Choosing a daycare is rough, especially when every facility seems intent on outdoing, out-learning and out-excelling the its competitors. As a parent, your goals for your child in daycare can range from socialization to learning letters, or, at the bare minimum, not ending up in the hospital. Daycare centers, like schools, vary widely in their focus and mission, so it's important to understand which areas a center emphasizes before signing over your child, and in many cases, the better part of your salary, to a particular daycare.
The physical health and safety of your child should be one of the highest priorities of any daycare center. This means having clean, up-to-date playground equipment and indoor facilities, protective guards on things like oven knobs and electrical outlets and sufficient supervision to prevent almost all other accidents that can occur. The daycare center should also have a system in place that prevents someone from wandering onto the playground and requires anyone who enters the facility to have proper identification.
Encourage Healthy Social Development
One of the benefits of daycare is that your little one gets to socialize with her peers throughout the day. However, not all daycare centers offer the same type or amount of socialization. Some questions to ask the staff are: At which point during the day are children required to participate in large or small group activities? How does the staff mediate conflicts that arise between two kids? What types of manners are required or encouraged? Some daycare centers, for example, require even the youngest toddlers to use courteous language, even if all they can say is, "peas" and "fank oo."
Encourage Cognitive Development
Just because your tyke isn't in kindergarten doesn't make his cognitive development any less important. Your daycare center should encourage children's cognitive development through a variety of activities that foster literacy, sensory development and problem solving. Activities like finger painting, story time and block building are just a few that encourage these necessary skills. Ask about the amount of unstructured playtime each day and whether children are encouraged to try new activities or allowed to pursue old favorites every time.
Communication Between Parents and Staff
Communication between yourself and the daycare center staff is important goal for any facility to maintain. Good communication means telling you not only when your child enjoys or participates in a particular activity, but also when she struggles, became frustrated or behaves inappropriately. The staff should be able to tell you when your little one uses the potty or if she has an potty accident. Accident reports are required by most state-licensed facilities, so at the very least, the daycare center should keep you abreast of any injuries or illnesses that occur during the day. In addition to the basic communication, the director and staff at the daycare center should welcome your request for a visit or conference.
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images