How to Choose a Preschool for Your Child
Whether you are searching for a day care center (crèche) or a nursery, the basic process is the same. You have to research what is available in your area; decide on a location either close to home or work; compare the facilities and trust your instincts to choose the best one In order to compare them fairly, use a checklist when looking at each one. After reading the list below, add on anything to the list that you feel isn’t covered. Take a pen and paper and rate each day care center under each area. Ideally, you do this while in the day care center, but failing that, do it immediately on leaving the premises.
Researching day care for your child
How long will your child be in day care?
Ideally, children should remain in the one day care center and be cared for by the same staff for as long as possible. Children feel more secure in a consistent environment. So, if your child will be in care for a few years, it’s better to choose a day care center that can cover the required age range.
When changing your child’s care situation – including moving from room to room within a day care center – it is easier on the child if there is a short lead-in time. This time should include a full explanation given to the child over a couple of weeks covering any changes will be made. Ideally this should include at least one visit to the new care area before the child is there full time.
If the day care center is near a relative or sitter, they may be able to collect your child or cover you if you’re late. Alternatively, you may arrange for someone else to always collect your child to extend the childcare hours for you.
Day care center location
How easy is it to get to the day care centre from your work, and from home?
Choosing a day care center near your home
Your child doesn’t have to commute in rush hour.
Your commute is “child-free”, which may be important if you need to mentally prepare yourself for your day (or if your work day includes your commute (cell-phones / pagers / laptops etc).
If you have unexpected days off (or sick days) it will be easier to drop off your kids.
A day care center near your home will not become an issue should you need to change jobs.
Choosing a day care center near your work
You get to spend more time with your children (quality commuting time anyone?).
It’s easier to pick them up if they’re unwell.
Better value for money – a shorter day may cost less.
How you will travel there?
If by car, are there nearby parking spaces? Is the car parking free parking or metered?
If by public transport, is there a (bus/tram/train) stop nearby? How much is the journey? Does the stop have a shelter for bad weather? Does the stop have good lighting for winter?
Which Locations to consider?
Consider any day care center that is a geographical possibility in order to get a fair and clear picture of what is out there, and at what cost. Don’t dismiss any day care center without a visit. Each day care center you view will give you a better picture of everything your child could be receiving during the day. Besides, it is easier to feel happy about your choice if you can say to yourself, “I considered every option”.
Day care – full time or part time?
Not all day care centers offer the same hours.
Full time care
Some day care center managers will offer to extend the hours for individuals, for an extra fee. Full day care is usually 8am to 6pm. Crèche workers tend to work in shifts, so there are often significant discounts offered if you are prepared to pick up your child early.
Part time care
Some days are less popular for part time care. If you can manage to reschedule part time work to match these days it can work out cheaper. Another option is to share a full time day care place with another parent so that you are not paying a premium rate for part time.
Full day or half day?
Check out the price difference – it might be worth looking at a two-thirds day instead.
If you choose a day care center beside your work, and start early, you might be able to do both the morning drop -off and the evening pick-up. Some working couples split the pick-up and drop-off between them. Is your schedule consistent week to week? Most day care centers demand a consistent schedule, although most will allow the occasional extra day for a fee.
Hidden day care costs
To get the total monthly cost add up the:
- Monthly fees
- Car parking
- Extra day fees
- Fines (e.g. late pickup)
- Uniform costs (if any)
- Any additional travel costs.
This will ensure you make a fair comparison between day care centers on price- and will make sure you can actually afford it.
Inspecting potential day care centers
Staff – length of service
When you have decided on your day care center shortlist, you will have a number of questions, such as how long has the day care center been there? A well-established business is usually better as the staff turnover should be less, and any initial scheduling problems (for both staff and parents) should have been resolved. But what you really want to know is how long have the staff been there. This is crucial, as a long running business with staff turnover every six months will be of less use to you than a two year old business, with the same staff for the entire time.
All staff should have appropriate childcare qualifications. If the day care center offers Montessori, make sure the teacher has a qualification from a Montessori certified school. There should be at least one (and preferably two) staff member(s) on site at all times with up to date first aid qualifications.
Staff to child ratio
As a general guideline, it should be
- 1 adult to 3 babies
- 1 adult to 5 toddlers, and
- 1 adult to 8 pre-school children.
All rooms should have two adults present at all times. This is something that you’ll want to weigh carefully to ensure your child receives the care and attention that they need, as well as addressing safety considerations.
Are you happy you know all that the day care center provides for your child and all that is expected of you? An easy exchange of information will make the time in the day care center much less difficult for you and your child. Does the day care center provide a day log for your child with details of activities / food / naps / etc.? If not how you will get this information? One idea is a page a day notebook. Jot down everything your child ate and drank, and any medications given. Ask your day care center to do the same.
Inspecting the Facilities
Is each room big enough for its purpose? Does it have enough windows, and light? Is it clean, and in good repair?
Your day care center should only release your child to pre-agreed named individuals. This list should include your emergency cover, and contact details. If you need someone new to pick up your child, will a phone call or an email from you be enough? If there is a front garden or back yard, are they suitably enclosed and supervised at all times?
Are there safeguards in place to prevent your child from leaving the premises, or from accessing potentially dangerous areas – kitchen, cleaning materials etc? Are there finger protectors around doors and hinges? Are there safety mats or surfaces in any outdoor play areas? Are the toys sterilized weekly? Are there damaged or broken toys visible?
Are there suitably sized beds, cots, tables, chairs, high chairs and shelving? Do you feel that your child (assuming he or she is as least crawling) could entertain themselves, or do you feel that the care workers will have to hand them everything?
Are there enough for the number of children present? Are they for the right age group? Do they offer a wide range of developmental opportunities? Are they in a good state of repair?
Arts and Crafts
Is there a good stock of different materials available? Is there evidence on the walls that the children are using it?
Kitchen area / Break room
Is food prepared on site or delivered? Is there a good sized kitchen for food preparation? Is it clean and well stocked? Is the food fresh? Do staff members use it as a break room? (This is a good sign – the staff needs breaks from your precious little ones too!)
Is there a separate changing area? For hygiene reasons this is essential. It should have a wash basin in the room.
Personal storage / box
Is there a place to keep some of your child’s items, such as a high shelving unit with a plastic box labeled with your child’s name. This can be used to store a spare set of clothes, nappies, any special medication etc. and is much handier than carrying a changing bag in with you every morning.
Is there a good sized wash room? The wash room should have individual toilet cubicles, and separate wash hand basins. The facilities should be sized appropriately for your child’s age.
Assessing the Services offered
Montessori / Playschool
When are these run and for how long? It should be a minimum of 3 hours for Montessori. Is the teacher qualified? Does the course plan offer a good foundation for school?
The Day Plan
Each room should have a plan for the day. Ideally this should include details of the following:
- Feeding times (and menu)
- Arts and crafts
- Free play
- Organized play
- Exercise times
Younger children develop considerably faster with older children around to copy, so check whether or not the age groups are segregated for the whole day, or whether there is group time in the yard or other times.
Does the day care center manager recognize that each family is different, and will they allow you to change some minor things to make life easier?
Does your child have any needs that require special attention? Make the day care center aware of these needs. Can they be properly accommodated? Does your child have medical conditions that might affect your child during the day such as allergies, asthma and epilepsy? Make sure that they can cope with a medical emergency. For a disability, or anything else that may require special attention, make sure the building / furniture / day plan can accommodate this. Remember you both need to be happy that your child will be safe as well as happy.