What to Look for in a Daycare

When the time comes for your toddler to start daycare, knowing where to start the search for a daycare provider can feel impossible. There are many options—in-home care, home-based centres, private daycare centres—and each makes sense depending on your family’s needs. If you choose to go with out-of-home care—in a private centre or a home-based centre—here’s a primer on what qualities to look for when you conduct your search and go for an in-person tour: (do and don’t) (toddler-look-like)

Strong relationships between teachers and families—and teachers and toddlers.

Good daycare centre programs involve children’s families. This means talking to and planning with toddlers’ primary caregivers to ensure the daycare environment is a safe, happy, fruitful one. They listen to families, communicate readily, and offer parents and families opportunities to get involved with the program (or just visit from time to time). Quality programs will also practice continuity of care—toddlers will stay with a set teacher or teachers instead of working with a rotating staff or experiencing high turnover. This allows toddlers to build trust and feel safe. Toddlers should also receive individualized attention and choices throughout the day, not just remain continually lumped in with their classroom cohort.

Consistency of schedule and routine with appropriate flexibility.

Consistency is key to your toddler feeling secure in any daycare context. Set times for meals and snacks, naps and specific activities are key—but so is providing the flexibility to meet the needs of toddlers in the group. Sometimes things take longer or run short—and that’s OK. Flexibility should be built into any daycare schedule. Teachers should be available during each portion of the scheduled activities to lend help and steer as needed.

Opportunities—and time—for children to play and explore autonomously.

A wide range of options for play should exist—both indoors and out. Toys and activities that engage different senses and approaches to play should be available. There should also be an array of separate play areas for children to explore—crafts, quiet play, physical play, solo exploration, and playing in groups.

Contains and adheres to health and safety standards.

Sure, there should be an appropriate number of sinks and toilets and plenty of soap available in the bathrooms, but safe, clean environments are much more than this, of course. Think child-sized fixtures and furniture, well-anchored play structures and tall items, and secured carpets and other floor coverings.

What to Ask a Daycare Provider During an Interview

Taking a tour of the daycare facility is just part of the process of choosing a daycare. Speaking with individual care providers and, if possible, the head of the daycare center, is key to understanding a daycare’s approach to care. Here is a sample checklist of what do ask a daycare provider: (do and don’t)

  • What specific toddler experience do your employees have?

  • Are employees trained to work with special-needs toddlers?

  • Do children have one primary teacher or are they cared for by several caretakers?

  • What is the day-to-day schedule for toddlers here—and is there flexibility in that schedule?

  • Do teachers follow routines around meals and bathroom breaks?

  • Will your employees help potty train my toddler?

  • How often will employees be in touch about how my toddler is doing day to day?

  • What safety protocols are in place to protect the children in your care?

  • What health protocols are in place to protect the children in your care?

Red Flags when Looking for a Daycare Provider

While you’re visiting different daycare centres and interviewing teachers and centre directors, keep your eyes peeled for any red flags—check online reviews for them, too: (do and don’t)

  • Health and safety standards appear lax: messy or unsanitary play areas, sick children or teachers in attendance, poor hygiene reinforcement around bathroom times.

  • There are hazards in indoor or outdoor areas, including too-high play structures or un-anchored furniture and/or fixtures.

  • Teachers have little or no interest in communicating or working with students’ families.

  • Teachers and children do not seem to have good connections or communication.

  • Children’s time is unstructured and/or is comprised of distraction rather than creative play and exploration.

  • Conversely, children’s time is rigidly structured to the detriment of exploring or learning.

As your family explores daycare options, start to prepare your toddler for daycare and the change in routine—up to and including by bringing your little love along to tour possible daycare centres. This may go a long way toward preventing your toddler from developing daycare separation anxiety (and ease separation anxiety in parents too).

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