What to Ask When Choosing a Daycare Center

Filed under: Work Life, Childcare

children painting

Does your daycare center offer unstructured use of art supplies? Credit: Getty Images

Choosing the right daycare center can be almost as difficult as leaving your little one. But a mix of common sense and savvy detective work can help you navigate this challenge of modern parenting.

First, ask friends, neighbors and coworkers which centers are popular and why. Schedule appointments with the best candidates, and also drop in unannounced during the morning (8 a.m. to 9 a.m. is usually prime time for drop-offs) and evening rush (you'll probably find heavy pickup traffic around 5:30 p.m.). Don't be shy. While there, ask other parents if they're pleased with the center and why.

Arrive for scheduled appointments armed with questions. Some are dealbreakers: Are they licensed by the state? Can parents drop by whenever they wish? What's the ratio of caregivers to kids in each age group? Are the rooms clean and child-proofed?

Other topics to cover:

  • How experienced are the caregivers and how long have they been at this center? (High turnover is a red flag.)
  • How large a group would your child be with each day?
  • Are kids moved to the next group because they've reached an age milestone, or based on developmental progress, or both?
  • Is the day very structured?
  • Is it focused on academics?
  • How much time for free play and unstructured use of art supplies?
  • How much TV and computer time?
  • Must kids nap or can they play quietly (reading, doing puzzles) when their group naps?
  • How much outdoor time, weather permitting, and what's the outdoor space like?
  • Are meals and snacks provided? What is served? Can you bring your own? Are nuts banned?
  • Can you vary pickup/drop off times each day?
  • What if you're delayed and arrive for pickup just after closing? (It's common to be charged (as much as $1 per minute) for arriving after-hours.)
  • How is discipline handled?
  • How do they communicate to parents about a child's day and about injuries or incidents? Keep in mind that you may not pick up your son or daughter from the same caregiver who spent most of the day with the child.
  • Is this center part of a chain or independent?
  • Are there strict policies about safety and illness? (It may sound inconvenient, but you want a place that expects parents to quickly pick up kids who vomit or run a fever, and requires them to be fever-free for 24 hours before returning.)
  • Do they charge extra for enrichment activities like tumbling classes?
  • If your child attends full-time, will you be charged for days he doesn't attend?
  • Any group discount for siblings?
Use the answers to these questions to inform your decision. But also consider the intangibles: What was your instinctive reaction to each center? Which one seemed to suit your child best? In the end, these may be the most important questions of all.

Related: Babysitting Jobs: Hiring the Best Babysitter


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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.