researching your options).
Tips for selecting a daycare provider:
- Conduct telephone interviews to narrow your search.
- Visit at least three caregivers or childcare programs. Be prepared to spend at least an hour or longer at each one.
- Check references. Ask for at least two parent references.
- Bring your child in to observe them in this setting.
- Don’t settle. Keep looking until you find the right option.
Questions to ask:
- Is there a waiting list?
- What are the costs (tuition, application fee) and payment schedule?
- How many children are cared for at once? Babies and young toddlers need lots of attention.
- What schedule do you follow? The daycare could have a set nap schedule all the children follow, or they may accommodate the schedule you come up with as a parent.
- What is your childcare philosophy? Ensure you're comfortable with the caregiver's policies on early education, discipline, soothing, and feeding.
- What is your accreditation? While a state license can't guarantee that your baby will get lots of attention from a qualified and loving caregiver, it boosts your odds and means the provider has met government-set health and safety standards.
- What are your policies regarding immunizations?
- What are the health requirements for caregivers?
- How are sick children handled? The provider should have clear-cut guidelines about sick kids staying home.
- What meals and snacks do you serve? Every meal and snack should be healthy and age-appropriate.
- What are your credentials and experience? The caregiver(s) should have first aid and CPR training. An early childhood education degree is required for the director of a group center, and early childhood education or early childhood development training is required for the teachers.
- Do you charge for vacations (yours and mine)?
- Do you close during holidays? Am I expected to pay for those holidays?
- How do you handle toilet training?
- What child proofing have you done to prevent accidents?
- How do you handle emergencies?
- What supplies/equipment does the facility provide and what is the parent expected to provide?
- Is parent participation and involvement encouraged?
- Do you have an open door policy for parents to drop in?
What to observe during your first visit:
- Is the center/home well maintained and clean?
- Are toys and furniture suitable and in good shape?
- Are the bathrooms and kitchen areas separated and clean?
- Are there smoke detectors and a fire escape plan?
- Are the electrical outlets covered?
- Are children in high chairs strapped in?
- Is there a comfortable and safe place for sleeping?
- Is the daycare well-lit and cheerful?
- Does the center have a fenced yard with some shade?
- How does the provider interact with your child?
- Are you happy with the number of children in the daycare?
- How do the children interact with one another/with the provider?
- Do you see infants in a playpen or a swing for longer than a few minutes?
- Are toys developmentally and age-appropriate?
Trust your instincts
When something doesn't feel quite right, you know. If this occurs, keep looking!
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