One of the most important decisions parents face is choosing quality childcare and a preschool.
We all need help to raise our children. In the early months you may have relied on relatives and close friends to help you with childcare. But leaving your baby with someone else can make you feel sad or guilty. You may be filled with self-doubt. If you are feeling that way you are not alone. But remember your child’s brain develops through interaction with you and the world.
The human brain has more than 100 billion nerve cells. But the brain isn’t finished growing at birth. These cells keep growing and growing and connecting in important ways as your baby grows. Science shows that a baby’s brain grows as it should when he develops a secure attachment to loving and dependable people. These relationships make healthy emotions and the foundations for learning.
Childcare has to be the very best possible. You cannot leave your child with just anyone. The person you choose must understand how important these first years are to your child’s future. The experiences of early childhood create the foundation for life long learning.
The first three years of life are especially important. These experiences also affect the way a child things, feels, acts and interacts with others.
When your child is 3 years old, you may choose to place him in preschool. Research is proving what many parents have known for years. When children go to high quality preschools they will develop learning skills as well as physical and social skills. These skills will benefit them throughout school and for the rest of their lives.
Good childcare and preschools are out of there. It helps to know what to look for and what questions to ask. That is what this section is about.
Choosing Quality Childcare and Preschool Checklist
Good care should be the same wherever you go. It can be hard to find the right place to care for your child. To make sure you get the best care available, follow this checklist.
☐ 3 references
- You can also do a little investigation on your own. Ask about quality places people you know may have heard of or used.
- Check with neighbors, your child’s doctor or people in your church or community.
- See the resources listed at the end of this section to find your local childcare resource and referral agency if you need help.
- The best places will have really good references, and it is okay for you to ask for them. In fact, people who work at childcare facilities and in preschools will be surprised if you do not ask for references.
☐ License posted (if required)
- Licenses should be posted so you can see them. If you do not see the license, ask to see it.
- Have there been any complaints or licensing violations? (Contact California Community Care Licensing to find out if there have been any complaints or violations.)
☐ Certificates of inspection
- Does the center or licensed “family provider” have a certificate of inspection? If it is not posted where you can see it, ask to see it.
- Are they insured? Ask about the coverage.
☐ Number of years in business
- How long has the caregiver/teacher been working with children?
- How long has the center, family provider or preschool been in the business of taking care of children?
☐ Number of caregivers
- Find out if anyone else in the provider’s home will come in contact with your child. Make sure you meet that person.
☐ Caregivers’ and preschool teachers’ experience and education
- Ask about the caregiver’ / teachers’ experience and training in child development.
- Ask her what she likes about working with children?
- Ask how she disciplines the children.
- Ask about the daily activities. Children learn through play and should have both group activities and independent play time.
☐ Caregiver/teacher interacts well with children
- Genuinely cares about and understands the children in her care. Watch her interaction with children and it should be obvious.
- Responds to the children in her care, listens to them, makes eye contact, and respects them.
- Understands children and understands their development.
- Holds and cuddles the infants a lot. They need it. Soothes the babies when they cry or need it.
- Gets down on the floor and plays with the children. Reads to them. Sings to them. Encourages language.
- Is fine with parents dropping by at anytime, unannounced.
- Children and caregivers/teachers should form attachments. If they do not, something is not right.
☐ Home/Center/Preschool has positive environment
- Do teachers work with the children as a class, in small groups and one-on-one? They are all important.
- Do teachers and children talk to each other with kind words and smiles?
- Is there time for group and individual activities?
- Is there a large play area where children can build things, run and jump?
- Is there sand, wood chips or rubber under the play structures (not grass or cement)?
- Is there plenty of shade in the outside play areas?
- Do the classroom and outdoor play areas look safe and clean?
- Are there special areas for reading, playing, art and group activities?
- Are children busy with activities much of the time? They should not have to sit and listen to the teacher for a long time.
- Is the room warm and inviting? Is the children’s work displayed at an eye level for 3 and 4 year olds?
- Are there building blocks, toys, items for pretend play, art supplies, puzzles and games?
- Are the chairs, tables and equipment child sized?
☐ Caregiver and teacher interacts with parents
- Do teachers and parents share information about the child at scheduled meetings? Do they also talk when parents are dropping off or picking up their children?
- Do teachers give parents written reports and assessment of the child’s progress?
- Are parents welcome to help in the classroom by bringing in special games, books or songs?
☐ Children currently at the Home/Center/Preschool are happy
- Do most of the children seem happy and involved?
- Do teachers or caregivers supervise children at all times?
- Are the classroom rules fair? Are teachers/caregivers consistent in enforcing the rules with all children?
- Do caregivers/teachers help children who misbehave learn how to act the next time? Do they tell the child what behavior is expected?
- Do caregivers/teachers set limits in a positive way? “Remember to walk into our classroom” is better than “no running”.
- Are children with disabilities and the special needs involved and having fun?
☐ Home/Center/Preschool is clean
- The place should be very, very clean, especially the food-related areas. That does not mean the setting has to be fancy. Clean is the keyword here. Germs make people sick.
- The children should be clean, too. Older children should be aware of good habits such as blowing their nose, covering their mouth when they cough or sneeze and washing their hands before eating.
☐ Children’s meals are nutritious – few sweets / fatty foods
- What kind of meals do they serve and are they healthy and nutritious? Ask to the actual menu for that week. If it is filled with junk and sweets, this is not the place for your child.
☐ Number of children in the Home/Center/Preschool
- How many other children will your child be around all day? How many children are there for each caregiver/teacher?
- Child to Caregiver Ratios:
- Infants (Age birth to 18 months): 1-4 babies to 1 caregiver
- Toddlers (Ages 18 months to 30 months): 6 toddlers to 1 caregiver
- Preschoolers (Ages 3 years to 5 years): 8 preschoolers to 1 caregiver (State preschool programs); 12 preschoolers to 1 caregiver (Non-state programs)
☐ Are emergency numbers posted?
- Emergency numbers must be posted. Can you see them? If not, ask them to show you where they are.
☐ How do the caregivers/teachers deal with illnesses and accidents?
- Can my child come to the Home/Center/Preschool when he is sick?
- How are illness and accidents handled? How quickly are parents informed? Do they tell all parents when an accident has occurred?
- How do the caregivers/teachers deal with asthma and/or allergies?
- Are caregivers/teachers trained in first aid and CPR?
☐ How will you and the caregiver handle toilet training?
- Your caregiver likely has a way of handling this, but make sure your child is not pushed. That will only delay his progress.
☐ Will your child be taken off site for field trips? When and how often.
- Ask if any activities will take the children off site. Be certain the way they get there is safe, and that you know where they’ll be at all times.
- Ask for the caregiver’s/teacher’s DMV record if they drive children.
- Make sure that if children are traveling in cars, there is a seat belt and booster or car seat for each child. If buses or vans are used, ask about the safety features of the bus or van.
☐ What is the daily schedule for children in your child’s age group?
- Because of the way the brain develops, children need routines. Make sure the childcare/preschool provider you are thinking of hiring agrees and has routines in place. There should be a schedule or calendar that shows what your child will be doing all day.
- You want someone who believes in routines and structure. They should tell you how much they play with the child, or the kind of activities they do.
Standards of Care for Relatives
Your standards for relatives should be as high as they are for a childcare worker you do not know. If grandma is providing the care, expect her to understand child development and what your child needs. Check the safety of the environment, and also the approach to discipline to make sure they are consistent with what you expect. Keep the lines of communication open. This person is your partner in raising your child.
Now that You Have Found Quality Childcare
When you first enter childcare or preschool, you and your child will go through an adjustment. You will miss each other a lot. This is normal. It is only a sign that a strong bond exists between the two of you. Over time both of you should feel good about this new arrangement. Your child’s world is expanding and you can be sure you found a loving, caring place for your child to spend some of the hours in his day. These early years are very important. It matters that your childcare is of the highest quality possible.
Your child’s behavior can help you assess the care you have chosen. Is he happy there? Does he generally look forward to going? All children have bad days and do not want to leave home. One bad morning seldom means disaster. Does your child seem to enjoy his childcare/preschool provider and the other children?
Once you choose any kind of childcare or preschool, stay involved.
What Parents Can Do
- Connect with the caregiver/preschool often.
- Check in with the caregiver/teachers briefly each day.
- Leave notes for the caregiver/teacher about special needs for your child.
- Plan a conference with the caregiver/teacher every 2 or 3 months.
- Share stories about your child’s home activities.
- Work with the caregiver/preschool and its teachers to resolve any problems.
- Drop by unexpectedly and observe the program, the caregiver/teachers and your child.
Kinds of Childcare
Available Childcare Centers
Most of the time childcare centers are bigger than family childcare homes. Childcare centers are licensed, can be run by an individual, business, school, church, or public agency. They have certain hours and days for care. They can care for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and school age children.
Family childcare homes
This type of care takes place in the childcare provider’s home. Family childcare homes are licensed and often have flexible hours. They may have children of many different ages and must limit the number of children they care for.
In-home care is when someone comes to your home to care for your child. It can be a friend, relative, manny, or baby sitter. In-home care for your child is not licensed and lets you set the hours you need. You should find out all about anyone who cares for your child. They should have references. You can call TrustLine about a provider.
Home care providers
This type of care is known as Family, Friend and Neighbor (FFN) License Exempt Providers. Home care providers care for the children in their family as well as the children from one other family. Children go to the provider’s home for care. Home care providers are not licensed, are usually very small and may only have your children and their own children. You should find out all about anyone who cares for your child. They should have references. You can call TrustLine about a provider.
Childcare in the workplace
Sometimes childcare is available at your place of work. These programs are very popular so you should sign up early. Some employers also offer workers money to help with childcare costs. Childcare can be the most expensive item in your budget, so help from your employer with childcare can be a real bonus to working families.
When Care is Licensed the Workers Must:
- Follow rules about health and safety.
- Have a fingerprint check
- Have a background check
- Have first aid and CPR training.
—- from First5 Advice for New Parents