BY MOLLY WILKINS AND LOUISE DIAMOND
Choosing appropriate child care for your infant or young child can seem as overwhelming as choosing the right high school or college. As a parent, it is your responsibility to ensure that your child is safe and happy in a child care environment that is fun, educational, and nurturing. It’s one of the most important decisions you will make for your child.
Whether you choose in-home or center-based care, a preschool, or someone else’s home for your child’s daily care setting, there are specific guidelines you should follow to be sure that your child is receiving quality, professional care suited to his developmental needs.
Most important in determining the type of care your child needs is to know your own child—his temperament, likes and dislikes, health, interests, and behavior. At Georgia Family, we don’t recommend group childcare for an infant under one year of age. If you can’t be there for your baby, you need to give careful attention to his/her need to be nurtured and held, any special health needs, and the type of person you want to care for your child during the first year of his life. It’s a good idea to try to start during a low-illness season.
For an older child, his developing play and learning styles, interaction with other children, intellectual curiosity, and need for individualized attention should be considered. Your family’s own values and emotional needs will need to be considered. For example, some parents are concerned that if they leave their child in the care of one individual that their child might bond more with the caretaker than themselves. You might also need to consider how convenient the location is to your home or work. As more people become unemployed in the present economic atmosphere, the number of accredited childcare centers is dropping. The Quality Care for Children survey indicated that 60 percent of Georgia childcare centers have seen an increase in the number of parents leaving for less-expensive programs. Accreditation by the National Association.
Make a list of qualities you’re looking for in a caregiver or day care, such as religious background, discipline beliefs, and flexibility. If your child has special needs be sure to ask about that as well. For example, Erin with Mulberry told me, “For a special needs student, we work with the child’s parents and teachers to make sure the child is best cared for. If we are unable to serve a particular child in our environment, we refer that child’s parents to other resources as a courtesy.”
Keep in mind if you have any specific cultural or religious needs to ask each child care provider about that as well. Erin with Mulberry told me that they handle religious differences “The Children’s Center at Mulberry offers a Christian-based curriculum. These materials and lessons are not designed to sway children to become Methodist or Baptist, for instance, but to let them know of God’s love for them and also to teach them morals that will hopefully stay with them as they get older. We do not turn away children whose families observe a different faith, but we do openly inform parents during the enrollment process that the Christian faith is an important part of our instruction and modeling for the children.”
Tony Foskey, Pre-K coordinator for Children’s Friend, also stated that they are “an equal opportunity provider. We provide equal access to all of our facilities. Applications for enrollment and employment are acted upon without regard to race, creed, color, sex, age, national origin or disability.”
When asked about discipline beliefs, Brandi Bryan, the director at Children’s Friend on Sheraton Road, stated that their center uses a curriculum designed by one of their teachers, their method of disciplining is to redirect the children, and they only use timeout as a last resort. When they do use timeout it is equivalent to their age (ex: 1 year old = 1 min).
These questions above were all answered over the phone; imagine how much more you can find out in person. So let’s get to the search! The most important concerns you need to consider include what types of child care are available and consider cost, location, and reputation.
You may choose to enlist the help of family members, or even a nanny that a friend has used. But always keep in mind that a facility that works for your best friend may not work for you or your child; and there is nothing wrong with that. Also keep in mind that if you are using someone who is not licensed and bonded, that they may choose to pursue you for any workman’s comp claims or injuries obtained in the care of your child. You will also need to pay employment taxes (social security and worker’s compensation). Many of the same things you will be looking for in a daycare will also apply to a private sitter, nanny, or an au-pair—and vice-versa.
IN-HOME CHILD CARE
An in-home care provider is employed by the family to care for a child in the child’s own home. This includes a nanny, or someone who works on a live-in or live-out basis performing child care and perhaps some minimal household duties related to child care. It can also include a relative who lives in the home specifically for the purpose of caring for the children. This type of care is especially suited to the care of an infant. Additionally, when parents have to deal with lots of business trips and unusual schedules, it might make more sense to hire a nanny or au-pair. In this instance, be sure to seek the services of licensed agencies with solid experience. Usually unsupervised during the day, the nanny has a workweek that is typically 40 to 60 hours.
An au pair also provides in-home care. An au pair lives with the family and cares for the child under the direct supervision of the parents. He or she often seeks work far away from home, as a kind of cultural learning experience. Au pairs often assist with light housework and work about 40 to 60 hours per week. Au pairs, who are typically young, may or may not have any child care training or experience.
The International Nanny Association (INA) recommends that you interview any prospective hire at least twice and that you conduct a criminal background check—which is usually done by most placement agencies. According to INA, approximately 5% of the nannies applying for positions have criminal conviction records. Besides inquiring about training in early childhood development, the Nemours Foundation offers the following questions that you should ask a potential nanny or au pair:
Why are you interested in working with young children?
Why did you leave your last job? (You should always check references; ask that family why the relationship ended and whether they would recommend that caregiver.)
What is your discipline policy? (Offer “what if” scenarios to elicit responses to situations that could arise. For example, if a child hits another child or throws a tantrum over a toy someone else is playing with, what should the consequences be?)
How will you provide new experiences to enhance my child’s mental and physical development? What are the opportunities you can offer to experience art, music, group and individual play, and indoor and outdoor play?
How would you handle toilet teaching?
How would you handle separation anxiety?
Out-of-home care includes day care centers, which are typically affiliated with a public or private agency such as a religious organization, corporation, or community center; family day care programs held in the caregiver’s home; part-time child care programs such as preschools or play groups; and publicly funded preschool programs such as Head Start and Georgia’s Pre-K program. These programs usually care for children from birth to age 5.
Homes and Centers
Day care homes offer child care in the caregiver’s home, often with a single adult supervising the children. Center-based care includes day care centers and preschools employing several adults to care for larger groups of children.
If you’re considering a day care center or another group setting, you will want to visit them armed with questions. When it comes to the questions you want to ask, they can be divided into these simple groups: Safety, hygiene, tuition/fees, teaching philosophies, daily operations, and teacher qualifications/certifications/certificates.
Know What to Ask When Choosing a Day Care Center
? What is your overall child care philosophy?
? Do you have an open-door policy on parent visits?
? Do you have a fire escape plan mapped out?
? What is your policy regarding sick kids?
? What are alternative arrangements for care if the program closes? On what holidays is the center closed?
? Do you offer sick care options?
? What are your security and safety policies?
? How do you track who brings and picks up the kids?
? What is your medicine policy?
? What is your weekly tuition?
? Do you offer a multiple child discount?
? Do I have to pay for days that my child is sick or on an extended vacation?
? Do you charge additional fees for late pick up?
? Are there any additional fees?
? What type of curriculum do you use?
? Is the center faith-based?
? How can you accommodate my religious needs for my child?
? Do you welcome children of varying ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds to the program? Do you include children with special needs?
? How do you discipline the kids? Do adults avoid yelling, spanking, and other negative punishments?
? Do you follow American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for child-teacher ratios?
– One caregiver per 3 or 4 infants
– One caregiver per 3 or 4 young toddlers
– One caregiver per 4 to 6 older toddlers
– One caregiver per 6 to 9 preschoolers
? Does the Director have a degree and some experience in child care?
? What are the educational backgrounds of the teachers?
? What other certifications does your staff hold?
? Has a satisfactory criminal background check been conducted on each adult present?
? Is the center certified by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)?
? Does the program have the highest level of licensing offered by the state?
? Are meals provided? If so, what type of meals/snacks do you serve? Can I bring my child’s own food? What about allergies?
? How do you deal with potential issues regarding different cultures?
? How are they grouped? Is it just by age, or development as well?
? Do you offer a general curriculum or is it appropriate to a child’s development? Is it appropriate for each individual child to help them meet their developmental milestones?
? What’s the typical daily schedule/routine?
? How do you monitor children on the playground? Has the equipment been inspected?
? What is your staff turn over rate?
? May I have a list of references?
When calling around, you may find out more than you expect. For instance, Erin Roberson, the director at the Children’s Center at Mulberry, stated that they require one person in each room to be CPR certified, and she herself is an instructor. As for dietary restrictions, Erin also told me that “If a child has dietary restrictions, the parent would need to submit a letter to us from the child’s doctor stating the specific allergy or special dietary need. Once the parents have done that, it will be up to them to bring in food to suit the child’s dietary needs, which we then serve to the child in such a way as to minimize any appearance that the child is “different” from other children in the class.”
And in regards to allergies, Tony states that Children’s Friend will ask that guardians provide us with written details of their child’s allergies . . . “We then take appropriate precautions to protect the child’s health,” he adds.
Most importantly, you want to find a facility that will take your concerns to heart. When asked how Bright Star handles complaints, Aleka Lee of Bright Star on Price Road stated that she considers parent complaints not complaints, but rather ‘concerns’. She does her best to educate her staff to take each parent’s concern seriously, rather than just writing it off as the vocalization of a high-strung parent.
Preschools, as the name indicates, provide an educational program for young children before starting kindergarten or elementary school. Many day care centers now also incorporate early childhood curricula into their programs. Everyone—educators, policy makers and parents—all agree that preparing children during the preschool years will improve their chances of performing successfully later in school. A high-quality preschool program can help children be ready for kindergarten in many ways, including focusing on social and emotional needs, in addition to academics. In fact,
Georgia is generally con-sidered to be in the forefront of new and expanded preschool initiatives, thanks to its state-funded pre-kindergarten program. “Georgia is the head of the preschool class,” said John Merrow, an education journalist and Public Broadcasting System producer, who wrote a documentary “The Promise of Preschool.”
Not only was Georgia among the first to fund preschool, but its pre-kindergarten program now reaches a higher proportion of 4-year-old children than any other state in the nation and pays the bill with money from the state lottery. When combined with the enrollment in Head Start, about 70 percent of Georgia’s 4-year-olds are now in some form of publicly subsidized preschool.
The NAEYC lists these 10 signs of a great preschool:
Children spend most of their time playing and working with materials or with other children.
Children have access to various activities throughout the day.
Teachers work with individual children, small groups, and the whole group at different times during the day.
The classroom is decorated with children’s original artwork and projects.
Children learn numbers and the alphabet in the context of their everyday experiences.
Children work on projects and have long periods of time to play and explore.
Worksheets are used rarely, if at all.
Children have an opportunity to play outside in a safe play area. every day.
Teachers read books to children individually or in small groups.
Curricula are adapted for those who are ahead as well as those who need additional help.
Children and their parents look forward to school.
Finally, after doing all of your diligent research, go with your gut! If something doesn’t pan out as you wish once in a program, then don’t be afraid to have the hard discussion with the child care provider. Last resort, don’t ever be afraid to pull your child out of the current situation and start over. You must feel good at all times about who is caring for your child. Otherwise, you and your child will not get the best out of it. ?
Quality Care for Children, qualitycareforchildren.org
National Association for the Education of Young Children, naeyc.org
National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), nieer.org
Georgia Preschool Association, georgiapreschool.org
GETTING READY FOR KINDERGARTEN
Kindergarten is an exciting year for children. Parents are their child’s first and most influential teachers. Preparing your child socially, emotionally and physically is more important than teaching your 4- or 5-year-old how to read and master addition this summer. They’ll get all the academics once they’re in school! Here are some ways you can help your little one to prepare for kindergarten and the educational foundation for his future:
Teach social skills. Have play dates with children the same age. Provide and reinforce rules and boundaries. Give your child an opportunity to share and take turns with other children. Teach your child to say she is sorry if she hurts someone. Practice sitting, listening, and following directions. Give your child a few responsibilities at home. Teach respect for others and property.
Work on fine-motor skills. Color with your child. It’s OK if he doesn’t stay in the lines. Have him cut with child-size scissors on a straight line. Paint together. Have him write his name.
Build pre-literacy skills. Read to your child daily. Ask questions. Discuss the stories. Ask your child to make predictions about what will happen next. Engage him in conversations. Use new words to build vocabulary. Let him draw and then write the words he uses to describe his drawing. Play games, sing, talk, and listen to each other. Let your child watch or help you cook or other activity and describe each step to your child.