Finding a great daycare or preschool is like finding gold. And it can take a lot of time investigating, touring, interviewing many candidates before you find one you truly trust. Take it from me – all daycares and preschools are NOT created equal!
We found a wonderful daycare when I was pregnant with Little Miss S (my oldest). They are nationally accredited, they’ve achieved the highest level of a state-wide certification program, their teachers are degreed and receive continuing education, they provide excellent and loving care AND a fantastic early education experience. We always feel comfortable and welcome to drop in at any time and our kids LOVE it there.
But they are very expensive. When I was working full-time, it was doable; but when I started my consulting business one of my goals was to maintain a part-time work schedule. Which equates to a part-time income. Which makes affording this caliber of childcare provider very tough.
So we did some searching and found another provider. They looked pretty good on paper. Not as high of a certification level, but still certified. We toured and interviewed and were confident about the quality of care our kids’ would receive.
We gave it six months. During that time, there were several incidents that raised concern and eventually we ended up withdrawing our children from that provider and re-enrolling them at the first daycare (that we never wanted to leave in the first place!).
Five Questions to Ask When Looking For Daycare/Preschool
(that you didn’t think you needed to ask!)
1. What is their smoking policy? It seems like common sense that a daycare/preschool would have a smoke-free property policy. Asking about this honestly never occurred to me until I was talking with a teachers’ assistant and could smell smoke on her. I know her choice to smoke cigarettes is her business, but I do not want my children around thirdhand smoke (which is the smoke that gets trapped in a smoker’s hair and clothes).
This toxic mix of thirdhand smoke contains cancer-causing substances, posing a potential health hazard to nonsmokers who are exposed to it, especially children.
– Lowell Dale M.D., Mayo Clinic (source)
2. What are their potty training procedures? I guess I got spoiled by our first daycare experience. There, potty training is done with great care and at the pace set by the child. Teachers are encouraging and helpful, regardless of the child’s age or level of potty training.
At the second daycare/preschool we used, once children reach age 3 they are no longer assisted in the bathroom. Like, at all. I didn’t know this – because, once again, I didn’t think this was even something that needed to be asked – until my 3-year-old told me no one would help her wipe her bottom. I could not believe that 3-year-olds are expected to be completely potty-independent. And then she had a potty accident (which in itself was a red flag to me because this child NEVER has accidents) and the teacher would not help her clean up! That was the last straw for us. A child should never be left to feel helpless in any situation.
3. How do they handle violent play themes? Again, common sense tells me that this type of play is simply not allowed. But when my 3-year-old came home and told me, “Alex* told me I’m dead because he shot me with a gun.” you can imagine my level of upset. When I talked to the lead teacher about it, her response was that the assistants that take over in the afternoon are younger and tend to “let things go” that they probably shouldn’t. She assured me she would speak with the assistants, but those play themes did not stop. *This is not the child’s real name.
This type of thing has NEVER happened at the other place, and when I asked what they’d do in this situation the director told me that he would personally speak to the parents of the children initiating these games and sternly express the center’s policy against them.
At the very least, the facility should have some policy regarding violent play themes. Even if it is simply that they are not allowed.
4. What is their cell phone policy? There is no reason under normal circumstances that any teacher or assistant needs to have a cell phone in the classroom. If there is an emergency while someone is at work, they can be contacted by calling the employer. Cell phones are a distraction and the temptation to casually text or play around on Facebook is way too strong. Cell phones should NOT be allowed in the classroom.
I couldn’t tell you how many times I walked in the classroom at the second daycare we tried to see a teacher or assistant looking at her cell phone. That is simply unacceptable, in my opinion.
5. What is their “outside time” policy? In other words, how often do kids go out to play and under what conditions are they kept inside? Maybe I’m a weirdo on this one, but I want my kids outside playing every single day if possible. If it’s raining or extremely cold, yes, please keep them in. But our state has guidelines for licensed daycares and preschools that say when children should be taken out to play or kept indoors, and as a parent I prefer that those guidelines be followed. They are in place to make sure kids are getting adequate outside time.
There were many times last fall and winter when my kids’ classes didn’t go outdoors at all when weather conditions were conducive to outside play. The teachers at that daycare/preschool didn’t like to take the kids out if it was 40°F because they would get cold standing around watching the kids play. But to kids who are running, jumping, and climbing, that’s not cold!
When you are a working mom, it is tough to make time for outside play at home on days you work. I feel that I should be able to rely on our childcare provider to provide that time for my kids.
These are the questions I will be sure to add to my interview if we ever have to find another daycare or preschool for our kids. I’m sharing with you because to me they seemed obvious. I didn’t think it was even something to question! Only you can decide what the answers to these questions should be, but please just don’t assume you don’t need to ask.