The time has come to make one of the most important decisions of your life; finding the perfect childcare setting for your family. You have researched, asked everyone you know and checked what seems like a million websites. You have sought out schools by location, philosophy (play-based or structured?) and written down every question you can think of. Now the real work comes.
First, call the center during naptime. Sometimes the director works directly with children as well as having administrative duties. This gives the director the opportunity to help you without taking time away from the children in her care. It also ensures that she/he is able to give you undivided attention. Secondly, ask about the school’s philosophy and make sure that it correlates to your family values. In addition, you must make sure that the school will be a good fit for your child’s personality and temperament. The two must coincide in order for the relationship between your family and the school to be successful. You have to be comfortable in the setting your child is in. Let the director know what you are looking for in a program.
Next step: Physically go to the school. Make sure that you take your child with you. Let them be a part of the process. It will be their environment and where they will spend much of the day. You also want to see how the staff engages with your child. Is the environment welcoming? How does it smell? Do the staff and children look happy? Are the teachers in the program engaged and interacting with the children? Is the staff interacting with your child by smiling and talking to your child? Does your child seem comfortable and at ease? How are the interactions between the other parents and teachers?
The director may ask you a few questions as well about your family as well to make sure how they can meet your family’s needs. For example, he may ask, “has your child been in a group setting before? This is important because they need to know how your child may respond to a new environment. Experienced providers are able to be flexible and assist both children and their parents with the change. Sometimes the transition is more difficult on the parents than on the child. Our job is to make sure you are happy and comfortable.
Make sure you write down your questions or have your checklist so that you are certain not to forget anything. More questions will pop in your head as the tour goes on. Many times the director will answer these questions as she tells you about the program. Find out about common policies like hours, curriculum, field trips, tuition, holiday closures, late fees, meals served, and allergies. How is communication handled? Again, make sure it will work for your family. If the school closes at 6:00, but you get off of work at 5:45, it may not work for you. It would not be fair to the child or staff. Get clarification if something is not clear.
Lastly, visit a few centers so that you are able to make a comparison. Which one felt most comfortable and at home? Can you envision your child there?Many do not know how hard it is to discover the “right one.” I compare it to buying a house or car. It has to feel right.
I hope that my suggestions help you on your journey to finding the perfect childcare setting.