Selecting A Quality Day Care Center

Many working families choose a commercial or individual day care center to care for their child during the workday. We've listed important aspects of a daycare center's environment to evaluate when making your choice:

Staff to Child Ratio. This is the number of children each staff member is responsible for. Most states regulate the minimum number of staff to child ratio. This will vary based on your state and the ages of the children. An average guideline follows, but check with your state department for what to expect in your area.

  • An infant room will have one to four or six staff to child ratio
  • A young toddler room will have a one to six or eight staff to child ratio
  • For 2s and 3s room, an eight to ten staff to child ratio is average
  • Children 4 and 5 years old average a one to ten staff to child ratio
Diaper Changing. There should be a dedicated area for diaper changing, equipped with sanitary diaper pad covering, disposable gloves, wipes and diapers and a dedicated waste receptacle for waste that is emptied on a regular schedule.

Sick Policy. Most daycare centers will require that a child sent home with a fever or after a bout of nausea or diarrhea be kept home for 24 hours. While it inconvenient for working parents, it is the safest practice to prevent contagious illnesses from spreading within a classroom. Some centers may have a separate infirmary and onsite nurse or share the operating costs with other centers in the area.

Discipline, Biting and Dismissal Policies. Find out how the center handles discipline and what the process is for misbehavior that affects other children, such as biting or hitting. As if there is an escalation process, what the coaching and dismissal policies are. You will want to know both sides in the event your child is the aggressor or the victim.

Feeding. Some centers serve prepared food and some have families bring lunches and provide morning and afternoon snacks. Find out if the daycare providers will heat up food in your child's lunches, if there is a refrigerator available, if they provide milk and filtered water for drinking and what kinds of snacks are served.

Supervised Lunch and Snacktime. The center you choose should support your nutrition preferences and provide healthy options served in a clean, supervised environment. Staff should use the opportunity to teach manners and model good eating habits. Ask about the center's policy on sharing food at the lunch table if your child has allergies.

Toilet Training. Some centers will help potty train your child, others require that the child be fully potty trained by a specific age. Your center should reinforce good bathroom habits, including wiping, flushing and thoroughly washing hands. Some centers also add brushing teeth to the regular routine.

Napping. Most young children benefit from regularly scheduled nap times during the day. Most centers will have young toddlers take a nap in the morning and one in the afternoon. Older toddlers and preschool age children may have one name in the afternoon after lunch. Ask whether you are responsible for bringing bedding or if it is provided. In the latter case, your child should have his own dedicated linens that are laundered each week.

Parent Visits. Parent visits should be welcomed throughout the day, whether announced or unannounced. There should be observation windows available for you to observe your child's day or you should be welcomed into your child's classroom.

Schedule. Hours of operation often play a key role in whether a center is acceptable simply by default of being available when you need them to be. Some centers have two tuition schedules, one for standard daycare (i.e. 9am ? 4pm) and extended daycare (i.e. 7am ? 6pm). Ask what the late policy is, whether you will have to pay on pick-up, if that payment must be in cash, etc.

Safety and Peace of Mind. Does the center have controlled access, with locked doors after the usual drop-off times? There should be a sign-in/sign-out process to account for each child. When you register, you should be asked to supply emergency contact information for yourself and partner, two people who can be contacted and take your child if either of you are not available. Some centers will also ask for an out-of-state emergency contact in the event of a regional emergency, like an earthquake.

Emergency Plan. If your area is prone to natural disasters like flooding or earthquakes, ask about your center's emergency plan ? how they will notify parents, where their evacuation location is, if there is a lockdown procedure.

Daily Status Reports. A daily status report will give you detailed information about your child's day, including feeding times, diaper changing information and activities during the day. This is especially important for infants and young toddlers.

Classrooms. Children love rooms that are bright, cheerful and full of visual stimulation created by creative artwork, children's projects and family pictures.

Classroom curriculum. Each classroom should be equipped with age appropriate activities, equipment and toys to stimulate your child's development in fine/gross motor activities, sensory and cognitive skills, language development, number concepts, music and art.

Bonuses and Special Touches

Emailed Progress Reports and Photos. Many daycare centers are now emailing daily progress reports with information about activities and care routines like eating, napping and diapering to parents. Some centers also take photos of your child during the day and post them to an intranet you can access securely with a username and password.

Extra Curricular Activities. On-site enrichment classes are usually an additional charge to the monthly tuition and can take place during regular school time or after school so parents can partake in the experiences with the child. Activities can include dance, gymnastics, martial arts, Spanish, basketball and computers.

About the Author

For more great information about expecting and parenting, visit MomRecommended.com, a site for moms by moms. Annie Valle is a freelance writer, web designer and a mom. You'll find product reviews, recipes, baby names, free projects and more, when you visit http://www.momrecommended.com.

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