Finding the right childcare for your kid is no easy task (in fact, it’s downright stressful). You want to drop your kid off someplace that not only feels comfortable and cozy but also closely aligns with your own parenting philosophies. In other words, you want to find your child a home away from home. That’s why we’ve put together a list of pertinent questions to ask daycare providers—so read on, friends, and feel yourself relax.
1. What is your approach to discipline?
This one ranks at the top of the list—namely because you can tell a lot about a provider’s general philosophy by how they choose to discipline the kids in their care. Explore this subject further by asking more pointed questions. Does the staff use a raised voice to reprimand children? Does their approach differ depending on the age of the child? Are time-outs used, and if so, what does that look like? Are there ‘punishments’ or consequences for bad behavior? Every parent handles discipline differently but it’s important to know that the general attitude of the daycare center squares away with your own.
2. What is the daily schedule like?
Daycares can vary considerably in this regard, with some being highly structured and others operating on an all-day free play model with meal breaks. It doesn’t matter if your personal preference lies with either approach or somewhere in between—you’re going to want to get a sense of what exactly your child is doing all day.
3. How has the staff been vetted?
It’s a good idea to ask the provider whether or not staff members are certified and background checked. You’ll feel reassured knowing that every member of the staff has been screened for criminal behavior as well completed the formal training required to meet the state standards for providing high-quality early childhood care.
4. What’s the caretaker-to-child ratio?
Across the country, the demand for daycare is high, and centers that don’t maintain a hard-and-fast ratio can easily become overwhelmed—no matter how talented and well-intentioned the staff. Address this upfront so you can rest assured that your provider has the resources required to meet the physical and emotional needs of your child. (Note: At the very minimum, the daycare should meet the state-mandated staff-to-child ratio, which varies depending on where you live.)
5. Are children divided into groups by age?
In many cases, daycare is part of the equation from infancy right up until the first day of kindergarten. But the needs of a 5-month-old are very different compared to those of a 4-year-old. If the provider in question cares for kids from a wide range of ages, it’s wise to find out what system is in place to help staff manage the disparate needs so that no child is left behind.
6. How do you comfort kids who are upset?
A responsive caregiver is a must, but the devil is in the details when it comes to the benefits provided by responsiveness. As such, it’s important to ask a prospective caregiver about the specifics of how they interact and soothe a distressed child. Do they hug and hold a crying child until the tears have stopped? Do they give a couple perfunctory pats on the back and walk away? An ideal caregiver should be able to prioritize and show compassion for any child who is having a hard time.
7. Do the children get time outside?
Young children benefit tremendously from active outside play. If the daycare provider you’re considering doesn’t have an on-site outdoor space, you should find out whether or not the kids have an opportunity to visit local parks and playgrounds on the regular.
8. Do you provide any educational curriculum?
Look, a daycare provider likely doesn’t have the time to teach your preschooler how to read so don’t bother grilling a potential caretaker on areas of academic study. But for daycare-aged kids, education involves play-based learning of basic skills (think: shape-sorting, color identification and fine motor skill development). It’s a good sign if all these educational toys are available, but young kids often need a little guidance when it comes to making use of them equally. Meaning, it’s reasonable to inquire whether or not the provider makes an effort to steer children towards skill-boosting exercises and encourage their progress.
9. Is screen time permitted?
There’s not too much to say about this one since everyone draws their own line in the sand when it comes to screen time (and maybe sometimes we draw it, erase it and then draw it again). Wherever you stand on screen time, you likely wouldn’t be thrilled to discover you’re paying a sizable portion of your salary so that your 6-month-old can watch back-to-back Disney movies. The solution? Address the issue upfront so you can be certain that you and the provider are on the same page.
10. Are caregivers able to provide regular updates?
Communication is key when it comes to childcare of any kind. Be sure to ask prospective daycare providers if they’re available to respond to parents with periodic updates throughout the day. Note: You don’t want to be the crazy lady who’s micromanaging your kid’s childcare experience and blowing up the provider’s phone—but a little correspondence (and perhaps a smiling baby pic) can go a long way towards putting your mind at ease.
11. Are meals and snacks provided?
Do you have to pack lunch for your kid? If not, score! (That’s 15 extra minutes of sleep, friends.) Still, if food is offered by the provider, get the lowdown on what they’re serving so you can make other arrangements if any of the food on the daycare menu is off-limits for your child.
12. Are children required to be up-to-date on immunizations?
File this one under major safety concerns—especially if you’re sending an infant or younger child into a daycare setting. Sickness spreads like wildfire wherever there’s a group of kids, and babies who are not old enough to have received all their vaccinations are particularly vulnerable. In other words, you should absolutely ask about the daycare center’s vaccination policy and what steps they take to enforce it.
13. Is there a licensed nurse on staff?
This may or may not be a deal breaker, but parents of children with allergies and other preexisting conditions might take great comfort in knowing that there’s a licensed medical professional on-site in the event that something goes wrong. Note: This is also important if considerable travel time is required to transport a sick child from the daycare center to the nearest hospital.
14. What protocol do you follow when a child is sick or injured?
To evaluate the answer to this question, you’re going to need to find your own comfort zone. In other words, do you want to be notified midday if your kid scraped his knee or will that cause you needless stress? Is a bumped head always a need-to-know situation or do you trust the caregiver’s judgment when it comes to assessing the child for symptoms of a more serious injury? Communication about minor injuries can and should be negotiated between parent and provider. And be sure to ask about their sick policy—knowing the details in advance can help prepare you for a situation that requires an early pick-up or a missed day.
15. What’s your policy in the event of late pick-up?
Even the most punctual parent should be prepared for a situation in which they just can’t get to the daycare on time (hey, stuff happens). For this reason, it’s helpful to know what the provider’s policy is on late pick-up. Some of the territory you’ll want to cover includes how much you will be charged for late pick-up and whether or not you can give last-minute permission (over the phone or via email) for your child to be sent home with a friend or neighbor should you find yourself running really late.
16. Do you offer a refund for missed days due to illness or vacation?
If you’re lucky this question will be relevant because you’ve planned a fabulous tropical vacation, but travel plans notwithstanding, this one is important because young children get sick a lot and every daycare has different rules in place regarding what constitutes too-sick-to-attend. Different providers will also have different policies with regards to how a sick day (or a week-long vacation) will affect your pocketbook—and some are more flexible than others. Bonus question: Don’t forget to ask what their refund policy is in case of a government-mandated closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
17. Does the staff provide potty training support?
If your child is going to be attending daycare as they approach potty-training age, life will be much easier if the caregiver in question is down to help you tackle the job. That’s because for most kids, potty-training requires consistency (and more than a two-day weekend).
18. What is your visitation policy?
Maybe you’re a breastfeeding mother who works nearby and would like to pop in during the day to nurse. Or perhaps, you want to drop in and see firsthand what your child’s day is like. There are plenty of reasons why you might want to pay a visit to your kid’s daycare, so ask the provider about their visitation policy, both announced and unannounced. If they get weird or defensive, back away slowly. (But keep in mind that there are valid reasons why a daycare might not love unannounced visits, like they can be disruptive or make things harder for a child who’s struggling with separation anxiety.)
19. Are the toys regularly cleaned and sanitized? How about the space?
Neither parent nor child enjoys back-to-back bouts of illness, and the unpleasant experience is more likely to occur if the daycare staff don’t maintain a high standard of hygiene. This includes practicing and enforcing appropriate hand-washing habits, sanitizing toys often and cleaning the entire space (i.e., the floor your kid is crawling around on) regularly. (Note: This question is always relevant, but particularly during these Covid-19 times.)
20. How do you handle naps?
Naps are critical for development during the baby and toddler years, and young children that go without them are more likely to experience poor sleep at night. It can be a struggle for daycare providers to encourage naps when all the kids are on different schedules, so it’s good to know if there’s scheduled quiet time in which favorable conditions for a snooze will be ensured. Depending on the space, the daycare may even have a separate room where sleepy kids can escape the activity and be put down for a nap on their own schedule. (Trust us on this one—it’s a lot more fun to bring home a well-rested baby.)
21. Does the facility have functioning cameras?
Just the thought of a serious incident occurring while a child is at daycare will strike fear in the heart of any parent, and hopefully it never happens to you. Still, in the event that something does go down, video footage will ensure that you’re able to get to the bottom of it. Asking a provider about security cameras in the center doesn’t make you crazy—you’re just a parent trying to anticipate an unfortunate circumstance (no matter how unlikely) in the interest of your child’s safety.
22. How do you deal with conflicts between peers?
In all likelihood, the answer to this question will mirror the response you received about the role of discipline at the daycare. That said, social-emotional learning is everything for small kids—and they start off pretty clueless. The inevitable conflicts that occur between little kids can include anything from relatively harmless stuff (like grabbing the same toy) to more upsetting misdeeds (like biting), but how they’re handled always matters. So, does the provider respond by letting the kids duke it out? (Some say this encourages independence, others say it encourages bullying.) Or does a staff member intervene and try to understand the feelings of both children involved before helping them through some age-appropriate form of conflict resolution? Whatever approach you prefer, you’ll want to pick a provider whose views align with yours.
23. What supplies should I provide for my child?
You pay a pretty penny for daycare, so it’s fair to compare providers based on what materials they supply. Sure, it might not be your number one consideration in picking a caregiver, but it doesn’t hurt to ask if you need to send your child in with wipes, diapers, snacks, face masks, art supplies, paper towels, etc. (Note: Most, if not all, daycares will ask you for some provisions, but how the specifics of how they handle it could mean either more or less hassle and expense for you.)
24. What holidays are celebrated?
Holidays are important for many families and it’s understandable to want some festivities to take place in the context of a daycare setting. However, because daycare centers often look after a diverse group of kids, some may choose a secular approach and stick to the solstices, while others opt to celebrate some big days from every faith and cultural background. If you prefer the holidays are treated in a particular way, be sure to get the scoop.
25. Has the facility been baby-proofed?
Toddlers and babies who have just become mobile are famous for crawling, climbing and stumbling towards danger like moths to the flame. Of course, vigilance is key, but with a group of the young and reckless, thorough baby proofing is the only way to ensure no one sticks a finger in a socket.