How to Pick a Daycare for your Baby

We all know no one is as good as you when it comes to taking care of your baby.  That said, finding a daycare can be both challenging and something most parents struggle with.  You want a place where your child will be well looked after, where they'll learn and experience new things, and most importantly where you feel confident that they're receiving the best care.  We had to find daycare in 2 weeks, and after visiting 7 daycare centers on the same day, there are several tips we learned.

1.      Make a list of your childcare priorities:  Daycare vs. a nanny or nanny-share or home care; close to work or close to home; cost; ratio of teachers to babies etc.  You want a list of priorities that you are comfortable with.
2.      Do your research:  Make sure centers are licensed and DCFS certified; ask for recommendations from your friends, family, pediatrician, or co-workers; look for reviews online; utilize resources such as the Childcare Aware Hotline (800 424 2246); check online.  Call to make sure that the options you are considering have the availability.  We really liked a couple centers, but they had a wait list that was several months long.
3.      Schedule a visit: Preferably not all in the same day, but call centers and schedule a tour with the directors.  We brought the little guy along with us, since we were short on time.  Also, we were able to time our visit with drop off and pick up times at some of the centers, so we got a good feel for the other parents and kids at the center.  Some parents actually stopped us to tell us how much they enjoyed the center.  Things you should note: 
1.      Security:  Pay attention to your surroundings - is the neighborhood safe?  How secure is the center (they should have 2 secure doors, the second door should only be opened once access has been granted)?  Are the toys in the gross motor (aka indoor play area) safe?  What is the security protocol for your child in the event someone else needs to pick them up or if there's an emergency?
2.      Facility: How long has the center been around for?  Is it clean?  Are they nut-free (clearly a must if your child has an allergy)?  Is the center NAEYC certified?
3.      Teachers: What is the teacher to baby ratio?  We opted for a smaller 3 to 1 ratio (the state of Illinois mandates a 4 to 1 ratio). What are the training requirements required for the center’s teachers?  How many hours a year do they dedicate to additional training?  What is the average employment of a teacher at the center (do they experience high turn over, are teachers burnt out)?  Who is CPR certified (at the center we chose, everyone including the security, janitorial, and kitchen staff were all CPR certified)?  Meet the teachers in your child’s classroom.  Do you like them (don’t ignore your gut)?  Do the kids look like are they having fun and learning, or are they unattended and crying?  It’s best to try and schedule a visit during awake hours; it’s hard to get a grasp of your child’s day if everyone’s down for a nap. 
4.      Other: What other educational opportunities do they offer (baby yoga, art, music, Spanish etc)?  Don’t forget to check out the toddler rooms, if you like the center odds are your child will progress through there as they grow.  What is the communication between parent and teacher?  Do they offer paper reports at the end of the day or do they utilize websites like KiddieNotes?  What is the curriculum, if any, for your child?  What is their sick child policy?  What’s their late pick up policy?  What supplies will your child need?  Do they offer any additional perks: free diapers & wipes; free formula; one center offered date night (where for an additional fee parents could pick up their children at midnight after enjoying a night to themselves).
4.      Bring your baby in for a visit:  So you’ve found a place you think is the right fit, and now it’s time to see if your baby agrees.  Getting your little one comfortable with their new surroundings and care providers is crucial in avoiding a meltdown on your first day.
Hopefully, this comes in helpful when it’s time for you to send your little one off to daycare. Is your child in daycare?  Where there any other questions you thought were helpful in picking a daycare center?

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