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Daycare Dilemma :: A First-Timers Guide to What to Look for & What to Ask


Evaluating a place to care for your children is one of the more stressful decisions you will make as a parent. I’ve made it twice. I’ve started at one facility and uprooted my children to go to another facility. I’ve evaluated over 9 places through the years…and this is what I have learned.

With my son – I was a nervous pregnant momma – who had NEVER been in a childcare facility – and I was easily distracted by squeaky toys, bright colors and lots of cute babies. The second time around my evaluation was based on what I knew I liked and more importantly what I knew I didn’t like.

Here is my personal list of what to look for when you tour a facility, what to ask while you are there and what to do after you leave.   

What to look for:

  • Entry 
    • How do you gain access to the facility?
    • You will encounter everything from door codes and hand-print scanners to key fobs. You might even see locked doors where you have to be buzzed in to gain entry.
    • Whatever the system – you want to know that not anyone can walk in off the street and enter.
    • Personally I want to enter and exit whenever I want – so I prefer systems that I can gain entry on my own.
  • Front Desk
    • Is it staffed? Is it organized?
    • There is nothing more irritating than calling your child’s school and being forced to leave a message because no one picks up. You might be thinking – why would I call? How many times might I call? You will call – You want someone to pick up.
    • This is also an indication of how they staff their facility. Are they staffed enough to have a dedicated front desk person, do they find that important or is that person pulling double duty?
  • Sounds
    • Certainly the infant room (or any other room) may have a crying baby or two – but the atmosphere should feel calm, collected and not frantic.
    • Kids in the older rooms may be moving from station to station – but the chaos should feel controlled. The teacher should be in control and the kids ready to listen to prompts. You can feel an experienced teacher vs. someone who is newer – experience lends to a more controlled classroom.
  • Ratio
    • Every state has mandated ratios per classroom based on age. Are they meeting it or are the holding a higher standard?
    •  Every room in every facility may go out of ratio for a moment – when someone new arrives for the day – but how is it handled? Are extra staff immediately called to the room?
  • Cleanliness & Organization
    • How are the room organized? Where are diapers kept? Where do kids keep personal belongings?  Nothing is more frustrating than bad organization that leads to your diapers disappearing. I also don’t prefer the technique where they waste time writing each child’s initials on their diapers – there are better ways – trust me!
    • Ask them to open the fridge in the infant room – is it clean and organized so that each child’s breast milk or formula is easily identified?
    • Are the kids clean? Are spills on clothing addressed <do they wear smocks when they paint>? Are runny noses tended to? 
  • How does the place make you feel?
    • At the end of the day – you have to feel 100% comfortable when you drop them off – if not – it is all you will worry about all day. Above everything else – you have to feel confident that your baby is going to be in good hands. Don’t ignore your sixth sense – if something is making your alarms go off – it will probably get worse.  

What to ask:

  • Tour Guide
    • Ask to see several of the room – not just the one your child or children will be in – go in those room – don’t just look from the outside.
    • Ask them about staffing – when is the owner onsite, how is the office managed? What is the average tenure of the staff? How long have they been there?
    • How do transitions between rooms occur?
    • Do they have a wait list? How long?
    • Is everyone certified in first aid and CPR?
    • What extra (insert $-sign) enrichment activities do they offer? You will find everything from dance classes and soccer to piano.
  • Teachers
    • Speak to each teacher – and ask them how long they have been with the school. Certainly schools have turnover – but it should not be the norm.  
    • Lots of turnover is a horrible experience for your child – both emotionally & developmentally. 
  • Food
    • Can you bring your own food?
    • Do they have a food option? Cost? Where from? What is the variety?
    • There are pros and cons to the food issue – it is fun to send their favorites – but it is also fun to not have to worry about them being fed. I can tell you that the menu at my daycare is amazing! Its better than I eat most days. I also like that it exposes them to foods I don’t normally cook.  
    • If your child has a food allergy – ask how it will be handled. It amazes me that there are preschools that still allow kids to bring peanut butter. At such a young age the potential for exposure is way to risky. 
    • What about other dietary concerns – can they accommodate vegetarians or a child who is gluten or lactose intolerant? I assure you there are schools that can accommodate.   
    • Do they support breast-feeding? I adore that I could stop in on my lunch break and breast-feed my littles. Do they have a place you can do that comfortably? Do they encourage it?
  • Nap Time
    • Do they provide sheets and nap mats or do you bring them from home? I’ve had this both ways & them providing them is amazing – they provide them and they ensure that they are clean and ready to rock. It is one less thing off of my plate (or yours).  
  • Access
    • Can you come in anytime and see or get your children. I love that I can pop in and pick them up at whim or pop in and glance in on them. You want a facility that encourages that behavior – you want them to be welcoming to you.  
    • Some facilities even offer cameras where you can watch the classroom all day – my kids have never been in a school that offered that – but I think it would distract me all day, make me question everything they did or make me sad to not be there 24/7.  

What to do after:

  • Cost
    • You must consider if the school fits into your budget – there are lots of options and price ranges.
    • Sometimes your piece of mind is worth cutting out Starbucks. 
  • Convenience
    • You might find that a center closer to your office is better than one close to your home. It certainly makes popping in easier.
  • State Website
    • Visit your state website for the agency that does childcare inspections and see if, when & for what your facility may have incurred an infraction.  
  • Post
    • Turn to social media and ask your network! I promise they will share if they’ve had a horror story!
  • Stop Back In
    • Once you narrow your list to one or a few – go back. But this time unannounced. Go during a different time than you went before. I like to see what it looks like at drop-off or in the middle of the day.  

Lastly, if you end up someplace that you thought was perfect and it turns out not to be…move. Your children deserve to be taken care of well – you deserve the piece of mind that they are taken care of well.

If you have any questions – post them below & I’d be happy to answer!!

Good luck mommas!

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3 Responses to Daycare Dilemma :: A First-Timers Guide to What to Look for & What to Ask

  1. Amanda December 22, 2016 at 2:28 pm #

    This an extremely helpful list. I am thankful to have found a daycare for my daughter that we really love, but it was an extremely stressful process to choose the people who will be taking care of your child. I would add to not underestimate your own sense of yes this is a good place or no this is not. It could be based on absolutely nothing, but if you have a “feeling,” trust your instincts. I called one daycare because I wanted to come do a tour, and I did not like my interaction with the lady who answered my phone call (short in answering any questions, not friendly), so I didn’t even visit the actual daycare because of that one thing.

    • Monica
      Monica December 28, 2016 at 12:57 pm #

      Amanda – 1000% agree. Your gut is very important. Momma bear knows best!

  2. Ashley December 22, 2016 at 9:02 pm #

    I second all the above!!!