Parenthood is a rewarding and amazing job, one that comes with a lot of responsibility. Choosing the people that care for and guide your child when you cannot be there is an important decision. This Top 10 provides information ranging from the most obvious questions to the more complex concerns about child care.
10. Basics To Get Started. With a phone call or by searching websites you can have basic questions answered to find the staff and facility that best meets your family’s needs. Are there openings for your age child? What are the hours of operation? What is the fee structure and rates?
9. Know Your Type. The types of facilities range from in-home day cares, group family home day cares, child care centers, to the before and after school care centers. Each offers unique features and services so make a personal visit to get further details. Ask if they are licensed or registered. The South Dakota Department of Social Services established and enforces regulations that require maintenance of minimum standards. SDDSS registered or licensed facilities have agreed to abide by these sets of safe practices. Ask to review the Parent Policy Manual to see if it fits your needs.
8. Environment: Clean and Healthy. Does the facility look and smell clean? Does staff wash their hands regularly? Is the diaper changing area sanitary and how it is sanitized between uses? Review the policy for ill children. To avoid spreading diseases, they should be required to stay home when ill. It’s a good idea to create a back-up plan now for when your child is not feeling well and is unable to attend child care. Are healthy meals and snacks provided and how often? What is an example menu? All hands should be washed before eating.
7. Environment: Safe and Welcoming. Are outlets covered and steps blocked off to prevent falls? Are toys in good repair and equipment safe? Are there fire and evacuation drills? Is the outdoor play area fenced? Note the noise level. Is the active play neither too loud (chaotic and stressful) nor too quiet (unless it is rest time)? Is the room inviting and welcoming? Are the children’s unique artwork displayed? Play areas should provide space for individual play as well as have the space to encourage group interactions.
6. Staff Qualifications. Ideally the caregivers should have an educational background in child development, such as a bachelor’s degree or a CDA (child development associate credential) or have training in a closely related field. What is the staff’s experience and how often do they attend trainings? Are caregivers trained in First Aid and CPR Certified? Ask about staff turnover and how it is handled with the children. Once a child establishes a relationship with a caregiver, it can be difficult if that person leaves.
5. Daily Plans and Activities. There should be daily routines and weekly “lesson plans” that should include developmentally appropriate activities for your child’s age and ability level. Key items include time for creative and interactive play (playing house, building blocks, art, puzzles, etc.), a reading time, and a nap or quiet time. Infants should be played with and held often, especially during bottle-feeding times. For after school programs, there should be time set aside for active play, and then some homework time available too. Television viewing should be very limited.
4. Teacher to Child Ratios and Classroom Size. Consider the number of children, the space available for them, and the number of staff members working with that group. Generally, fewer children per adult are better as it allows more time for individual attention. A registered/licensed facility is required to maintain a set adult: child ratio.
3. Communication is Key. How is information communicated with parents? Ask if there are written or verbal daily communications, newsletters, menus, parent bulletin boards, etc. Parents should be encouraged to provide information about their child, ask questions and drop in unannounced at any time.
2. Behavioral Guidance. Ask situational questions. For example, “What would you do if my child hit, or got hit by, another child?” The caregiver’s response should serve to help both children learn; in this case, probably how to deal with anger or frustration. An appropriate response would be giving the children an example of the words they could use to express their feelings to each other and then help them talk it out to find a better solution. Adults dealing with these situations should remain calm and kneel down to speak to the children at their eye level. There should be no physical punishments or withholding of food.
1. Interactions and Relationships. This is an important one! How the staff interacts with children sets the tone for the entire child care setting. Caregivers should be warm and patient; loving but able to set limits. Does the personality style of the caregiver fit with your child’s personality? Watch to see how the caregiver interacts with the individual children and how the children respond to them. Do they seem to have a positive relationship? If it makes you feel comfortable, that is a great sign!
Now armed with information and questions to ask, gather your preliminary information and then head out to the available locations to look for the right place for your child. When you find a good fit, it will probably just “feel right” and you’ll know it.
Tonya Johnson lives in Rapid City, S.D., with her husband and two children. Along with being a mom and a businesswoman, she is also an educator, child development consultant and passionate advocate for early childhood issues.