Sunday, July 17, 2011

Daycare Chronicles

Recently a friend of mine came to me looking for advice on choosing a daycare for her daughter. Like many Americans, it's not an option for my friend to stay home, rather her household is a "2-incomes-necessary" machine. Having worked in a daycare, I was happy to give her a few tips...and now I'm happy to share them with you.

My first advice to anyone looking into daycare is this: when you walk in the front door, the facility should be clean, the staff should be friendly, and the kids should sound and appear happy. If one of those things are off, raise a red flag...with the exception of happy sounding and appearing kids...this one keep in mind that boo boos happen, time outs are majorly disliked, kids miss their parents...and just generally melt down. If you walk in and hear the sounds of an unhappy child, give it the benefit of the doubt. You never know who's mommy just left, who's in time out, or who bonked their little head.

Second, before you take a tour, sit down and talk to an administrator. At the preschool I worked at, it was standard procedure for a visiting parent to fill out some basic information, be given background for the school and have the opportunity to talk about their children and ask questions. Getting a feel for who is working in the office and who is directing the school is always a good move (and, might I say, my directors were awesome). If you don't have questions right away, don't freak out. Take the time to think about things you want to know while you're on the tour.

I always recommend, when it comes to taking a tour, that you see each classroom, meet each teacher and see the general facility. As a teacher, I never minded saying hello to parents who were touring the school...and let me tell you, the kids never minded saying hello either. It's never a bad thing to take a peek at who could potentially be your child's daycare teacher as he or she grows within the school, and even to meet the kiddos your kid will be growing and playing with.

I also say this: don't be put off by a daycare teacher's attire unless it's completely inappropriate. Yes, generally speaking, teachers dress nicely. But you're meeting teachers at a daycare or preschool. This is a whole different world. Whereas teachers in a grade school and above can wear crisp white shirts and perfectly ironed pants, preschool teachers cannot. Let me tell you just how quickly that crisp shirt would wrinkle and get boogers from a teary-eyed two year old all over it. And forget neatly ironed pants. That's just asking for glitter (well, at least in my classroom) and glue to ruin them completely. For preschool teachers, comfort and functionality are key...jeans and yoga pants are staples!

Now, when touring, ask the classrooms, while potentially may have floors scattered with books or toys...or even Cheerios...appear clean? And safe? Are they decorated in a friendly manner? How do the bathrooms look? And does the changing station seem functional and safe? Where are lunches stored? Is there a refrigerator for perishable items? And how do the playgrounds appear? Are they well kept, with sturdy equipment and gates or fences that latch shut and/or are completely secure?

When you finish touring, don't hesitate to ask any questions that come to your mind. The more you ask, the better informed you'll be. I also suggest asking if the school does a monthly newsletter, and if you can have a copy in addition to any paperwork or information they may give you.

Finally, go with your gut. If you've done the whole shtick, touring and all, and something seems probably is. And it's probably not the daycare for you. Daycare is a place you should feel safe and comfortable leaving your child...not a place where you feel you should worry!

And remember, when you do chose a daycare, the first drop off is always the worst...for the parent. I promise, you'll hate it more than your kid will.

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