For working moms, daycare is a part of life. Whether you decide to get a babysitter or enroll your baby in a daycare program, finding the right caregiver is a pretty big, and often stressful, deal. It’s important to start your search early — like when you’re still in the early to mid-months of being pregnant, as many daycares have long waitlists. Once you’ve narrowed down your list of places to visit, consider asking these 12 questions to get a better sense of what each daycare has to offer.
Before You Schedule a Tour
It’s worth asking a couple of key questions before getting a tour on the books. After all, your time for window shopping is limited and, depending on how big of a city you live in, the options may need to be narrowed down to save your sanity.
1. Are you currently enrolling new students and do you have space for my child? The big thing you’re looking for here is whether or not there’s a wait list. If there is, ask for the best estimate of when there would be room for your child and if there’s a fee to get on the list. If it’s not looking like they’ll be able to enroll your kiddo by the date you need them to start, it may be worth skipping the tour so you can focus on other options.
2. What’s the monthly tuition? Some may share this in the initial phone call, while others won’t, in the hope that they can get you into the daycare to dazzle you with how amazing the program is (before you can gawk at the price). Here’s the thing — daycare is expensive. And the really awesome places are probably on par with college tuition. What you can afford is a super personal choice, and it’s totally worth getting some costs upfront before touring a daycare, falling in love and then finding out it’s totally out of your budget.
During the Tour
3. What are your accreditations? The bigger daycare facilities will have this info for you right up front, but some smaller operations may forget to offer the info. The national accreditations typically have higher standards than local and state accreditations, and some states may be stricter than others in how they rate daycares. To get a grip on some of this, check out this list of national accreditations and bone up on what it all means before you ask.
4. Is there an open-door policy? If not, why? An open-door policy is when a daycare welcomes parents to visit whenever their kid is in daycare. This is particularly important for nursing moms looking for a daycare they can pop into for a lunchtime nursing sesh. If the daycare frowns on parental visiting, ask why. This could be a red flag, as there shouldn’t be a time of the day when you don’t have access to your baby. It could also be completely reasonable, but you won’t know until you ask.
5. How do you hire staff and what are their qualifications? Get to know more about who’s going to be spending time with your little one all day. Why do they work there? What’s their caregiving style? Are they experienced? Have they worked with your child’s age group for very long? Dig in and don’t be shy to get the low down. After all, the quality of your child’s care is only as good as the people providing it.
6. What’s staff turnover like? Here you’re checking to see if there’s a high turnover rate. If the staff doesn’t stick around for long, ask why. Maybe it’s because there are a lot of younger people on staff who are studying to become teachers and leave when they graduate. Maybe it’s because the daycare provider doesn’t provide adequate support for the staff. This is important, because consistency in your child’s care is important — and so is a happy roster of staff who are excited and motivated to give your child the best care possible.
7. What’s the ratio for each classroom (by age group)? Every state has its own standards for this. For infants, it’s typically five students for each teacher. If the daycare mixes age groups in one room, ask how they account for the correct ratios. To learn more, check out this guide to what your state’s ratio and overall childcare licensing requirements are.
8. What’s the curriculum and how do they communicate with parents? You may be wondering, curriculum for infants? But, yeah, that exists! For the itty bitty babies, this is usually sensory-type activities that are created around a month’s theme. Having a curriculum in the school shows that the teachers are planning for the day and engaging in activities with your child as she develops each week and month. The other part of this question gives you a sense of how the caregiver will be co-parenting with you. Will they talk to you about observed milestones or something they think your baby may be ready to try (like solid foods)? The daycare will quickly become part of your child-raising village, so look for a daycare that prides itself on daily communication.
9. What are the emergency procedures for my child’s room? Has the daycare thought about how to keep the children, of all ages, safe in the event of an emergency? For the infant room, this can be a getaway crib that they put all the babies in and roll out the emergency door. Whatever the method, make sure there is one.
10. What holidays or other dates are you closed? You might be expecting daycare to close on federal holidays, like President’s Day, but there may also be days when the daycare closes for training or administrative tasks. By knowing this going in, you’ll be able to have a better idea of how many times you’ll need to take PTO, work from home or find alternate childcare.
11. Can I come back for an observation day? This is like asking to take the daycare for a child-free test run. It’s basically an opportunity for you to come in and watch your child’s potential class in action before you enroll. This is a great way to get an idea of how the teacher runs her class, how well the daycare is organized and if they really practice what they pitched to you on the tour.
12. What’s your sick child policy? When you ask this question, you’ll get info on when the center considers a child too sick to come in, when a child is sick enough to be sent home, if medicine can be given at the daycare and what the doctor’s note policy is. Some daycares are very strict with sick policies to keep the healthiest environment possible, while others are a little more relaxed — which is great for working moms — but could be a breeding ground for illness.
Tweet us your best questions to ask a potential daycare provider and what other mamas should look out for @BritandCo!