When you’re a parent or caregiver, every instinct you have is dedicated to keeping your child safe and happy. That’s why it’s so challenging to find the perfect childcare situation that can put your mind at ease when you have to go back to work. After spending days or even weeks searching for the right daycare center, once your child is enrolled you may want to make an unannounced visit to see first-hand if you’ve made the right choice. Here are five things to watch out for during your visit that will assure you that you’ve found the right daycare center.
#1. A Good Reputation
Before you even walk through the door, a glowing reputation means everything. If your daycare has legitimate state licenses and additional accreditations, then you can have greater peace of mind that they follow regulations and recommendations. Praise from family, friends, or other parents who use that daycare is also highly important. Before enrolling with the daycare center, you will have already checked these reviews, but the more honest feedback you can get, the better. So keep checking that reputation periodically even after you’ve enrolled. It will make you feel more secure and alert you to any potential slip-ups to watch for.
#2. Qualified and Caring Staff
While a pre-school may need to hire certified early education teachers, a daycare center typically employs caregivers with a highschool level or above education with skills in caring for young children. The daycare center should provide plenty of ongoing training such as first aid, CPR, behavior management, curriculum, and other important topics. Knowing how your daycare recruits and vets their employees can tell you a lot about the quality of the staff, but observing them in action will tell you even more.
When you make your visit, pay attention to the staff as they interact with the children and with each other. Their general mood should be pleasant and upbeat. They should be actively engaging with the children and observing proper health and safety protocols. Staff members that seem upset or disinterested could be a sign of poor management. Managers should also be treating staff with respect and a positive attitude.
#3. Happy And Engaged Children
When you think about your child spending the day at the daycare, how do you hope they feel, and what outward signs would tell you that they are feeling happy and carefree? It could be the smile on their face, a laugh, or the way they look forward to playing with the other kids or staff members. These are the same things to look for on your surprise visit. Children that are happy in their environment may smile, sing songs or hum, laugh with friends, and are engaged in games or activities.
When children first arrive at the daycare they should be happy and energetic to start their day. Excessive crying or clinginess (unless it is a new student) could be a sign that the child doesn’t feel at home there. At mealtimes look for how many children are eating versus those that are slow or shy about eating. These may be additional signals that a child is happy or unhappy in their environment.
#4. Clean & Safe Environment
Look for the following signs that the daycare has good cleaning and safety protocols and that they routinely adhere to them. Daycare centers that are messy, disorganized, or look otherwise unsafe are not going to be a good fit for your child. A clean comfortable environment will make your child feel secure. Here are some of the things you’ll want to pay attention to:
- Caregivers wash hands after each diaper change, when preparing food, and sometimes between activities
- The diapering and food prep areas should be kept separate and cleaned after each use
- Teething rings, pacifiers, and washcloths shouldn’t be shared between children
- Toys are rinsed off with a sanitizing solution (this might be done at night when the facility is closed)
- All children and adults wash hands or use sanitizer when entering the classroom, after using the bathroom, or before eating or preparing food
- No choking hazards should be present
- Doors to the outside should not be accessible to children, and guards on windows for safety should be present
- Fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are used
#5. Stimulating Decor, Activities, and Curriculum
A few generations ago, when the need for group-setting daycares developed, the experts were torn on what effects group child care would have on children and families. While some worried that this type of care would diminish the family bond, most agreed that there were socialization and cognitive advantages to be gained. Luckily, the group with high hopes turned out to be correct. According to an article in Psychology Today, children that have a positive daycare experience have improved cognitive and academic development.
Even if your daycare is not a pre-school with a specific curriculum, there should be an effort made to stimulate cognitive and creative development for babies, toddlers, and older children as well. This can come in the form of providing educational games, sensory activities, music, art projects, books or storytelling, and much more. For infants, this can even be done through brain-stimulating decorations and toys as well as frequent positive interactions between the baby and the caregivers. Toddlers can be given open-ended or role-playing game opportunities, sensory stations, and other educational games to learn through play.
When you visit your daycare, pay attention to what toys and games are available and if the children look busy and interested in the activities being offered to them. The decor should be vibrant and welcoming.
Your daycare center should have an open-door policy that allows parents to visit and check-in on their child at any time. As long as your visit isn’t disruptive, your presence should be welcome. Doing an occasional drop-by will help you feel even more confident about your choice. There’s no need to wait until you suspect a problem to be proactive in observing your child in daycare. Hopefully, you will have an amazing experience and find the perfect childcare facility for your family.
Sandra Chiu works as Director at LadyBug & Friends Daycare