I suppose that there are as many opinions on choosing a place for your child to receive excellent care as there are authors who write them! However; if you'll look closely, you'll find that there are several things that appear regularly.
Being detail oriented is important, but don't get so mired down in check lists that you fail to see the "big picture." There are hundreds of "programs" and "curriculums" out there, each being touted as the best, each offered as bragging rights to entice you into choosing its provider for the privilege of caring for your child. Please remember this.
"Your child won't be cared for by a program or curriculum-- he or she will be cared for by people."
I offer the following principles for choosing quality child care as a guideline to aid you in keeping "the main thing" the main thing!
In addition you'll find the links to the left represent excellent, unbiased information to aid you in making a great child care decision.
Choosing Quality Child Care
More and more infants and toddlers are spending time each day in some type of child care setting. Who can care for your child better than you?
So, when child care is required--it's important to choose the absolute best one (even though it's a distant second to you)!
All children -- especially infants and toddlers -- need a child care setting where they can thrive with caregivers who understand how to promote their healthy growth and development. That's because young children need appropriate stimulation. They need to be talked to and played with. They need love and attention. And they need the opportunity to form the kind of comfortable, secure relationship with a caregiver that will advance their healthy emotional development.
So what are the hallmarks of quality child care?
And how do you select a caregiver?
With more than two decades of caring for children professionally, and four well-adjusted, reasonably sane teenagers in the house, please allow me to tell you what I've found.
A good caregiver is...
...loving and responsive
A good caregiver is one who hugs, rocks, cuddles, seeks eye contact and enjoys your child...who responds to your child's smiles and emerging skills and interests...who finds ways to expand upon each experience...is sociable and interested. One who talks with your child about what he or she does and sees... a playful partner who introduces new ideas, objects and games...who supports your child in his or her social contacts with other children and adults.
...respecting of the child's individuality
A good caregiver is one who understands and welcomes the intricacies of your child's development...recognizes your child's personal rhythms, style, strengths and limitations...and tunes into these when planning the pace and time for eating, sleeping and playing...is comfortable with a special need or disabling condition.
...a provider of good surroundings
A good caregiver ALWAYS provides an area that is clean and safe so your child can explore his or her surroundings...filled with interesting and stimulating things to explore...set up to promote learning through free play...structured, created, and managed to accommodate the needs of growing infants and toddlers and preschoolers...having eating, diapering and toileting areas well organized so as to be comfortable and practical for caregivers while allowing them to focus on the child.
Important Questions to Ask...
Okay... I know it's tough for many of you--it certainly was for me! But this simply isn't the time for you to be shy. The only "dumb" question, is the one you wanted to ask, but didn't.
Because the way children are treated in their earliest years of life by important adults shapes their future successes or failures, it is crucial that all caregivers provide a healthy setting that encourages appropriate physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual growth.
You should take the time to observe caregivers interacting with your child before making decisions. Still in doubt? Take some more time! Come for a visit--lots of them, if you like! After all, if the facility can't handle your slight interruption of a "normal day" how it the world would they expect to be successful in the guaranteed interruptions provided by happy, healthy, growing kids!
Some questions for you to ask in determining the caregiver's or program's ability to understand your child and support his or her healthy development, include:
What training do staff have in child development?
Does the caregiver use straightforward, simple words to talk with my child?
Are activities and schedules explained to my child?
Are toys and materials well organized so my child can choose what interests him or her?
Is this caregiver able to accommodate the special needs of my child?
Does the environment accommodate the special needs of my child?
Does this caregiver respect the language, culture and values of my family?
Do the caregiver and I agree on discipline? Weaning? Toileting? Feeding?
Can this caregiver handle conflicts without losing patience, shaming a child or displaying unhealthy anger?
Does the caregiver enjoy children?
Am I welcome to drop in at any time?
Will my child feel good about coming here?
Is the environment sanitary and safe?
Is the place appealing with comfortable lighting and an acceptable noise level?
Is the program licensed by the state or local government?
Are the caregivers certified by the Council for Early Childhood Professional Recognition with a Child Development Associates degree credential for infant/toddler caregivers or an equivalent credential that addresses comparable competencies (such as an associates or bachelors degree)?
Is there a primary caregiver for my child?
Are the ratios and group size appropriate for my child's age?
Again, childcare at its best is a distant second to you!
Spending as much time as you can with your baby is important for your child and for you. You need and deserve a chance to get to know and enjoy each other. No matter what your work schedule is, be sure to arrange for "unhurried" time with your child.
How do you find good care?
Our community has a child care resource and referral agency that can provide you with a list of licensed child care facilities. There is a national hotline called Child Care Aware (800-424-2246) that can direct you to our local child care resource and referral agency. Accrediting organizations are an important source of information about caregivers and early childhood programs that have met standards beyond those required by licensing. You may wish to contact the National Association for Family Child Care (accredits family caregivers) at 515-282-8192, the National Association for Education of Young Children (accredits early childhood programs) at 800-424-2460, or the National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care at 800-598-KIDS.
Recommendations of other parents, friends and co-workers are often helpful. Referrals from satisfied parents who've walked through your situation with a provider are invaluable in helping you make a wise choice.
Lastly--and most importantly--there is absolutely no substitute for your attention and evaluation. It's up to you to visit the center, talk with the people, look in the corners, and kick the tires. In the end, you must judge for yourself how a caregiver or program meets the needs of your child and family.