Be prepared for choosing the right daycare.
Author: Kristina Danahy, High School Teacher, Mom
As a public high school teacher, I think about curriculum, lesson planning, and teacher leadership almost daily. As a parent, I was surprised to realize that the lesson plans or curriculum standards at my son’s daycare are the least important reasons why we love it (though the leadership is one). Now that my son is almost preschool age and we are expecting our second at the end of April, I think a lot differently about choosing a daycare because of the experience we’ve had at our center and the wisdom I have learned from other local moms. These are the questions I would ask now if I were looking for a daycare.
- Are infant, toddler, and preschool programs available?
- How structured are the children’s days?
- How much outdoor time do the children get? Where do they go?
- What kind of enrichment do the children get (e.g., music, yoga, language, reading, arts)?
- How much playtime and socialization do the children get?
- Is it a co-op (a daycare that requires regular parent help/involvement in the classroom)?
All daycares and preschools should be licensed and follow a curriculum to comply with state requirements. A good friend who works in early childhood education pointed out that a home daycare can be just as good as a fancier center if the staff are knowledgeable, caring, and offer an age-appropriate curriculum along with support for social skills and emotional resilience. My son has gone through the infant and toddler programs at our center, and I am happy with the play-based approach, development of routines, focus on empathy, and amount of enrichment he gets. If you have multiple children of different ages, one pickup and drop-off can make life more convenient as well.
- Do they make you feel welcome and valued? Do they seem genuinely happy to be there and to be caring for your child?
- How do they interact with the children?
- How do they interact with each other?
- How do they deal with conflict among teachers, between kids, and between teachers and parents?
- What methods are there for communicating with teachers?
- What is the consistency with staff who care for your child (e.g., primary teachers vs. floaters and assistants, how many staff care for your child on a given day)? If a teacher is with your child most of the day, it helps with getting a good sense of how your child is doing and with teacher-parent communication.
- What is staff retention like? How long have the current staff been there?
- How are teachers selected?
- How close is it to your home, your work, and your partner’s work?
- Are you splitting dropoff/pickup with your partner?
- Are you using two cars, one car, public transportation, or walking?
- What is the commute like during dropoff or pickup times?
My husband works within walking distance of our home, with flexible hours. I teach in Boston (not flexible hours, so but early start and end mean that I can pick up earlier). We share one car, and I have the option of driving to school or taking public transportation. While pregnant with my first child, I considered a daycare center near my school because it offered 6:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. hours. After the baby was born, I soon realized how much more difficult a 30-45 minute car ride would be than our current 10-minute walk. That commute would have also had to happen during the summer (in spite of my not working downtown in July and August). That center’s location required finding street parking (rather than having a dedicated lot, like our current daycare center does). The family daycares within walking distance of us did not respond to our inquiries or did not take infants. Those that did take infants were not accessible by public transportation (which would have forced my husband to do both drop-off and pickup or us to get two cars). Our current arrangement of “husband drops off using stroller after 8:00 a.m. / I pick up by car or public transit by 5:00 p.m.” allows us to stay a one-car family and doesn’t put all the responsibility on one parent.
- What daily hours are available?
- Are there full-time and part-time enrollment options?
- For preschool, is there an extended day program? Is it year-round or school-year?
- When do they close for holidays, staff vacations, sick staff, or snow days?
Because of my schedule constraints, I wanted a daycare that had options for earlier drop-off in case my husband had to travel for work. Most of the family daycares near us start after my school day does, so I wouldn’t have been able to do drop-off. I have shifted hours (starting at 7:00 a.m.) or purchased extra hours in the past, but as my son has gotten older, his wakeup time and ease of wrangling in the morning have changed, so we hire a sitter to meet me at 6:30 a.m. and do drop-off at the regular time.
- What are the policies for illness, discipline, and handling of food & drink?
- Are snacks or lunches offered?
- What examples of parent/family handbooks can you look at?
- What security is available (e.g., gates, cameras, door buzzers)? How do they know who’s at the door and who’s allowed to come in? How do they make sure kids don’t leave the premises?
- Can you see all the rooms the children will be in?
In addition to figuring out a process for adjusting drop-off or pickup if one parent isn’t available, we also have worked on figuring out ahead of time who’ll do the “pick up or stay home if kid is sick.”
Talk to Other Parents
- Does the daycare have other parents that you could talk to?
- What do other parents think about the daycare?
In addition to parents recommended by the daycare, mom listservs and Facebook groups are great for getting a variety of advice and perspectives (e.g., Somerville Moms, Moms of Camberville).
Cost (Monetary and Time)
We considered nanny shares as well, but preferred to pay a higher cost for a center-based daycare rather than spend all that time interviewing and coordinating with another family (as well as drafting up a contract and dealing with nanny sick days or weather cancellations).
As our son got closer to preschool age, we started to consider the free pre-school offered by the City of Somerville. However, we realized that we wouldn’t be guaranteed a location near our home and that we would also have to arrange for extended-day and summer care. The cost savings compared to the logistical effort would not have been that much.
In the end, quality of care and convenience were our most important factors. We chose our center because we loved the staff and the caring environment they provide for our son. We can walk there from home and it’s within walking distance of my husband’s work (which made commuting much easier and allowed us to remain a one-car family). It has also never closed in the 2 years we’ve been there (for staff illness or weather). We look forward to enrolling our daughter there later this year!
Author: Kristina Danahy