How do you pick a daycare when there’s not a clear “best option” (ie no TV, nurturing, good food, and all attendees vaccinated).
Two dimensions I didn’t realize the value of, on childcare, until I was using it were proximity to home (or work, but if two parents work different locations, I’d emphasize home), and flexibliby in dropoff/pickup times.
There’s a lot of personal decisions involved, of course (for example, we were willing to forgo flexibility and proximity in some cases, but our jobs are flexible, also we were completely price insensitive).
For us the main thing is spending a lot of time watching the daycare and watching the kids. Do they play together (or near each other) nicely? How are conflicts resolved (are they resolved)? Do the teachers seem to have a second sense about what’s going on in the room, stopping conflicts before they start? A good teacher will interrupt talking with you (or any other adult) to quickly prevent a fight from happening.
At a couple of the daycares we have given money to (but not for long) the teachers spent most of their time cleaning and getting ready for activities and taking down activities and not so much time watching or interacting with the kids during that time. Good daycares will either have one teacher setup/cleanup while another interacts with the kids or they’ll have the kids involved with setting up and cleaning up (as in a Montessori situation).
Do the kids seem engaged? When there’s not so much interaction, kids can either become little hellions who don’t listen to directions or they can seem neglected. If they crowd around you and silently stare at you for long amounts of time when you spend time at the school… they may be a bit neglected. It’s creepy.
It’s important to see how the teachers treat all kids, not just yours. Because that’s how they’re going to treat your kid when you’re not watching. Do they keep awake infants in bouncies or swings longer than the recommended maximum time (I believe 20 min)? Do they hold and cuddle babies and toddlers? Do they talk with the babies or just with adults?
Obviously no TV, good food, vaccinations etc. are important things too. And in many states you can see the state violations and if they’re important (leaving infants alone) or unimportant (letting two mats touch each other during nap time).
There’s various places where you can find recommendations for child/caregiver ratios. For infants, 3/1 is what high quality daycares are aiming for, but your state law may be higher. The ratio really does make a difference in what caregivers are able to do.
The best daycares we’ve been to have had a culture that the kids are inculcated in. That sounds a bit disturbing the way I phrased that… but at the Montessori that we loved but went out of business, they had property rights and kids knew that whoever had the toy didn’t have to share if they didn’t want to, but certain equipment you had to take turns on. Little kids were taught to trade when there was something they wanted that someone else had (our new Montessori does all the former stuff, but doesn’t seem to teach trading). “Walk away” meant to walk away. “Sit sit” or “seat on the seat” means to sit down. Kids who were antsy got the “jump up and down” song, and so on. Another great religious daycare didn’t do property rights, but had a focus on sharing instead and praised that. They also had their culture of sayings and traditions that we could use at home– if someone hurt someone else, the hurter would give the hurtee a hug and say they were sorry and then everything would be instantly better. It’s good to see if these kinds of things are repeated, and they’re repeated across all of the rooms of the daycare across the different ages as age-appropriate.
Anyhow, our recommendation is to visit a bunch of daycares and watch. You’ll get a better idea of what you like and what you don’t just from seeing what works and what doesn’t. Of course, if you find that it’s too late to make it off a waiting list, we also have recommendations for mother’s helpers here.
Grumpy Nation! What suggestions do you have for Leah?