Call around. You’re a busy parent. To save time and energy, begin your search by calling for essential information. Remember teachers and caregivers are busy, too. It’s usually best to call centers in the early afternoon (during the children’s naptime) and family child care providers in the evening. Before you call, plan what you want to ask. Here are some basic questions.
• Where is the program located?
• What are the hours of operation?
• What is the age range of the children in the program?
• How are children of different ages, needs, and abilities grouped? (For example, some programs choose to combine age groups, such as infants and toddlers, while others use narrower age groupings.)
• How many children are in each group?
• How many adults work with a group?
• Is the program licensed? (For the most part, states require child care centers to be licensed, but many family child care providers care for children in their homes without licensure.)
• Is the program accredited? (See “NAEYC-Accredited Program” information below.)
• What are the qualifications of the director and staff?
• What is the program cost?
You’ll probably have other questions of your own. For family child care homes, you may want to ask additional questions such as “Are there pets?” and “Do any household members smoke?” If the program seems to meet your basic needs, check to see if there are openings at the time your child needs to start. It’s a good idea to talk to several programs before deciding which ones to visit—and to plan on visiting several programs before making a choice.
Visit programs. Going to see the program while the children are there is very important. Seeing what happens between staff and children is the best way to know if the program will work for you and your child. Put yourself in your child’s place and consider what you see from his or her point of view. Ask yourself, “Will he be happy and involved here?” In scheduling a visit, arrange to stay for an hour or two to really get a sense of what goes on. This list of things to look for and ask about will help you make good use of your visit.
Count Noses! The number of adults and children is important because it helps determine how much attention your child will get. There should be at least one adult for every:
— four infants
— five younger toddlers (12 to 24 months)
— six older toddlers (2 to 3 years)
— nine or ten preschoolers
You also need to think about the total size of the group your child would be in. Two dozen toddlers in one group, for example, is too many—even if four or five caregivers are on the scene. Young children thrive in a more intimate setting where they can get to know the adults and other children well. A good rule of thumb is a group size roughly twice the number of children per adult. For instance, with the younger toddlers (five or fewer children per adult), a group size of ten children with two adults is reasonable.
What does “NAEYC-Accredited Program” mean for you and your child? Accredited early childhood programs voluntarily measure up to national standards of quality established by NAEYC, the professional organization for early childhood educators. Going beyond minimum licensing standards, accredited programs make a commitment to excellence. Staff in NAEYC-accredited programs take part in ongoing training. They are more likely to understand children’s needs at different ages, plan appropriate activities, interact with children in warm and stimulating ways, and provide positive guidance for children rather than harsh discipline.
What if a program is not accredited?
Ask if and when it plans to apply for accreditation. Some programs may already be in the process, while others may not have begun yet. Programs go through accreditation at their own pace—generally it takes from nine to twelve months. Some programs may not have thought of seeking accreditation, but a parent’s encouragement can give them the incentive to take the first step.
Where do I start?
ASK FRIENDS AND RELATIVES
Parents who use a program for their own children are a great source of information. But someone else’s recommendation is only a starting point. You still need to see the program with your own eyes and form your own opinion—what’s good for another child and family may not work for your child and you.
CHECK OUR CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOL DIRECTORY.
CALL YOUR LOCAL CHILD CARE RESOURCE-AND-REFERRAL AGENCY.
“R&Rs” are there to help parents find child care to meet their needs. They can get you started with information on what’s available in this area, whether you want to know about a center-based program or care in an individual’s home. R&R staff cannot tell you what programs are best, but they can give you the names of legally operating programs matching your requirements in terms of location, ages served, hours of operation, and other basics. Call Quality Care for Children at 800-558-4904 or call Child Care Aware at 800-424-2246. Don’t count on all licensed programs being good enough for your child. Limiting your search to licensed programs is a useful starting point, but you can’t rest assured that every licensed program is a good one. Unfortunately, licensing requirements in many states are very minimal and may exempt many programs.
A Caring Place for Your Infant. Order #548.
A Caring Place for Your Toddler. Order #509.
A Good Preschool for Your Child. Order #517 (in Spanish #517S).
Finding the Best Care for Your Infant or Toddler by L.L. Dittman. Order #518.
NAEYC brochures are 50¢ each or $10 for 100.
Courtesy of National Association for the Education of Young Children
www.naeyc.org or 800/424-2460