10 Tips for Selecting a Daycare

From crib to the toddler room, Mommy University discusses suggestions on how to select a good daycare.

For some families enrolling children in a daycare may be a choice they embrace or one they reluctantly accept. Trusting a non-family member to look over the care, nurturing and educational environment for our child is stressful, and it gets more stressful because it is not always one individual overseeing your child but it can be a team of people.

After experiencing two drastically different daycare environments, I would like to share some suggestions of points to consider when assessing a daycare. My points do not include location or cost because those items will be based on your budgets and what is available in your area. Essentially, as a parent you need to understand what is important to you and why to help you in deciding which daycare is the best option for your family.

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10 Tips for Selecting a Daycare

Ask About the Curriculum

Some daycares follow a curriculum throughout the entire school that has been established, while others may allow the teachers to set their own lessons. A curriculum based program offers consistency and overarching philosophy but it may not ensure your child will enjoy the school, where as teacher created lessons could open the door for some interesting and unique instruction. You need to understand which one you prefer.


Take Note of Learning Toys and Indoor Activities

I recently read an article that discussed when considering a daycare to look at the types of toys available to the children. While the bright lights and music is great for stimulating infants, it is not always the most educational toys available for toddlers and older kids. There should be building toys available as well imaginative play toys.

A question you need to also ask is how much screen time your child will have at the daycare. The follow up question needs to be what type of screen time is made available to children. There is a difference in watching movies versus using an ipad for educational purposes.

Ask About Story Time

Reading is critical for children to develop a love and appreciation of, well, reading. All daycares offer story times either in circle time or during different times throughout the day. If story time is done during circle time you might want to ask how long is this time and what happens when a child struggles to focus. Some daycares organize a thirty minute circle time which can exceed a child’s attention span. You also want to see if books are readily available to children. One strategy for encouraging children to read is to make books accessible. Some daycares have library spaces in each room.

Make Sure There Are Opportunities for Physical Activity

How often and when do they take children outdoors? What type of activities do they do? What is the state of their playground? Children learn through playing. It is critical that they are burning off excess energy and playing as much as possible. Playing on playgrounds help develop their muscles which in turn allows them to be better prepared for when they start Kindergarten. Besides, young children do not have a large attention span and physical activity helps them focus.


Also ask how do they incorporate physical activity during winter and when it is raining?

Ask About the Food Provided/Allowed

Does the daycare include meals and snacks? If so, is there an additional cost and how do they handle children with allergies? Who provides the daycare meals? I have recently toured several daycares which offer lunch options. At one daycare the meals were included in the price and all the food was freshly prepared onsite. Another daycare allowed its students to bring their own lunch and were offering menu options from a local restaurant. Take a look at that week’s menu for an idea of the type of food that will be offered.

You may prefer to pack a lunch for your child which we did for several years and you may find this conversation may not be needed, however it is good to know in case you do later choose to purchase the daycare lunch. I mention this point because we transitioned into buying lunches for our children not because of cost or saving us time from packing meals, but rather our children insisted on eating what everyone else was eating. This became a relief when the daycare offered fruit, vegetables, and freshly made food onsite. However, if my child wanted to eat processed food at all lunches I would be concerned.

Ask What Additional Programs They Offer

Some daycares include music, sign language, and Spanish in their programs while others may charge additional costs. When visiting a daycare I would ask what programs are included in the price and which ones are not. They might offer a gym, yoga, dance, or gymnastics class but charge a nominal fee (but add this up over time or double if you have more than one child enrolled). As well, some daycares are locally owned and operated so they may rely on fundraising efforts to keep the tuition down each year. While, fundraising may not be required it is hard to say no three times over the course of the year. I would ask about fundraising programs, their requirements, and where does the money go.

Observe Cleanliness/Health Routines

Does the day care appear clean?  If your child succumbs to one of the various colds/flu/viruses that can easily sweep an unclean space you might be relying on relatives to take care of your kids or calling out of work until they are better.  It is impossible to avoid your child getting sick, but the good news is that they are building their immune system. Unfortunately, some of these illnesses can be avoided when cleaning is taken seriously.  Ask who is responsible for cleaning, how often the rooms are cleaned, and what is the notification process if a child acquires a contagious illness? For infants or toddlers who still require diapers, what are the steps that they use for changing diapers?  If you tour different daycares, you will get a variety of answers.

Make Sure There is Ongoing Communication

While going on the tour you may receive plenty of information about the school and the policies, it is very important to know how information is disseminated. Some daycares offer daily reports while others may email them to you at the end of the day. You will want to know what your child is doing at the daycare. Some parents may want to know each day what their child is doing while others may want an idea of what is happening in the classroom. I have found as a parent that when I understand the activities and routine of the day, I appreciate the service more and explore some of the educational information with my children. When touring see if there are bulletin boards or room notifications letting you know what activities the class did that day.

**Breakdowns in communication can be the largest motivating factor for families to switch daycares. You need to know who to communicate with if you have a concern and when, as well as how, the matter can be resolved.

Make a Connection

Each of our families have unique values whether we identify and label them, they remain. It is interesting how many families I have spoken to where the parents realize they disagree on what a daycare should offer their child. Ultimately, there has to be a connection that reinforces the family’s belief in education. Some daycares are more structured and based off the traditional public school setting while others might be more child directed and let the child have more freedom to explore.

We recently switched to a new daycare that offers home style meals. The children eat the same meal and learn to serve food and proper table manners. This is not the critical reason we chose this particular daycare but it was a feature that echoed our values in teaching manners and knowing how to properly eat at the table.

Learn About the Staff

The individuals who will care for your child should have familiarity with an early childhood setting as well as an education. Ask what is the educational level of the staff which will vary by daycares. Look at the staff when you tour and ask the general question, “Do they look happy?” Are they smiling and are they greeting people? Your child will be interacting with them each day.

Visit Several Daycares

My suggestion is to visit several daycares. Visit daycares you are not even considering because you can learn about an interesting curriculum that appeals to you or new programs that other daycares offer, but ultimately you will learn what questions to ask at the next tour. You may find there are overlaps in the daycares that are accessible. As well, by touring many daycares you become schooled in the various programs they offer.

It is not an easy decision. Talk to friends, colleagues, and search online for recommendations.  However, when searching online read the reviews carefully as sometimes a disgruntled parent may retaliate against a daycare.Take a grandparent or a trusted friend in your inner circle if you are torn between several daycares to see what their observations may be. Involved parents will make informed decisions, so tour and ask questions.

What are your recommendations when looking at daycares?


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One Comment

  1. Faylinn

    I am really glad that you mention asking the daycare centers about the food that they provide or allow, because my son is a vegetarian. For him, his diet isn’t a choice, because meat really makes him sick and so it would be important for me to have a daycare center that provided good meals and didn’t just rely on meat to fill the kids up. In the past, I have always packed his lunch, but maybe I should start asking if there are vegetarian options.

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