How do you choose childcare? We may have to work; we may want to work; but we’ll never work happily unless we are confident that our children are being well cared for. Many women choose childcare centers — but how to choose?
When my son was just over a year old, his daddy and I separated, and later divorced. I had to find childcare because I had to work to buy groceries and keep a roof over our heads. Initially, a young woman I knew and loved agreed to live with me as a nanny for room and board. Later, when I needed to find a center, I turned to my sister for guidance on childcare. Sister, degreed in early childhood education, used to be the director of a national chain’s 36 daycare centers in her state. She told me that some of them were wonderful, and some of them barely legal. She advised me to walk into every daycare within a 20 minute drive of my home and see what I found. Not to call ahead at all, just to show up, walk in and walk around. It took a couple weeks, but I checked more than a dozen daycare centers, and I was STUNNED at the different things I saw. Some of those places haunt me still.
There are lists and lists out there about what to look for in a daycare center. Any list that starts with: “What are the hours? What are the fees?” you can chuck right now. Here’s what matters, based on my sister the daycare director’s advice and my experience of years of daycare for my kiddos:
1). What do you see? During your surprise drop-in visit, when you look around, are kiddos clean and happy and occupied? Or are there four teenagers gossiping in a corner while 24 toddlers run wild on the playground, some in the dirt crying, some with green goo running down their faces…
2). Are the kids safe? How long did it take for them to notice you were there? How long were you allowed to roam free around the center? In one center, I was able to walk right into the baby room and right up to a crib without anyone noticing I was there. The memory of that place still makes me shudder.
3). How are the adult care providers? Do the providers look relaxed and engaged, or angry and resentful? At one center, I wanted to tell the teenager yelling at the toddlers to just step away, I’d take it from here. At other centers, I wanted to sit down and play all day, because everyone looked so happy.
4). Are the care providers trained in first aid? I didn’t really care if they had degrees in childcare, some of the best, most loving care providers my children ever had did not have degrees in anything at all, but they knew children, and loved them. Still, CPR is a minimal must-have for your childcare provider.
5). How do they handle diapering, potty training and food prep? Ask. Ask them to show you. Day care centers are little germ incubators, but good procedures for cleanliness can keep that to a minimum.
Finally, trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, run. Mother’s intuition is a real thing, and you have my permission to pay attention to it.
You’ll notice I didn’t mention the fees… I ended up paying a premium for daycare during a time in my life when I didn’t have FURNITURE, and I am thrilled to this day that I lived that way. My son slept on a toddler mattress on the floor, and we had a used loveseat I paid pittance for at a garage sale, and you know what, we were happy. He would run his little turtle scooter all over our bare wooden floors, happy as a clam.
And I could work, knowing he was safe and happy.
Good luck, Mamma. God bless. This is a tough one, and so, so very important.