Top Ten Tips for Choosing Quality Child Care
Tip #1: The Decision
Decide on whether you would prefer “home-based” child care or “center-based” child care. If your child has been cared for by a grandparent or other family member, he may be ready for social interaction with a group of his peers and a curriculum-based skill development that a center can provide as early as 18 months old. Many child care centers provide quality, curriculum-based care for infants as well. (And did you now that statistically child care centers have fewer accidents than home-based care?) Child care centers accommodate more children than home-based child care and therefore allow more “eyes and ears” of parents, teachers, and children that are in and out of the center daily. This influx of people on a daily basis helps assess the overall program and gives consumers a feeling of checks and balances, and safety.
Tip #2: The Search
Begin your search on the internet. A reputable child care provider will have a comprehensive, informative website.
Tip #3: The License
Is the center licensed? In Maryland, child care centers are licensed by the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE). Maryland requires all centers to be inspected twice within a two year period. There are announced and unannounced inspections. The Office of Child Care (OCC) visits to be sure all regulations are being met. Staff and teachers are mandated to have criminal background checks, medical exams, meet educational criteria, have experience working with children, and a plethora of other requirements that helps parents breathe a little easier when searching for licensed child care. Inspection reports are sometimes available to parents online.
Tip#4: The Curriculum
Make sure the curriculum that is implemented is appropriate for your child. You are not just looking for “baby-sitting”. You are looking for child care professionals. Are the infants engaged in sensory activities? What is the educational philosophy of the program? What is the discipline philosophy or policy? Children and adults learn in a variety of ways. Is there a daily schedule and weekly/monthly lesson plans? Are the activities developmentally appropriate?
Children’s play is their work. It is important for children to have quiet and active periods in their schedule. A quality program will boast plenty of “learning through play” opportunities as well as “intentional learning” experiences throughout the day.
Tip #5: The Aesthetics
Follow your senses! How does the center or home look, smell, and sound? Is it aesthetically inviting for children? Does it look like a place you want your child to spend the day? Children’s laughter and chatter should permeate the building. It should have a pleasant smell. Have the plants been tended to and watered? Is the environment comfortable? First impressions are lasting…..
Tip #6: Convenience and Value
We all want to get as much “bang for our buck” as possible. It makes sense to ask questions that help us determine value. Here are some suggestions:
What kind of value do they provide? What are the hours of operation? What holidays are they closed? What is the inclement weather policy? Will the center be in compliance with state ratio regulations if schools are closed and more children are in attendance for the full day?
It is imperative to think about your daily/weekly/monthly child care needs and make sure you find the right fit for your schedule and budget.
Tip #7: The Child/Staff Ratios
In Maryland, it is required that licensed child care centers maintain the following ratios:
Infants and Toddlers (6 weeks to 24 months): 3 to 1 (3 infants to 1 caregiver)
Two’s: 6 to 1 (6 two year olds to 1 caregiver)
Three’s and Four’s: 10 to 1 (10 children to 1 caregiver)
Five’s and up: 15 to 1 (15 school-age children to 1 caregiver)
These age groups may be mixed, but with very strict guidelines. Regulations for Maryland should be available to parents at the center you choose and they are also available online athttp://www.marylandpublicschools.org.
Tip # 8: The Staff
It is important to feel comfortable with the teachers/caregivers that are working hard to provide quality care and education to your child. When you visit, look for and ask questions such as….. Are the teachers engaged with the children? What is the educational background of the teachers? Do they meet or exceed the state qualifications? How long have they been employed with this company? Is staff turnover frequent? Do the children appear happy and confident?
Tip # 9: The Safety
Safety is paramount when choosing quality child care. How secure is the center or home? What systems are in place to insure safety? Do the staff and children practice emergency evacuation plans regularly? What is the protocol for dropping off and picking up children? What are the policies related to illness? State guidelines are in place, but providers may have very specific, strict policies they implement that may or may not be compatible with the consumers’ needs. Quality child care centers welcome all questions.
Tip#10: The Communications
Most people would agree that communication is the key to a successful relationship. Ask specific questions when visiting child care providers/centers. How does staff/management communicate with parents? Do parents receive daily reports in writing? Is there a monthly newsletter provided for parents? Are Parent/Teacher conferences offered periodically? Are there opportunities for parents to participate in activities with their child?
Hopefully, these tips are helpful to you in your search for quality child care programs!