It's a Jungle Out There: Finding the Right Child Care Center
So you're having a baby, or maybe you're a mom getting back into the working world after a few years off. Whatever your story, selecting a childcare provider will be one of the biggest decisions you'll make. Some moms like childcare centers because they combine education with a safe and lively environment. Childcare centers are typically licensed, keep a close eye on their employees, and provide no-hassle coverage—even when a provider is sick or goes on vacation. Best of all, a high-quality daycare center can prepare your child for elementary school and help him play well with others.
When checking out childcare centers, experience and reputation go a long way, but so do other factors. Your child's personality, interests, dislikes, health needs, and behavior all come into play. To avoid second-guessing and sleepless nights, make a list of qualities you're looking for in a childcare center. Here are some questions to get you started:
- What is the experience level of providers? Do caregivers hold Maryland childcare credentials and pursue continuing education?
- Is the center accredited through the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) and nationally accredited through the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation? If the center holds an accreditation, it has passed a rigorous evaluation and will continue to be evaluated every three years.
- Does the center have an open-door policy (i.e. unannounced visits)? Parents should feel welcome to take part in classroom activities and be involved in their child's development. Some centers organize parent committees to promote parent participation throughout the year.
- Are kids grouped by age? It is important to place children in classrooms with others within months of their age. With the exception of infants, education-oriented centers move children from school year to school year so that they fall appropriately into Pre-K by September, and are aligned for kindergarten the following year.
- Will the same caregiver be assigned to my child throughout the week? Quality centers often assign a regular floating staff to each age group to help cover breaks and time off. For consistency and familiarity, ask about scheduled time off for your child's primary caregivers.
- What is the child-to-provider ratio? In the State of Maryland, childcare ratios are as follows: infants, 3:1; two year olds, 6:1; preschool, 10:1, and school age, 15:1.
- What is the policy for sick children? Every childcare center should have an illness policy to prevent the spread of sickness. Some centers require a return-to-care form if a child is absent due to illness.
- What activities are offered throughout the day? Children thrive on routine. Caregivers should have an established program and follow a state-approved curriculum to promote school readiness and create a pleasurable learning experience.
- Does the center provide reports on my child's day? Parents/guardians of infants through two years of age should be given a daily sheet providing information on how well a child napped, feeding times, and diaper changing times. Ask about how weekly lesson plans and other information is communicated, and if the center publishes a monthly parent newsletter.
- What is the discipline policy? Ask if staff has been trained in social and emotional developmental needs of children and if they use re-direction as a way to promote confidence and learning.
- Are staff members CPR certified? CPR and first aid certifications must be renewed regularly.
- Do kids and staff members need to be current on immunizations? Childcare centers follow state regulations for health inventory information and immunizations.
- Does the center perform criminal background checks on staff? The Maryland State Department of Education Office of Child Care requires criminal background paperwork for all staff and volunteers working with children.
- Can the center provide references? Talk to several parents who have had their child enrolled in the program in the past year. Centers should be able to provide references at your request.
- How flexible is the center? Do they offer part-time openings? Can you change days with advance notice? Most centers require prior notice for any schedule changes, and ample notice for withdrawals.