Subtle Signs of a High-Quality Daycare

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Daycare businesses want customers and will use words such as “child-centered”, “individualized”, “creative curriculum”,  “high-quality”, and “accredited” to bait customers. But how can you tell if their service is actually good or not? It’s harder to do than you’d imagine, but here are my insider tips into finding out.

  1. Find out if the provider is good with kids or not.
    This one can be tricky, but it’s fairly easy to tell if you know what to look for. If they easily redirect a child’s behavior, take the child’s safety as more important than the conversation you’re having with them, get down on the child’s level when speaking to them, don’t force a hug or other “touches”, immediately console a child that is hurt or sad, and seem to have a confident and calm way of handling these situations, then they are naturally (or trained) to be good with children and help them form positive habits.
  2. “Accredited” simply means that the business paid a fee ($900-$1200) to have someone come and observe the facility and give a thumbs up. It’s not really an indicator of quality.
    While an accredited business may have more financial investment in their business, it also means that you, as a customer of that business, are now paying for that stamp of approval. A hike in costs can be 20% of the would-be rate you would’ve had. Businesses know that consumers want assurance of standards and that most parents don’t do much research but instead go off of marketing and qualifiers the business can list.
  3. The food served at a daycare is a good indicator of its overall quality.
    If a daycare center is $200/week and makes parents supply food, drinks, wipes, diapers, clean bed linens weekly etc. versus a daycare home that is $180/week that provides homemade (sometimes organic) food, beverages, wipes, and cleans bed linens… which one is a better value? As a parent myself, I’d prefer the easier route on my end that also provides my child with the best opportunities, food, and experience. Most parents don’t have time or resources to pack a well-balanced lunch for their finicky toddler and so a daycare that provides quality meals is an indicator of quality all-around.
  4. Is the daycare area spic and span when you arrive for pick-up? That may not be a good thing!
    You’d think that arriving to a daycare for pick-up that’s clean and tidy means that you’re getting high-quality care, right? Well if you think of it from this perspective, maybe you’ll change your mind: children for the last 45 minutes of daycare are told to sit on a rug and to only look at books until their parents arrive while the daycare provider tidies up the room, cleaning floors, windows, toys, bottles, sippy cups, etc. So instead of letting them have fun until pick-up, the provider puts their needs ahead of the children. Not quality.
  5. Are you told/shown what is expected of you as a parent or left wondering how things work?
    A good daycare business is organized and will show and/or tell its parents how things work, when payment is due, what holidays are observed, what their late policy is, what take-home assignments are to be done, their policy on birthday parties and treats, how drop-off and pick-up are done, how to sign in and out, of any major events coming up, etc. If their communication or language skills aren’t fluent and proactive, then they are likely unorganized and/or low-quality.
  6. Do the children have at least 30 minutes of outdoor play daily?
    Children need to burn off some steam and to get their bodies stronger as they grow. Gross and fine motor skills are developed through outdoor play. Gross motor being things like climbing, running, jumping and fine motor being things like picking up leaves, touching tree bark, and blowing bubbles. Without outdoor play time (or at least a larger, separate area for gross motor play in inclement weather), it’s likely that the kids will go stir-crazy and be wound up all day being indoors.
  7. Art experiences are important but the kind of project needs to be open-ended and not aimed to get a specific finished result.
    The best kinds of art that children can do is where they are given materials, paper, and are left to it. My favorite creations that my son makes are the kind that are totally open-ended: one he put cut-out triangles and pompoms onto a glued piece of paper. Another was one that he stuck pieces of shredded pieces of tissue paper onto a glued piece of paper. They are my favorites because it was entirely his creation, not some contrived thing that all the kids made and had help with. This was just his art. Too bad he ripped them up while playing one day!  😥
  8. A variety of toys for both boys and girls plus a mix of simple, current stage, and challenging toys and play materials.
    There needs to be dolls and house toys for boys and cars and building blocks for girls. Children this young don’t have gender roles engraved into their brains yet which makes it the best time for letting them explore all kinds of toys and make-believe experiences. Young boys go on to become fathers one day and young girls go on to have math and science in school, so there needs to be a focus of well-roundedness for all children attending. In addition, there should be room for growth. Children need to have toys that challenge them and make them think to a new level- this is how they grow and become smarter and solve bigger and bigger “problems” every day.
  9. Safety should always be #1!
    Take a look around and note if the following things that indicate safety: outlet covers, no items that can be pulled down and cause harm in the daycare area, tall bookcases/shelves should be bolted to the wall, glass decor or drinking glasses should not be used, pacifiers need to be stored separately from others to prevent germ-swapping, hands need to be washed often and by everyone (daycare provider and children), doors to the outside need to remain locked and closed, animals should be kept away from the daycare area, yard outside should not have animal waste in it, yard needs to be fenced with no means of escape, gate latch should be out of reach for a child, children should never be left unattended (especially near water or in the bathroom), hazardous chemicals should be stored up high and away from children, cabinet locks and other childproofing of cabinets should be used, diaper changing station should have an impermeable surface that is cleaned and/or sanitized often, dirty diapers should be changed promptly to avoid rashes, cooking knives should be stored safely and out of reach, children should not be in the kitchen when cooking tasks are going on, burner turn-ons should not be accessible by little hands, etc.
  10. Go with your gut!
    If you sense that there’s something amiss or if your child cries every time you drop them off, then that could be a sign that the provider isn’t meeting your child’s needs or that your child doesn’t feel welcome there. It’s normal for the first week or so for a bit of fussing or crying at drop-off, but if your child turns away from a provider and has a scared look on their face, then you may need to look elsewhere for your daycare needs.

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