How to Choose A Daycare That's Right for Your Child

Parents should consider the staff and setting of the preschool they select

Children drawing on the floor with crayons
Children at a daycare facility.. Michael H/Getty Images

Learning how to choose a licensed daycare for children can be a daunting task for parents. Using a set of guidelines can help parents evaluate various preschools and make the right choice. It also helps for parents to plan a day when the whole family can visit the facilities and observe classroom activities designed for preschoolers their child's age. With a checklist and prepared questions, parents should be able to choose the facility that not only makes them most comfortable but that their child responds to most positively.

Sizing Up the Staff

Be sure to carefully observe the staff during your visit. Do they treat children with respect, flexibility, and patience? Find out their qualifications to meet your child's developmental and emotional needs. Do they possess previous experience or training in working with children? Learn the ratio of staff to children at the preschool, particularly for your child's age group. Do you think there's ​sufficient staff to meet the needs of all children in the classroom?

Watch how the staff greets children and their parents when they arrive or leave. Do they discuss the child with parents and seem to know the child's habits, strengths or areas for growth? Also, observe whether they practice good personal hygiene when interacting with children. Do they wash their hands after wiping a child's nose, cleaning up a child's meal or changing a diaper? Observe whether the classroom generally looks clean.

More: What is daycare syndrome?

Assessing the Facility

Even if the daycare staff seems wonderful, parents will want to suss out the facility that houses the daycare as well. In particular, they'll want to see if the facility includes safe indoor and outdoor areas and equipment or orderly, clean work areas.

What do the classrooms look like? The ideal preschool classroom is airy, well-lit and attractive with bright colors. Be sure to look at the bathrooms and diaper-changing areas as well. Do they appear to be sanitary?

Health and Safety Features

Determining how safe a preschool is should be a key concern for any parent. Parents will want to find out everything from whether the room temperature is comfortable to whether the classroom features round tables. They'll also want to learn if the materials children play with are non-toxic and if first-aid kits are visible and easily accessible to staff members.

The food served at the school is a health issue as well. Does the preschool serve healthful snacks or meals? Is the kitchen area clean, and do teachers and children wash their hands?

What are the sleeping arrangements at the school? Do infants sleep in individual cribs, or are they placed in cribs with other children? The same question applies to toddlers and cots.

Lastly, parents will want to find out if cleaning materials and medicines are kept safely out of reach of children and the process for dropping off and picking up children.

How does the staff make sure that only the child's parent, guardian or another approved adult picks up children?

The Educational Features of the Daycare

How do the children occupy their time during the day? Do they engage in creative play? Can you spot educational materials in the classroom or only toys? Do the preschool teachers adhere to an organized schedule or program that includes supervised rest time? Is there story time, music time or art time during the day or the week?

Are children allowed to get dirty naturally through play? Do all children appear to be engaged in classroom activities, or have some of them been left out? Overall, do the children appear to be happy? Do they laugh and share with staff and each other?

Classroom Management

For the sake of their child's growth and development, parents should take an interest in how the preschool practices discipline. Find out whether rules at the school are clearly explained, and how the staff encourages good behavior. Parents should also find out if they'll be allowed to visit the preschool and interact with children during the day.

Wrapping Up

Choosing the right licensed daycare for a child can be challenging for parents. There are no hard and fast rules about how to make this choice, however. Parents will have to rely on their gut feelings about a particular program in addition to the criteria above. If instinct tells parents to bypass a certain preschool, they should heed their feelings. Otherwise, parents should make an informed decision by using the guidelines summed up in this overview.

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