Do you know how to evaluate a daycare center? Picking out a day care for your child is one of the most nerve-wracking decisions you will ever make. A thousand questions go through your head. There are all kinds of information out there about what makes a great day care. But what about things to avoid or look out for? As a day care teacher, I’m here to help inform you in spotting a less than ideal center. I have compiled a list of both things to observe and questions to ask to help you make a better decision in your choice of center.
How To Evaluate a Daycare Center
Some things to look for on your next daycare visit.
How does the outside of the building look?
What is your first impression of the building? Does it look inviting or does it look run down? Are there weeds all around or do the grounds look nicely kept?
Is there any indoor building damage?
As you take a tour, pay attention to any visual damage you may see. This includes fissure cracks, large holes or any indescribable odors you may smell.
Pay attention to Teacher/Child Interaction.
How do the teachers and children interact with each other? A professional day care will use teachers with loving personalities. Teachers should also be on the floor with the kids playing rather than sitting off to the side in a chair or socializing excessively with each other. There is a difference between teachers who socialize and still monitor the children and those who don’t.
Other Things To Watch Out For
How do the teachers interact with each other?
This is also important to observe. Do the teachers in the room treat each other with respect and act like they genuinely enjoy working together? Or do you sense some underlying tension? If you pick up on the latter, you want to keep looking.
How do the bathrooms look?
Bathrooms in a daycare get used hard every day. However, look closely and see if there is any urine or feces on the toilets/urinals, look and see if the trash is overflowing, check the sinks and see if they look overly dirty.
More Things To Watch Out For
Fire alarms, fire extinguishers, storm shelters and safety plans.
If you don’t see them, ask where the fire alarms are and how many are in the building. They usually keep fire extinguishers in the kitchen and also in the locked supply closet. Ask about the evacuation plan in an emergency. They should post it in every classroom. When do they have fire drills and how often? How often are the fire alarms inspected? Also, if you’re in a state prone to tornados, ask if they have a storm shelter and if you can see it.
Is there enough playground space/equipment?
The youngest children should have their own playground. Sometimes two classes share a playground. Ask what the child- teacher ratio is on the playground and how many classrooms they allow outside at one time. Inspect the playground equipment. Therefore, look for broken pieces and large play structures that lean. If there is a storage area, is it organized or does it look like equipment was just thrown inside? Ask who maintains the playground equipment and how often.
You may also want to ask how often the equipment gets replaced due to wear and tear. Also pay attention to the ground. Some centers use wood chips while others use tar chips. Does there seem to be enough impact reducing material on the ground, or is it kind of sparse? One way to check is to pay attention after it pours down rain. If it looks like a swamp, there needs to be more material on the ground. If you notice in deficiencies in playground equipment, fencing, or impact reducing material, keep looking.
Informative Questions To Ask.
How often is the owner/director there and who is next in command?
It is important to know who the owner is if you ever have a serious issue. It is also important to know who the director and co-director are and the chain of command. If the owner/director is not there, do you talk to the co-director? When the owner/director are not there, is there a seasoned teacher next in command? When the owner/director does not want to be there then chances are, the staff doesn’t want to be there either. This is a red flag.
What are the classroom ratios?
Each age group in a daycare has a teacher to child ratio. Ask about the child/teacher ratio in the rooms your child will be in. Pay attention to if a room looks crowded or does not have enough teachers. This could be a sign of over enrollment and/or not being well staffed. For example, if they tell you we license a room for 30 children and you observe the chaos of 50, they are definitely over enrolled.
More Questions to Ask
How much training does each teacher have?
Head teachers should have either an Associate’s or Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education. Assistants should have at least 30 hours of classes or a child care certificate. Sometimes a center will hire someone who is just starting or still in school.
What curriculum do you use?
Does the school have a certain curriculum they follow, such as The Creative Curriculum or High/Scope? Other curriculum may include the project approach, Reggio Emilia, or Montessori. If you cannot get an answer, go somewhere else. Chances are your child will not be ready for kindergarten if they plan daily learning material with no direction, clarity or developmental guidelines.
How often does the center get cleaned?
Some centers may hire a cleaning service, while others expect their employees to pitch in to keep the center clean. In the center where I worked, we had floaters that would clean the center and help in classrooms throughout the week. Our maintenance man cleaned the carpets. If the center hires a company, ask who it is. You may even want to call them to confirm your center is one of their clients.
Where are the cameras placed?
As you walk in the front door, see if there is a television and if they turn it on. If it is, there should be a live recording of a different classroom every few minutes. Every classroom should have a camera in it and you should be able to view said camera. Therfore, you should also ask if the center has a portal on their website where you can see your child’s classroom. If you see no cameras or they turn them off, continue your search.
More Important Questions
What is the pickup/drop off policy?
Each teacher in each room should know who can and cannot pick up your child. Ask if you need to make a list of friends and family who may pick up your child. Most importantly, make sure that the center will ID those who don’t normally pick up. If someone different is dropping off/picking up your child, ask if you need to call that day and let the center know.
Leave a note in your child’s room. Our early drop offs would often leave a note on the classroom counter while others would call a little later in the morning. If your child is old enough, ask them if their teacher asked Grandma to show her ID and see what they say. If you find out your center is not checking ID’s, let the director or co-director know immediately.
What are the meal guidelines?
Full service (year round) day cares serve breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack at the least. Some centers may hire a dietician while others hire those with health department certifications. They should post a menu in each classroom and, if applicable, online.
Food Allergy Policy.
Some centers have a completely nut-free zone while others just limit to the rooms containing the allergy. Other centers ask that you provide your child’s food while other centers keep an allergy list that the kitchen staff can refer to. I suggest enrolling in a nut-free center to keep everyone safe.
School Age Pickup/Drop off.
If you have school-age children, they may ride to and from school from the center. Make sure you ask if your child’s school gets bussed to your center to avoid transportation miscommunication.
It’s scary being a new parent going to a daycare for the first time. If you keep these questions in mind, you should be able to do a good assessment and leave with solid information and peace of mind that you are choosing the right daycare center for your child.