When I was doing my undergraduate studies and shortly following graduation, I had the opportunity to work in full service day cares. This experience helped guide us in our choices, but truthfully, much of it comes out to gut instincts and the impression a particularly centre has on you. For example, one centre we visited had the smell of urine, and that was an automatic no go. Another had a supervisor who sat in her office the entire time, while a staff member gave us the tour. The children there were clearly bored and misbehaving, and one child ran into my wife at full speed while attempting to give her a hug.
There are four things that you should look for in a good daycare. The first is cleanliness. From my experience, a child care centre is extremely hard to keep clean. Kids are constantly, eating, playing, doing arts and crafts, coming and going from outside, and having sunscreen put on them, not to mention the occasional toilet accident. So if a centre looks really clean, the staff there have put in the effort to make it so. This brings us to the staff itself. The director or supervisor is certainly a key person, and likely the one you will first meet. She should make a good impression, and come across as caring about the welfare of your children and those in the centre. It is wise to visit the centre during the course of a normal day. Watch to see the demeanour of the staff. Are the genuinely happy to be there? Is their attention on the children? Or are they chatting amongst themselves? At the centre we chose for the toddler room, we were impressed not only by the supervisor and her thoroughness, but there was a staff member we were introduced to, and my wife said afterwards that she hoped our kids would be taught by her. As it turned out, they were, and she was even better than the great first impression she gave.
Programming is the third important area to think about. It should be comprehensive and follow some sort of weekly and/or monthly theme. It should not be “whatever the kids are interested in” as we were told at one centre. Apparently, they had been learning about bugs for several weeks! Most day cares post the programming plan on the wall, and many send home a monthly newsletter. Safety also comes into play here. Does the centre have safe practices and good documentation of any incidents that occur? Last but not least, check out what kind of outdoor playground and/or play area they have. There are more and more day cares located in industrial parks or strip plazas that have very small outside areas with limited equipment.
The final important area to inquire about is the food. What is the menu and are there enough healthy choices? Some jurisdictions conduct health and/or food inspections of day care facilities. If so, ask to see how the centre did on its latest inspection. Centres may post these up on the wall for parents. Is there an on-site chef or is the food brought in from outside? How are allergies or religious preferences dealt with? As a Jewish family, having a centre that understood that we did not wish our children to eat pork or eat milk and meat together was important to us. Remember, no matter what the issue is, you have the right to ask before you sign your child up for care. And be sure to take a tour of the centre to allow those parental instincts to guide your decision.