Choosing a daycare for your child(ren) is hard! There are so many options out there, how do you know which is best? What should you be looking for? What should you ask? Should you send your child to a chain? A private daycare? An in-home?
Only you can make these decisions based on what is best for your family but I am here to hopefully make the decision a little easier. Before I became a stay at home mom I was the director of a daycare. I gave hundreds of tours and saw all different kinds of parents looking for all different kinds of things. After giving all of these tours I decided that these are the 5 things you must do before choosing a daycare.
**Soon I will be putting together a list of essential questions to ask while on a daycare tour. It will be included in our next newsletter so be sure to sign up so you don’t miss out!**
When I was a director I HATED when people would do this. It seemed like they would always come when I was either trying to eat my lunch (like poor Ryan is trying to do above) or right when I was trying to leave for the day. Now I say I hated it, but I completely understood why the parents did it. When you call and make an appointment with a director for a tour several things happen. First, she writes it on the calendar where all of the teachers can see it. Then she walks around the morning of and reminds the teachers that a tour is coming and what time. This means that everyone is on their best behavior. The director is prepared for exactly what to say, the teachers are using their sweetest voices, and the children are doing the most engaging activities (because the teachers planned it that way).
When you just drop in for a tour you are able to see a more genuine version of the school. You can first see how the director handles having her day (and probably her lunch) interrupted. Then you can hear the teachers when they don’t necessarily know they are being heard by a prospective parent. And finally, you can see what the kiddos are doing in the middle of a random day. I’m sure most places would prefer a scheduled tour, but if I were you, I would just drop in! (And if they won’t accept a drop in tour, they are probably not the place for you).
When you are touring a daycare or preschool you are obviously looking at a specific room depending on the age of your child. You really should look at ALL of the rooms, though. I was always amazed when I was giving a tour and the parents wanted to skip all of the rooms besides the one their child would be in. I understand you may be short on time, but trust me, this is necessary.
For one, if your child is there for more than 6 months they will probably be going to the next room. It would be a shame to choose a school because you loved the toddler room, but then have to pull your child out because the preschool room is terrible. Also, if your child is there all day they will inevitably be with the other teachers for part of it. The end of the day at most daycares consists of creatively shuffling the kids around so that teachers can go home while ratios are still upheld. This means that your child will end the day with a different teacher than they started with. Don’t you want to meet everyone who will be with them throughout the day and the year?
Every two years a daycare has to renew their license (if the daycare you are looking at isn’t licensed…RUN!). This means that a consultant shows up randomly and makes sure the daycare is following all of the necessary rules. At the end of their visit they write a report to show the violations that were found. Before even visiting the daycare you should check out their licensing report. This is available online and should be very easy to find by googling “daycare licensing reports in ___ (if you live in Michigan, you can find it here).
A few things to keep in mind when reading the reports. First, don’t panic! It is the licensing consultant’s job to find things wrong with the daycare so there will always be at least a few violations. Second, not all violations are created equal. Be sure to read what the violation is before deciding the daycare doesn’t deserve to watch your child. Teachers are only human and sometimes accidents happen. Finally, if you are really uncomfortable about something you read but like everything else about the school, ask the director about it. You will learn a lot from how she answers those types of questions.
In order for you to be comfortable with sending your child to a daycare, you have to trust them. The best way to begin to build that trust is to speak to other parents who trusted them with their own children. Many schools will already have a list of parent references, but if they don’t, don’t be afraid to ask for one. Then actually CALL a few of the parents on the list. Make sure you have specific questions for them so that you get as much out of the call as possible.
Now obviously if they are providing the references, they are all going to be people who had good experiences at the school. This is what you want to hear, though! If you are looking for complaints about the school check out google or yelp. Right now you are looking for people to ease your mind about sending your child there, and a parent reference list is a perfect place to find that.
Each parent is looking at different things during a tour depending on what is most important to them. Along with those, I would suggest you also focus on three things; the teachers, the children, and the equipment. Specifically:
Teachers: The teachers should be engaged with the children. She should be on the ground with the kiddos or in a chair near them. She should also be speaking in a positive way to the students and about the school. Feel free to ask the teachers specific questions about how the day looks in her classroom, what curriculum she uses and/or what she does about behavior problems. The teachers should be prepared to answer questions and the director should be able to monitor the class while she does so.
Children: The children should look happy! Now obviously there will be crying kids every time you walk into a daycare, but the majority of them should look like they want to be there. They should also look engaged in the classroom and the activity that is going on. Finally, they should look comfortable with the teacher and the director.
Equipment: The equipment should look well taken care of. If there are a bunch of broken toys or cracks in the floor it’s not a good sign that the school is staying updated and safe. The equipment should also look age-appropriate. This is important for keeping the children engaged as well as for their safety.