Selecting a quality child care center is difficult and requires a lot of research. With over thirty years working in the early childhood field, I know quality! Here, I’m going to outline some of the most important things to look out for when you’re making your decision.
Research documents the importance of quality child care. In addition to social skills, children gain cognitive, motor, creative, and emotional skills by experiencing a quality childhood setting. A child’s brain is like a sponge so make sure that you surround your child with learning experiences. The teacher is the stage manager! She arranges the space. In addition, they allow for rich play opportunities. The teacher encourages, prompts, questions, congratulates, and enhances children’s play.
Visit Multiple Facilities
Visit multiple sites. You will discover positive and negative things about every center. As a way to ask questions, make an appointment with the Director. Request time to visit the space that your child would be assigned if you enroll.
A Quality Setting Will Include:
On the Outside
- A safe parking lot. Is your child safe from approaching vehicles when entering and exiting the building?
- A playground with ample equipment and shade. Does someone check the playground for hazards on a regular basis?
- A facility that is clean and inviting.
On the Inside
- Upon entering the building, the noises are from happy and engaged children. The teachers are soft spoken and encouraging.
- The sign-in and out procedure is strictly followed.
- All storage closets are locked.
- The fire inspection is posted and fire extinguishers are present.
- The teachers have degrees and credentials in the early childhood field. The teachers have a history of long-term employment at the center.
- The center is licensed, if applicable to your area. Look up the requirements.
- A health and safety inspection is posted in the building, if applicable to your area.
- The center’s philosophy is that children learn from the process instead of the product. For example, you don’t want a center that sends home patterned art projects.
- There are many supplies on the shelves. You see lots of books in good condition, a large supply of blocks, art supplies, drama play items, etc.
After you have narrowed down your search, make unannounced visits to the sites just to get a feel for the daily activities and atmosphere.
- Are the children engaged in play or teacher-led activities?
- Do you hear soft voices?
- Is the space neat and clean with a variety of things for the children to do?
- Are the teachers interacting with the children?
What Type of Child Care Center Do You Want?
During your visits, you will see faith-based centers, chain operated centers, non-profit and for-profit centers. Of course, you may want a large center with all the bells and whistles or you may be looking for a homey atmosphere. Again, this is a personal choice.
Start Out Slowly
Many times during my experiences as a director, parents were surprised to hear me suggest that their child begins on a part-time basis. I explained that it would be helpful for their child to become accustomed to the center, as it can be overwhelming for children to suddenly be away from their home and family for large amounts of time. Attending a center on a part-time basis allows a child to become comfortable with the teachers, other children and the new setting in a gradual way. If a child loves going to the center, it will be an easy transition to full-time attendance—after all, playing with their friends is so fun! Otherwise, some children may become reluctant to go and may dread attending or act out.
Number One Aspect of Any Center—The Staff
The best indicator for quality is the education of the staff. With an educated staff, the teachers and director will know and understand the importance of providing a quality space which includes a nurturing and safe place.
Look for Degrees in the Early Childhood Education Field
With degrees in early childhood education, child development, and special needs, the teacher will know and understand brain development, ages and stages, the developmental domains, positive discipline practices, safety and nutrition, literacy, special needs, family communication, and much more. With their education, the teachers should provide an appropriate environment to ALL children. The teacher will plan activities that are educational. An educated teacher will be in tune to safety procedures. They will notice any delays in the child and know and understand all elements of development best.
Children Learn Through Play
Children learn through play. It may be difficult for parents to understand how much learning takes play during free play at well-stocked centers. The center you select should have the philosophy that play is the vehicle that drives children’s learning.
Look at the Room Layout
This can reveal a lot about the atmosphere and activities of the center. Below is an example of an effective layout.
From the website Zero-to-Three, there is a checklist of things to look for when selecting a quality child care center. This site includes more lists of important information that you need to be aware of before registering your child at a center. In a nutshell, this is what all parents should consider before deciding what center is best for you and your child.
- Do caregivers speak to the children, even babies?
- Are the teachers responding by answering children’s questions patiently?
- Do they ask children questions?
- For toddlers, is a daily schedule posted, using pictures and visuals, so that children can anticipate what will happen next?
- Are toys and materials well organized so that children can choose what interests them?
- Does the environment accommodate the special needs of children?
- Do caregivers respect the language, culture, and values of families in the program?
- How does the caregiver feel about discipline? Weaning? Toilet training? Feeding? Do the caregiver’s beliefs match your own?
- Does the caregiver handle conflicts without losing patience, shaming a child, or frequently displaying anger?
- Are you welcome to drop in at any time?
- Would your child feel good about coming here? Would you feel good about leaving your child here?
- Does the environment appear sanitary and safe?
- Is the setting appealing with comfortable lighting and an acceptable noise level?
Hopefully, this blog has been helpful to you. I would love to hear from you, as I’m sure that you have many more tips to add. What other things do you like to look out for when choosing a child care center for your child? Please leave any comments or tips in the section below.
Feature image courtesy of Unsplash, Ashton Bingham.