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What should parents look for in a daycare?

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    One of the most difficult choices parents face is who will care for their little ones when they can't. The thought of leaving your little one with a stranger all day every day can be stressful, to say the least, especially if it's your first child.

    That's why parents take such care in selecting the right child care facility for their family. They want an environment for their children which is comfortable, safe, and fun while also stimulating and motivating their child's social, mental, and physical development. 

    Choosing a daycare centre is a difficult task both logistically and emotionally. Parents seek daycare centres for several reasons, including personal and professional obligations, social skills development, and others.

    These parents are searching for a clean, quality daycare centre with a passionate, experienced staff, no matter the motivation!

    Things Parents Look for in a Child Care Center

    Aesthetics

    While aesthetics may not seem that important, you only get one chance to make a first impression on parents touring your child care facilities. While you won't always have a brand new building, the building should be kept clean and well maintained to appear cared-for and fresh. If you don't take care of your building, why should they assume you'll take care of their children? 

    To create an atmosphere, select bright paint colours to promote a comfortable, cheery feel and choose fun and comfortable floor mats or rugs to brighten up old hardwood or tile.

    Organise toys strategically in various centres around the room and use wall decals, art, and decorations to add to the mood and make each day fun and exciting for the children. Putting your children's art on the walls or painting a mural are great ways to make rooms bright and inviting at a minimal cost! 

    Security

    Although dropping their little ones off for the day is tough for parents, knowing their children are safe and well cared for will help give them peace of mind. 

    As parents tour your facility, they will be looking for who has access to their child throughout the day, what safety features and procedures you have on the playground, and how secure your check-in/out system is. Parents want to know that you are doing everything in your power to keep their children safe. 

    Utilising technology can help ensure that processes like securely signing children in and out of the centre. Software programs like Sandbox Software include a contactless timeclock feature that requires parents to sign their child(ren) in and out of the centre using a secure passcode.

    Parents can even request an automated email alert from the Sandbox app to notify them whenever their child is signed in and out of the centre. Diligence and protocol, along with technology, will allow parents to enjoy their day stress-free, knowing that their children are safe at your centre.

    Relationships

    No one wants to leave their child with a stranger. The potential to make new connections and grow friendships is what most parents look for when seeking the right child care centre for their child. They want to connect with the teachers and directors themselves and want their children to make friends.

    Creating an environment that encourages acceptance, inclusion, and community-building for both parents and children in your child care centre will increase satisfaction in your centre and customer retention and referrals. 

    One practical way to encourage relationship building within your centre is by offering coffee in the lobby during drop off or pick up times to promote discussion (although admittedly, this may not be possible in the current climate). In addition, encourage teachers to greet each student as they enter the room each day, and ideally, greet parents the same way. By respecting and valuing everyone and encouraging parents and children to share their experiences and perspectives, you will create a sense of community that makes your centre stand out from the rest.

    Healthy Growing Opportunities

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    In the digital age, exercise often takes a backseat to entertainment at the cost of physical and mental health. For a good reason, children's health has become a top priority for parents, especially during the pandemic. Parents are looking for a centre that will foster a healthy body and mind through a mix of exercise, play-based learning, and healthy nutritional options. 

    This is why there is a big push towards "organic", "outdoor preschools", and "creative movement" within early childhood education. So naturally, each child care centre will adopt different aspects of these trends to fit their philosophy while discarding others, which is fine. However, keep in mind that many parents value these things, especially if it is obvious they are being put into practice rather than used as buzzwords or marketing ploys. 

    Consider the value of increasing physical activities and healthy or organic snack options at your centre. Could an extra cost for more nutritious snacks be a worthy investment? Can you increase recess or provide more daily physical activity inside the classrooms without compromising your program? These are all things to consider when developing healthy habits for little ones.

    Don't feel like you have to do everything at once. Pick a few items to start with, such as adding extra recess or nutritional snacks once or twice a week and see the difference it makes!

    Cost

    Let's face it. Child care is expensive. In Australia, parents spend $42 billion a year on childcare. Many parents need to go back to work to make ends meet but find that the childcare they require is difficult to afford. This catch-22 means you need to ensure that your pricing is appropriate for the demographic of parents who will be sending their child(ren) to your centre.

    There are Government subsidies available for many parents to help make child care more affordable. Ensure that you understand how the subsidies work to explain these options to potential clients and point them in the appropriate direction for assistance.

    Things to Consider When Choosing a Daycare

    Program and curriculum

    No matter how young your little one may be, it's never too early to begin age-appropriate learning. When looking for daycare, take time to learn each centre's program and curriculum. Find out what lessons are being taught and if these lessons are age-appropriate. Ask what their goals are for teaching and if the programs are tailored according to a child's age and developmental stage.

    You'll also want to ensure that there is ample time for play because play is essential to young children's holistic growth. Also, ask how you can get updates on your child's developmental progress.

    School environment

    Another important factor to consider when choosing a daycare is the school environment. Pick a childcare centre with a warm and welcoming environment. Make sure that the location is also safe for young children. Find out if the school has safety and security procedures to protect its students.

    Are the buildings, classrooms, playgrounds and outdoor areas safe for kids? Are there any safety hazards you should be worried about? Take time to look at these things when you're at the facility you're checking out.

    Facilities and materials

    A high-quality childcare centre has a friendly and warm environment conducive to learning. Be sure to pick a daycare with clean and sanitary buildings and classrooms. Check their toys and learning materials to make sure they are safe and child-friendly.

    Are the materials age-appropriate? Are the pieces of equipment in good working condition? By taking the time to check these things, it will be a lot easier to select a learning environment that can bring out the best in your child.

    Teacher and student interaction

    The teachers and staff in the daycare should also be assessed during your visit. Be sure to learn more about the teachers' educational background and experience when working with kids. For example, find out if they have been trained and certified in first aid, CPR and infection control.

    Also, don't forget to pay attention to how the staff and teachers interact with their students. Observe if they have an engaging interaction and if the children respond well to their teacher. Also, notice their actions, body language and the words they use in communicating with kids.

    Day to day activities

    The daily activities and routine can vary greatly between daycare centres. For example, some invest more time in structured classroom activities, while others emphasise outdoor trips and activities. Consider your child's needs and behaviour to determine the daycare program that suits them best. Also, consider how it compliments your parenting style.

    Recommendations

    Another way to find out if a child care centre is an excellent choice is by speaking to other parents. Ask other parents or even your family and friends for their recommendations. Ask them what they think of a particular daycare and if there are other options, they can recommend. It is also a good idea to do online research and visit the daycare's website. Read parent reviews and pay close attention to any red flags.

    First impression

    Never ignore your gut instinct when choosing a daycare. First impressions are important. When you feel like something is not right, then something probably isn't. How did you feel about the daycare centres you visited? Did you feel welcomed? Does it seem like a happy and friendly place? Does your child like the place? How did they react during the visit?

    Tips for Choosing Child Care

    Look down

    When you're visiting a potential site, pay attention to how the staff interacts with the children. Ideally, a caregiver should be on the floor playing with the kids or holding one on her lap. However, babies need close, loving, interactive relationships with adults in their early years to thrive.

    That's why it's especially important that babies' first caregivers be warm and responsive and that even in group care, infants and older babies get a healthy dose of one-on-one time. 

    Ask for a commitment

    Babies need consistent, predictable care. In addition, it helps them to form a secure attachment to their caregivers, according to Debra K. Shutoff, a family therapist in private practice in St. Louis. If you're looking at an in-home caregiver, request that the person you're considering make a one-year commitment to the job. If you're considering a centre, find out how long the current caregivers have been working there and how much turnover the centre usually experiences.

    Do a policy check

    Find out whether you share parenting philosophies on topics such as discipline (Do the caregivers use time-outs, scoldings?); television (Is the TV on all day or used sparingly, if at all?); feeding (What snacks or drinks are provided for older babies?); sleeping (When are naps offered? How are fussy babies put to sleep?); and so forth. Inquire about the sick-child policy (What symptoms prevent a child from attending?).

    Also, ask whether there's a backup plan should the family daycare provider or in-home caregiver get sick and be unable to work. The more questions you ask early on, the less likely you are to be unpleasantly surprised later.

    Drop by and spy

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    While word-of-mouth referrals from other parents or trusted resources are important, you need to look at a place for yourself to assess whether it meets your needs. Of course, any childcare environment should be kept clean, childproofed, and well stocked with sturdy books and age-appropriate toys. Other details to consider: When older children share the space, toys with small parts (choking hazards) should be kept away from younger babies.

    Ideally, infants and babies should have their area where older toddlers won't get "loved" too much. A room or separate area dedicated solely to swings and bouncers may look appealing at first glance, but keep in mind that growing babies need plenty of floor time to develop and strengthen their muscles.

    If possible, try to visit the same centres at different times to get a sense of how the staff interacts with the children and what the routine is. In addition, you may want to consider popping in unannounced a few times after you've enrolled your child to see how things are going. Sometimes your visits will confirm that the place is right for you, but sometimes they'll be a real eye-opener.

    Keep talking

    Until your baby can talk, you will be relying on what the caregiver tells you about your child's day. Make sure you can communicate comfortably with each other. For example, when you first hand off your child in the morning, you should tell the caregiver how your little one slept the night before, if he is teething, and whether he ate breakfast. You'll want to know similar information, such as the number of diapers he went through when he napped and if he seemed happy overall.

    It's always preferable to speak to the caregiver in person. If that's not possible, ask if there's a convenient time to phone, perhaps at nap time.

    Problem-solve pronto

    You'll inevitably experience conflicts with your caregiver, both large and small. Address problems right away rather than ignoring them until they grow out of proportion. Some issues can be resolved quickly; others may require more discussion. Whatever the conflict, respectfully treat the caregiver, but don't be afraid to speak up, says Deborah Borchers, MD, a pediatrician in private practice in Cincinnati.

    When broaching a difficult subject, ask the caregiver's opinion, and hear her out. As the parent, you have the final word with an in-home caregiver, but you're more likely to elicit cooperation if the caregiver knows she has been heard. For example, instead of demanding an earlier nap time to make bedtime easier, ask the caregiver if she has ideas about how to adjust your baby's schedule so he won't grow so overtired in the evening.

    Trust your gut.

    Every parent knows when something doesn't feel quite right. You may be turned off by a centre everyone in town raves about or clash with a highly recommended sitter. If that happens, keep searching. Babies deserve and thrive under good, nurturing care. If something doesn't feel right about your situation, investigate other options.

    Be open to change.

    You're not married to a particular person or situation, and if things don't work out, you can always make a switch. So yes, you want consistency for your baby, but that doesn't mean you can't alter arrangements. Babies are resilient; as long as they're having a positive experience with their new caregiver, they'll be just fine, points out Dr Shatoff.

    No matter what your work hours, you are still your child's essential caregiver—the most consistent source of love and support in her life. Under your care and guidance, along with the help of your well-chosen caregivers, your baby will flourish and grow into a happy, healthy child.

    What to Avoid in a Daycare

    Some daycare centre red flags indicate low-quality and potentially dangerous facility practices.

    Vague & Undocumented Policies

    Daycare policies should be clear and readily available either on the website or at the centre. A lack of policy information brings overall centre function into question with regards to security and safety.

    High Child: Teacher Ratio

    Providing high-quality care for numerous children is a demanding job, and to meet each child's individual needs, child: teacher ratios should remain low. Specifically, standards indicate no more than the 4:1 ratio for infants and no more than 6:1 for toddlers to age two. If the ratios are too high, teachers may become overwhelmed when trying to care for children.

    Lack of Cleanliness/Child-proofing

    During a drop-in, parents should take notice of classroom cleanliness and childproof. Ensure teachers clean surfaces before and after meals, examine sockets, exposed wires, and windows for safety. A lack of cleanliness and classroom safety is a dangerous red flag for daycare quality.

    Children Seem Bored

    While touring a daycare facility, parents should observe child behaviour. For example, if the children appear bored or withdrawn, this could indicate a lack of stimulation or a negative environment.

    High Staff Turnover

    This information may be available on the centre's website or during a tour. Facilities that pay and treat staff well are more likely to have a higher-quality environment and staff maintenance. Conversely, a high staff turnover may indicate that staff is unhappy or underpaid, among other possible flaws in the centre's staff structure.

    Difficult Director Communication

    The centre's director should be responsive and easy to reach. If voice messages and emails go unreturned for a long time, parents may consider the negative impacts of such communication on future parent/centre relationships.

    After vetting daycare centres to a top two or three, parents will want to start thinking of specific and personal questions to ask during prospect tours. Writing down questions is important because it helps parents focus while overwhelmed with information and emotion during daycare tours.

    Parents selected up to 5 factors they would consider most important when choosing a childcare or preschool. The top 5 factors differed by the child's current setting: ... Childcare center: staff background checks (46%), staff have early childhood training (42%), doors locked (36%), cost (33%), and location/hours (32%)

    And while there are many reasons why parents choose a particular program—cost, location, the teachers, shared values, the program's specific focus—one thing is universal: As parents walk away from the classroom in the morning to start their own day, each of them hopes that they have made the right decision and that ...

    There are seven quality areas which services are rated against under the National Quality Standard:
    • Educational program and practice.
    • Children's health and safety.
    • Physical environment.
    • Staffing arrangements.
    • Relationships with children.
    • Collaborative Partnerships with families and communities.
    • Governance and Leadership.
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