Top Questions To Ask A Potential Day Care Center

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Once you have made the decision to send your child to daycare, whether in-home or a traditional daycare center, it is important to find a daycare center that aligns with the needs of your family. So, what initial questions should a parent ask a potential day care provider? Here are 12 quick questions that can help screen whether a more comprehensive visit or tour is desired before making this important decision.

Do You Currently Have Space For My Child? 

This should always be your first question, because if the answer is no and you need care in the near future, this provider probably isn't going to meet your needs. However, if you really want this particular provider, be sure to ask about a waiting list or other contingency plans...just in case.

​What is Your Location and What is Traffic like During Drop-off and Pick-up?

It's one thing to drive by a potential facility on a Sunday afternoon; it's another to try and turn left into the center across a sea of cars during rush hour. If keeping an on-time schedule is important to you, you need to know what you're facing.

What are Your Operating Hours?

Typical hours with most institutional day care facilities are 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. or 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Others partnering with corporations or educational institutions may have hours more like 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Know your operating needs, and how long you'll need from the time you leave work (and assuming you leave on time every day) to arrive at the center.

You might also ask about what happens if you are late, and how is care provided for your child.

What Holidays and Other Dates is the Facility Closed?

Is this schedule firm or might there be adjustments as needed from time to time? Some facilities close for all key holidays; others offer care arrangements, but often at an additional charge.

A few centers may close during summer months, or for longer periods during winter break periods. Make sure they'll be open when you need care, unless you have other options during those times.

What are the Standard Costs and Additional Fees?

The key is to have no surprises with daycare costs, and know exactly what you'll be paying for up front. Some centers offer discounted rates for certain employers. It never hurts to ask!

Do you Offer Part-time or Flexible Options?

Part-time jobs may only need part-time care. Some families may only need occasional care. Some centers offer transportation to and from school, and especially kindergarten.

Are you Certified and/or Accredited?

Why or why not? What training do you have? Parents should know whether a provider has basic First Aid and CPR or behavior management training, for example. Accreditation means the daycare has to comply with current laws relating to the health, welfare, and safety of children cared for. Ideally, the daycare center will be accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

Are Background Checks Conducted on all Staff Members?

It's not enough to just know they are. Ask whether they are state or national checks and how often they are run on employees.

Make sure you are comfortable with the response.

What is the Daily Schedule?

Most caregivers should be able to provide parents with details about planned activities, thematic units, or a schedule by hour.

What Is the Staff-to-Child Ratio?

NAEYC-accredited daycares follow specific requirements for staff-to-child ratio. The ideal ratio is set at one adult per three children ages birth to 12 months; one adult to four kids ages 12 to 23 months; one adult to five children ages 24 to 29 months; and it goes up to one adult to 11 kids for 6-year-olds.

What Is the Sick Policy?

Most daycare centers have specific guidelines addressing when you have to keep a kid home due to illness.

Make sure you find a daycare that has a sick policy that works for you and that you are comfortable with the policy as it pertains to your child's own potential exposure to others' illness. Each daycare if different, but most daycares with a policy require a child to be symptom-free for 24 hours before returning. 

How Does the Daycare Discipline? 

The daycare will take your place as caregiver during the weekdays, so it is imperative that you find a center that enforces your basic rules for how you'd like your child to be raised. It would ideally have a parenting style and discipline technique that is consistent with your own, since consistency between caregivers is essential for child development. 

What Is the Curriculum?

Daycares should offer opportunities for exploration, as well as structured and unstructured play. Kids should be able to observe new activities performed in ways they can learn from. Ask the daycare what type of activities and programs they have to support children's social, emotional, and physical development. 

What Do the Children Eat?

Some daycares require parents to pack all the food for the child and bring it to daycare each day. Other centers feed the children food prepared on site. According to the USDA, licensed daycares are required to follow nutritional standards and feed all children balanced midday meals and snacks. They must also post all menus in a public place. Ask what is typically served for lunch and snack, and ask where the food is prepared and stored. If your child has a food allergy, be sure to ask how allergies are handled and discuss your child's specific situation.

How Does the Daycare Communicate With Parents?

Until your baby can talk, you will be relying on what the caregiver tells you about your child's day. When you first hand off your child in the morning, you should tell the caregiver how your child slept, when he last ate, and if there are any other important things to pay attention to that day, such as teething. At the end of the day, you'll want to exchange similar information, such as when he napped, if he ate and went to the bathroom, and generally how the day went overall. Some centers communicate this information verbally, while others choose to keep journal notes or even send email reports. 

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