If you find yourself in the position where you have to send your baby or young child to daycare, it can be a little overwhelming. Whether you have to work to support your family financially, choose to work because, hey, you worked super hard for that degree, or you just really like being in the workforce; choosing a daycare can be challenging for a variety of reasons. It is important to remember that you and the childcare provider are on the same team — taking care of your child and his or her needs. I have been in the early childhood field for several years and a parent for a few too, so I know that there is so much trust involved — which can be scary. But, as a teacher and a parent, I am here to say that we are all on the same team. Your child’s needs are a priority.
Here are a few guidelines and tips to hopefully help move the childcare search along.
Types of Childcare Centers
*Note: This is not necessarily the “rule” as there could be many exceptions. However, you could definitely use this list as a guide when trying to figure out what is best for your family.
There are so many types of daycares out there. You should choose what will work best for your family, time-frame, beliefs, and budget — which can be easier said than done, I know.
Daycares/Church Daycares: Typically (but not always) smaller in size and numbers. May have more free play scheduled during the day. Church daycares can be wonderful! But currently (that could be changing), they are not forced to be DHR certified. Many follow DHR regulations anyway, but you should definitely ask several questions about their policies before ruling them out or in. More on that later.
Child Development and Early Learning Centers: These types of childcare centers utilize a curriculum. Not to say that others wouldn’t, but if it has “Child Development” or “Learning” in the title, they’re letting you know that is what they are about. Your child’s teacher probably makes lesson plans for the week ahead of time that includes teaching the kids a letter, shape, number, color, sign, etc. The teachers may have degrees in education or a related field.
Mother’s Day Out or MDO: MDO is a shorter day program designed to let stay-at-home moms (SAHMs) have the day “out.” Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean to use this program you have to be a SAHM. Most of the time, the MDO program is 9:00 a.m. till 2:00 p.m. or something similar two, three, or five days a week. This would be a great option for not only SAHMs, but also a work-at-home mom (WAHM), part-time working parents, or if you have a grandparent/relative/friend who has offered to help watch the kids during the day. They could easily pick up or drop off, and you could save a little money on childcare.
Montessori Centers: So, here’s where the biggest differences come in to play. Montessori centers are hands-on and child-led. That sounds odd if you’ve never really had any prior knowledge as to what that means, so here is a great resource.
Whichever you chose, don’t get caught up with horror stories on Google. No one is going to write a click-bait article with the headline “My daycare experience was fantastic and everything was great!” Read reviews with a grain of salt and don’t assume the worst.
Questions to Ask When Choosing a Daycare
You should ask if you can take a tour of the facility. During the tour you should ask questions and observe everything.
What is the teacher to child ratio? (The lower, the better.)
How do you handle sleeping and naptimes? (As a parent, you are looking for answers like, “we stay in ratio,” “the lights stay on or slightly dimmed,” “back is best,” etc.)
Are kids allowed to have blankets or loveys at nap time?
Do you have a freezer/fridge for breast milk?
What do your teachers know about safe handling of breast milk?
Do you pace feed breastfed babies?
How do you handle formula?
Are the teachers CPR/first aid certified, or is there someone close-by who is?
Is there a nurse on campus?
What are your potty training policies?
Coping with the Transition
It can be emotional and stressful to leave your baby or child with someone you barely know all day, but daycares are not your enemy. Sure, there are those that make the news for bad situations, but the majority are filled with genuinely caring employees who want to take care of your child. Give yourself some time to adjust and get in a routine. Starting daycare can be stressful on kids too, so don’t assume that the way they act at drop-off in the first few weeks will be the norm.
Tips for Handling Conflict
If you do have concerns, make sure you bring them up to your child’s teacher. Productive and positive communication is absolutely key. Listen when you tour the facility and ask questions. Let the teachers know what you do at home and how you would like them to take care of your baby’s needs. You shouldn’t feel like you need to hide information from the teacher.
If you have an older child, the teacher will probably have a set routine and schedule, but you should still bring up concerns or special requests. The teacher will probably do his or her best to honor them, but you should also understand that they have multiple children to care for. Sometimes the routine that is set is to allow the teacher to easily and safely care for all the children; keep that in mind when you are discussing your needs with the teacher.
Again, communicate! We’re on the same team.