As a parent/guardian your number one goal is to protect and enrich your child. We’re constantly tasked with ways of enhancing that experience, and for those of us with the Internet at our fingertips – we know there is endless amounts of contradictory information.
Let’s get one thing straight, there’s no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to any part of your parenting experience. You always have to make decisions about what’s best for your family and meets your needs. However, there are certainly some best practices that you can keep in mind when shopping for a daycare, or center-based childcare.
Location, location, location
The first thing to keep in mind is whether the daycare is appropriate for your family’s commute. There’s almost no point in falling in love with something that won’t work. Whether your drive, take public transportation or walk, you need to be realistic. If you do drive, ask about parking – many schools don’t offer it and you’ll spend half your morning circling looking for a place to leave your car. If you walk or take public transportation, make sure it’s a reasonable distance to travel with a baby in -20° weather.
Know your budget
Daycare isn’t cheap but it doesn’t have to break the bank for your family. As with anything, before you embark on the shopping journey you must have a clear idea of what you can afford. If your budget is tight, consider shopping for centers that offer part-time care and put baby with friends or family on off days. Also be sure to ask about special promotions: free enrollment, complimentary first month or vacation tuition breaks. Most centers in a close vicinity are priced within a few dollars of each other. They don’t vary as much as you might hope.
Trust your gut
Your intuition will be one of the most valuable tools when it comes to parenting, and searching for childcare is no exception to that rule. If you get a warm fuzzy feeling the second you walk through the door and it’s followed by welcoming people and direct answers that make you feel comfortable? That’s a good thing! Remember this is where you leave your favorite person in the world every day – you want to feel welcome.
Priorities are different for everyone
For some families it’s the hours, for some it’s availability, for some it's teacher qualifications – the list goes on. Find out what’s important to you before you start calling and scheduling tours. If it’s hours, you can determine which sites are applicable to your needs by a simple search online. If it’s the teachers, you’ll want to ask the tour guide at the various centers you visit if they would be comfortable allowing you to sit in with the teacher for a few minutes.
Don’t freak out
Here’s the deal: When you're pregnant or new to the idea of center-based daycare, there’s a lot to take in. Relax, everyone involved is here to help. Ask a ton of questions. Questions can be asked in advance on the phone, through email or during your tour. If you don’t get the answers you want then move on. If a company doesn’t give you the information that you want/need when they are in the selling process, it’s not going to get any better once your child is enrolled. Benefits such as web cameras and open door policies allow for you to continue and monitor your child’s experience once they begin. Seeking daycares that provide these is just another way of feeling in control of your little one’s day.
Overall, center-based childcare is becoming increasingly popular for families. It offers consistent and predictable care when you’re away. It also provides your little one with the opportunity to make friends, interact with other children and have access to developmentally age appropriate equipment and toys.
Good luck with your search!