Right now, my wife’s on maternity leave with our daughter, and while we have some help coming from in-laws, in the next couple months we’re going to need to answer the ever-worrisome family planning question about daycare.
In a perfect world, my wife and I wouldn’t even have to worry about daycare. However, like many families, neither one of us makes enough to just up and leave the workplace behind. So until I win the lottery, it’s not an option. Plus, daycare gives us the option of some peace and quiet if we’re home.
Maybe daycare is not such a bad thing. A study completed by the National Institutes of Health found there were a number of benefits to childcare, including better academic and cognitive achievement scores among kids.
At the same time, it’s a big fatherhood worry. For the first time, I’ll be entrusting our daughter’s safety to someone we don’t really know. Mentally, that’s a giant hurdle. So here’s a few things we’ve heard from friends about choosing the right daycare provider.
Certifications – Is the daycare certified or licensed – or even better, accredited? Do they have the proper insurance? There are lots of people who set up unlicensed daycare centers in their backyards and basements, so be sure to check.
Ratios – Beyond basic safety, the number of staff members that will be on-hand to deal with the children is the most important consideration. Every situation is different, but the general guideline in terms of an “ideal” is a ratio of one adult for every three babies, up to about one adult for every seven toddlers.
Consistency in staff – You also want your kids to develop a relationship with their caregivers, which means that having the same people there consistently is important. Ask how long each person has been at that location, and how much turnover they usually get.
Ask about policies – Once you’re comfortable with those two areas, you want to make sure that the daycare’s policies coincide with your parenting choices. Do they use the television to occupy kids? What’s the policy around sick kids? What kinds of snacks are available for bigger kids? Do they use timeout as punishment, or some other method? Think about the behaviors and approaches you care about, and make sure the daycare you choose is a match.
Pop In – If you want to further put yourself at ease, pull a Cosmo Kramer and pop in on occasions when you aren’t necessarily expected. This impromptu check-in can help you see what happens at the daycare center from day to day. Most of the time, it will probably be fine, and you’ll see your kid playing or napping peacefully – but if you aren’t happy with what you find, and discussions with the provider don’t satisfy your concerns, don’t be afraid to find a new location.
Choosing the right daycare center is a big decision, but it doesn’t need to feel like an impossible one. Once I find it, I know that when I pick my daughter up, she’ll be happy to see Dad, but also happy they get to go back to daycare the next day.