Childcare Expert Series: What you need to consider when looking at Daycare Centers

I am pleased to share the first of our Childcare Expert Series with you. Our first post focuses on large childcare centres, which most of you will likely be familiar with in some capacity. Enjoy! – Amy

Author Kim Hodge
As a manager of a large childcare centre, I have met many lovely parents just like you looking to find the best care for your child while you are at work living out your ‘other’ life – talking to adults, going to the bathroom alone…..

The prospect of leaving your child with strangers is scary, I know: here are some tips for you to help you navigate the initial search, based on what I know and some of the questions I’ve heard over the past ten years:

 1. “So, I am back to work next Monday and need a full-time spot for my infant and three-year old twins…..” Please don’t walk up to the childcare centre a week before you need to return to work (oh it happens!!) and expect to get a spot (or three!). Start your research early! I know – it’s so obvious, but see the question above…..

Tip: You are about to find the best childcare option for your child(ren) and your family, within your budget, so this should take time. Spaces, especially for infants, are not as plentiful as they should be (don’t get me started on this!), so it is going to take some work – plan on dedicating some time without children to work on this. Be sure to consider multiple facilities so you can best decide what suits your needs and depending on where you live, increases your chance of getting a space.

2. “HOW much are your fees? – that is waaa-ay out of my budget!!!”

It is true: childcare is not cheap, and you do have to work within your budget. Saying that, please try not to compare options on cost alone. Each family has different needs – different options provide different services. I am always sad when someone phones, asks me that question, and then immediately dismisses us as a possibility.

TIP: Think what kind of care you need – how many hours, how flexible it needs to be, how close to either home/work you need it to be; who will take care of drop off and pick up; how much you are able to afford. Research online, ask on forums for recommendations, and pick out a few places that meet your needs; make an appointment to tour them in person. Please don’t just phone and ask for prices.

Remember: you are trying to choose a caregiver for your most precious possession; you should at least meet them in person. Once. Preferably a couple of times before you commit.
3. First Impressions – think ‘The Bachelor’.

When you arrive for your appointment, what are your first impressions? Are you greeted warmly and sincerely – are the staff expecting you and are prepared for your visit? Does the childcare space look open and inviting? Can you see evidence of children in the space – art or work on display? Do the staff talk about children and their care with enthusiasm and affection? If you have your child with you, how is he/she greeted? Are the staff knowledgeable about childcare, and can they answer – or find out the answers – to your questions? What follow-up after your visit do you receive?

TIP: follow your gut instinct; at the same time be open to learn more through your visit, your questions and follow-up visits. 
Ye-es, this is a good question (and a real one, I kid you not!) about care.
4. What kind of questions should you ask? “I am breastfeeding – who will do that for me while I am at work?” Ye-es, this is a good question (and a real one, I kid you not!) about care.

TIP: Before you talk about money, first learn about the care your child will receive on a daily basis, which includes: activities, rest, feeding and meals (and no, not from my breasts, sorry!). If your potential daycare doesn’t offer a tour of their facility, make sure you ask for one. 

The tour will likely give you the answers to these questions – but make sure you find out:

  • How many children will be in your child’s group? What is the age-range of the children? What training do the staff receive – what is the staff to child ratio?
  • What kind of program is offered – is it structured, is there a curriculum; is it a learn through play approach?
  • What is the quality of toys and educational materials your child can expect to play with and use on a daily basis?
  • What about outdoor time – how much and how often, and where do the children go?
  • Is there any ‘screen-time’?
  • Your child will need a nap (possibly two) – where do the children nap, and what is the schedule? What if your child does not nap?
  • What kind of discipline, and guidance strategies are used in the classroom? Does what you hear (and see!) match your own philosophy?
  • What kind of communication can you expect from your child’s caregivers?
  • Are you able to visit the room your child would be in to see it for yourself?
  • Does the centre offer a gradual entry to introduce the child to the program? Expect to be available in the first week or so, as your child might take time to settle into the routine with someone who isn’t mom or dad. Parents too need that time to build trust and let go.
  • Next, ask about policies – you won’t be able to ask about everything, or remember it all, so ask if there’s a parent handbook, and read it carefully!
  • What are the hours of operation? What is the centre’s late policy – for those times when you get stuck at work or in traffic? (It’s true: those spontaneous after work social events are a thing of your past….)
  • How much notice do you need to provide if you leave the centre?
  • What is the illness policy?
  • What about security – who is allowed to enter the building, how is that monitored?

Lastly, now talk about money. Find out what is included in the monthly fees and if there are any additional costs you might expect to pay:

  • Are there any costs towards materials or programming?  
  • Does the centre provide all the meals, or do you have to bring your child’s meals and snacks?
  • What kind of deposit is required – how and when is the deposit applied? Is there an application fee? When are fees payable each month?

A higher quality program costs more to run, so expect to pay more for that service.

Good luck in your search! 

Kim Hodge, BA Hons., Post Baccalaureate in TESOL, MA in Education

Married for over 35 years, Kim is proud mother of three adult children, mother-in-law to one, and grandmother to two beautiful girls. A 20+year career in education, as a teacher, trainer and program director. When Kim is not working part-time, or volunteering full-time, she spends time with her family, knits, reads, cooks or binge-watches quality (and some not so quality) TV series. 

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