Searching for “daycares near me” is just one step of the hunt for child care. It’s imperative parents fully vet a child care center for overall quality. After all, children have a lot of their first early childhood experiences while in child care.
“As a parent, choosing the right child care center is one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your child,” says Lisa Partlow, education director for Rainbow Child Care Center, based in Michigan – with 14 locations in metro Detroit and centers in 12 other states.
If you’ve read our March 2015 story about the current state of child care, you may be wondering how to find good child care for your kid. There are key considerations parents should examine at a center first, Partlow explains, including the school environment, health and safety aspects, communication, and curriculum and the learning environment.
This should be a warm and inviting environment for your child. Make sure that “the teachers are patient and loving and responsive and engaging,” Partlow says. Also, make sure the building, landscape and playground are well maintained.
She recommends parents definitely tour a child care location before selecting it. “That way, they can really see what the environment looks like” – and that includes observing interactions with teachers and kids. If you call ahead to schedule it, you may get more time to spend with the director of the center and ask questions.
Babies should be in what’s called a “least-restrictive environment,” which allows them to be on the ground and engaged in activities – with limited time in holding devices like bouncy seats, she says.
Health, safety and communication
Parents will definitely want to do their research in this category. You can start with making sure that a child care center is licensed, and if they’ve had any licensing violations in the past, Partlow suggests, which you can look up online through the state of Michigan.
At the center, parents will want to ensure children are supervised at all times, and that there are “developmentally-appropriate materials” around, she notes. Cleanliness matters, too.
“Watch that teachers are washing their hands with proper techniques, as well as the children,” Partlow says.
Make sure cleaning products, medicines and any dangerous products are out of reach, that the school features a locked front entrance and that the school has an emergency plan in place – and that you’re familiar with it, too, she says.
Does your child have the opportunity to play outside? They should – and it should be a gated, well-kept area with age-appropriate equipment that’s in good condition, Partlow says.
Communication between parent and school is also something to look for. “(Parents will) want to make sure that the school has an established system for two-way communication,” Partlow notes. That may be a record sheet filled out during the day about the child, their mood, their activities and a play-by-play of the day.
The learning environment
Here, parents should look at the teacher-to-child ratio, and that the center is keeping with state standards. How big of a group is in the classroom? Ask about the teacher’s qualifications and ongoing professional development, Partlow adds.
Curriculum is a big consideration, something Partlow is directly involved in as the education director for Rainbow Child Care Center. “Make sure it’s a research-based curriculum and that it provides an element of assessment,” she says.
Teachers should be observing the children, assessing their learning and tailoring activities to where each child is. At Rainbow, she says, lesson plans are individualized.
“You definitely want to make sure that the program is geared to support kindergarten readiness and academic achievement.”
Knowing how to find good child care that can provide all-around quality for child and satisfy mom, too, is essential. BabyCenter encourages parents to think about their priorities, research and ask questions.
Parents can find a bulleted list of even more guidelines and advice on how to choose quality child care from Child Care Aware.
Planning a site visit? Take a handy checklist with you to your tour of the child care facility. Great Start has a brochure checklist titled “A Parent’s Guide to Early Learning and Care in Michigan” for kids ages 0-5 on its website.