When I was pregnant with Ian, my husband and I discussed a lot of things- what to buy, how to parent, how to prepare. But with the knowledge that I would be returning to full time work (and my husband would keep his full time work schedule), and the fact that our closest family is 10 hours away, one of the topics that weighed heaviest on my mind was that of childcare. What a scary and daunting decision- picking the person (or people or center) that will be responsible for this little person you just birthed. This is definitely the decision that caused me the most grief, but in the end, I did my research, stuck to my guns, and am so happy to report that we found the perfect daycare for us. We are so fortunate to have found a place that we love and that Ian loves, as it makes the transition back to work just a little bit easier. I know many parents face this same overwhelming decision, so here are some things you might want to consider while weighing your options.
1. Set your Priorities
This is probably THE most important thing. You have to have a clear idea of what you want, and what you are willing to forego. You might not know at the outset what you want…that’s OK. Do some research, read reviews, talk to people. Do whatever you need to come up with your “must have” list. For us, we knew we wanted a larger, established center. We liked the peace of mind (not that you can’t get this with smaller centers or at home providers- you definitely can). We were willing to give up some flexibility and a little less personal attention, and accept the possibility of sick days in return for a structured curriculum and standard schedule. But that’s not for everyone; you need to determine what YOU want and what is best for your family. We also knew price was important, but in the end, it was not the determining factor- location and the “feel” of the place were. Our chosen daycare was slightly more expensive than our second choice, but we felt it offered so much more value that it was worth it to us to pay the little extra. There is no right or wrong criteria; as long as you are satisfied with your priorities, you will be fine.
2. Stop by for a visit (or two or more)
Before your child is born, stop by for a visit. Make it an unscheduled one so you can see the place “for real”. This is true of in-home daycares, too. Drive by the house and check it out. How’s it look from the outside? What’s the neighborhood like? Are you comfortable having your kid there? Once you have scoped out a few places, make some scheduled visits. This will ensure someone is available to give you a tour and talk about all they have to offer. Any daycare center should be more than happy to sit with you and answer questions, as well as show you all around the facility. If they aren’t, you might want to move on.
3. Ask about turnover and ratios
Lots of turnover in a short period is a warning sign for a daycare center. If they can’t keep their employees, you’ll want to try to find out why. It normally is an indicator of bad management (or changes in policies or other things that the staff disagrees with). For an in-home provider, ask how long kids typically stay (are kids being pulled frequently, or do most kids stay for the long haul). Make sure you also find out (regardless of center or in-home) the age ranges accepted. This could impact your final decision. You will also want to ask about ratios- number of kids per caretaker. Ohio has laws about this, so at a minimum you want to make sure the provider is within the law. Beyond that is personal preference (and goes back to setting priorities).
4. Ask for References
This is important no matter what type of provider you pick. You should ask the center/provider for the names of people you can contact to ask about their experience. You should also ask friends/family/coworkers for suggestions. Maybe they have a place they love (or a place they had a bad experience), and this would be good information to file away. Just remember to take all comments and recommendations with a grain of salt (and consider the source)…their priorities may be different from yours and what they liked/didn’t like may not matter much to you. So try to get details behind why they feel a certain way. This will help you decide how heavily to weigh the advice.
No provider is going to be perfect, but if you do your homework (and start planning early- some places may have wait lists), I can almost certainly guarantee you will be happy with your choice. And if you happen to not love it, you can always take your kid elsewhere…that is the beauty of there being so many wonderful childcare choices in our area! Good luck!