What to look for in a daycare? Cardboard boxes, cauliflower and conflict mediation.
When I was on maternity leave and searching for good daycare, I had definite ideas about what I wanted to see before trusting my child to a stranger. My original criteria included being home-based, play-based, having no TV and good grammar. I wanted someone who would say “lie down” not “lay down” to my child when it came to nap time.
The “no TV” was hardest to find, and I quickly learned to modify my expectations about what was important when it came to grammar.
What to look for in good daycare? I’ve written about how to find a good play-based preschool, but many parents need full-time care to keep their jobs. At a reader request, here are a few guidelines to help with the search.
Plays with Cardboard Boxes In other words, play-based. Most people will say the daycare is play-based, but I find that the more cardboard boxes are welcomed into the day, the more true play is going on. Other good signs to look for: dress-up clothes and going outside a lot.
Eats Cauliflower Originally, nutritious food didn’t make my criteria list. I simply packed food from home to counteract too much grease and sugar. But the young years are a prime time for developing eating habits, and kids learn from modeling. Daycares that expose kids to a wide range of vegetables are a terrific foundation and may introduce your child to foods you typically don’t buy.
No TV or 1/2 Hour or Less Daycare is for the youngest children and the American Academy of Pediatricians says no TV for children 0-2. Make sure TVs are off in the house, not just where the children are, but in other rooms. This “no TV” rule also shows you how involved the caregiver is in being engaged with the children.
Advocates for Sleep Besides play and food, sleep is an enormously important part of the day for young kids. Find out about morning naps as well as afternoon naps, ask what they do when a child tries to sleep and can’t. Ask how long they get to sleep. The more sleep the better. Daycare is also a great way for children to learn to be flexible about sleep. Kids learn to be able to sleep in new locations.
Sets Limits without Shame Observe and listen how the adults talk to children. Do they compare kids’ behavior “I like how Sarah is picking up” or say “Big boys don’t cry?” Ideally, you want someone who is comfortable accepting emotions, but sets firm limits on behavior. These are the beginnings of learning conflict management.
Reads Books, Goes on Outings All the good stuff. Make sure there’s lots of time for reading aloud, even to the youngest children. Outings are good for kids and are often a sign you’ve got a confident person in charge. Outings don’t have to be elaborate, they can simply be walks in the neighborhood. Other daycare providers visit library story hours, have community gardens, ride city buses, and visit the fire station or post office.
Doesn’t Advertise Go by word of mouth to find the gems. The best care providers often don’t need to advertise. They’re always full.
The Basics Someone you trust. Someone you can afford. Someone who is available. Don’t worry if you can’t find the ideal daycare right away. Stick with the basics.
Searching for daycare is an anxious time, but remember, the children will be fine. Find an opening, then get on a waiting list for a place that meets more of your criteria later.
What are your criteria? What do you look for? What’s the sign of a fantastic daycare provider?