Having a baby is the most exciting, and stressful, time of your life. While you’re busy doing fun things like picking names and decorating the nursery, you also have to make some hard decisions along the way. It is estimated that at least 70% of primary caregivers are working parents who will need some type of childcare. Choosing a daycare that will give nurturing, safe care to your newborn can be a tall order. So here are some tips to get you started.
#1. Personal Recommendations Hold A Lot Of Weight
Start by talking to your family and friends for some personal insight. Many important decisions are made by consulting with your “village” and getting their honest feedback and advice. Use the experiences other people have had with local daycare centers to help you decide where to start looking. Leaving your baby for the first time when you return to work can be very difficult. Choosing a daycare that comes recommended by a trusted ally will also help give you peace of mind.
#2. Is A Daycare Center The Right Choice For Your Family
There are several options when it comes to childcare for working families. Some are lucky enough to have a parent or other relative providing care, and others will seek an in-home babysitter or nanny. The majority of people, however, find themselves looking at a group care setting, a daycare center. A typical daycare center offers care to multiple children at once in a range of ages. Some take infants and some do not, so that is something to consider when choosing.
Benefits Of Choosing A Daycare Center:
- Cost – A daycare center may be more cost effective than an in-home babysitter or nanny.
- Socialization – Your child will have the benefit of being around other children and adults from a young age.
- Reliability – You won’t have to worry about your babysitter getting sick or needing the day off. Daycares are fully staffed and you can count on them to be open daily.
- Safety – Daycare centers are under strict state regulations and inspections. You can also seek out a center that is accredited by the National Association For The Education Of Young Children (NAEYC), which sets very high standards of care.
#3. What’s On Your Daycare Wishlist?
Create a wishlist of things your dream daycare will have, then find a location that ticks as many of those boxes as possible. TheBump.com has some great suggestions on what to look for in a daycare center. Here are just a few suggestions for your list:
- Convenience and proximity to work or home – while it might not be your first priority, driving a long way for drop off and pick up everyday can be quite a burden for your family.
- Flexible pickup times or hours of operation – do you need to stay late occasionally, work odd hours, or have other special considerations for the days and times you need childcare?
- Open door policy for parents to drop by unannounced – any facility that discourages or bars you from dropping in for a visit during the day might have something to hide. While you aren’t seeking to be disruptive, an unannounced visit every once in a while can help you see what’s going on at the center day to day and make you feel good about leaving your child in their hands.
- Curriculum offered for learning and development – good daycares offer learning and development opportunities that are appropriate for the child’s age.
- Staff training – including facility training, ongoing education, degree or education required, first aid and CPR training.
- Low staff to child ratios (the NAEYC recommends 1 teacher to every 3 babies or toddlers) – the state will have a limit to how many children can be watched per staff member but you also need to feel comfortable with that ratio. The lower the ratio, the more individual care your child will receive.
- Food choices – for toddlers and older you’ll want to see what the qualities of the meals and snacks are, especially if you have dietary requirements or allergies to deal with.
- Values that align with yours – finally, some parents require religious affiliations or simply want to make sure that the values of the business operating the daycare align with their own.
#4. How To Check Reviews And References For A Daycare Center
Once you have your list narrowed down, you are ready to start making phone calls to the facilities to ask questions and check availability. This is also a great time to start checking online reviews and getting a list of references for your favorite places. Keep in mind that the reviews shown on the business website are hand-picked, so you’ll have to look for third party sources of information. You can get reviews from Google, Facebook, Yelp, Angie’s List, Nextdoor, and other online platforms.
When you have your choices narrowed down to your top three favorites, you can also start asking daycares for a list of references. These are current parents using their daycare that have agreed to be contacted for their opinion. It’s great to get to talk to parents who are already enrolled and have first-hand experience with the daycare.
#5. Visiting Prospective Daycare Centers In Person
Finally, it’s time to do your in-person visits. You can’t get all the information you need online or over the phone. The only way to really feel good about your choice is to pay them a visit, get a tour, and meet the staff. Here are a few things to look for during your visit:
- Is the facility clean and organized?
- Is the staff positive and happy?
- Do the children seem happy and safe?
- Are there safe exits?
- Do the children look bored or engaged?
Maternity leave in the US is extraordinarily short and your few weeks will fly by, putting you back to work long before you feel ready to leave your newborn in someone else’s care. That’s why it is so important to choose your daycare center in advance, allowing you more time to relax with your baby and feel confident in your childcare choice.
Sandra Chiu works as Director at LadyBug & Friends Daycare