Quality Child Care–Chapter 3

In the first chapter on finding quality child care we shared some important questions parents should ask the program’s director.  This is best done by making a phone call and taking notes.  If the program sounds like what you are looking for be sure to ask if there is space available in your child’s potential room.  In the second chapter you learned about the licensing requirements and standards which a child care center should meet.  Now it it is time to personally visit your top choices.  If you make an appointment you are assured of having time to talk with the center director, however you may not see the ‘real’ program.  Personally I prefer to take a chance that the director will find the time to give me a tour and answer my questions.

This step of your investigation is no longer simply about the facts.  It is instead largely a subjective process in which your intuition and feelings will guide you.  There is no one who knows your child and her or his needs and desires as well as you do.  While you will be verifying the information you gathered during your phone call about the program the primary purpose of your visit is to see if this child care center is a good match for your child and your goals.

Some centers have observation windows or cameras, and if that is the case ask if you may have time to watch the children and caregivers or teachers.  If these devices are not available ask if you may sit quietly in a corner in the room.  The response may be that it is disruptive to the children, and that is certainly true to some extent.   However in general the activities and materials will be more attractive than a visitor, and the children will quickly return to their play.

What do you hope to see and hear in a room for preschoolers?

  • Safe environment–appropriate teacher/child ratios, no sharp objects accessible, space to move without bumping into people or things, electrical outlets covered, no dangling cords, medications and cleaning supplies locked away etc.
  • Attractive environment–colorful pictures at child’s eye level, sturdy open shelves with books and toys neatly displayed–doesn’t appear cluttered, soft pillows and comfortable chairs, non toxic plants etc.
  • Adequate amount of toys and materials which are age appropriate
  • Teachers moving around room observing, bending down to make eye contact when talking to a child, listening attentively to a child, smiling and perhaps giving a quick and gentle hug.
  • If there is a conflict between children that they do not seem to be resolving themselves the teacher engages them in a discussion to elicit their ideas and helps them resolve the problem
  • Children are encouraged to explore and to make decisions and choices
  • Children appear to be comfortable and are actively engaged in their play
  • Children are given a 5 minute warning regarding a transition to another activity such as going outside or having snack

Many of the same things and actions should be seen in a toddler or infant room.  Of course infants require a great deal of physical care and more one on one time so you should see caregivers taking advantage of diaper changing or feeding times to talk to or quietly sing to a baby.  Rocking and cuddling times are extremely important, however even with these nurturing activities you should see the adults responding to the specific needs of the individual baby as they play and cuddle.  Some babies love to be rocked while overs want to be on the floor exploring.  Toddlers generally need more adult interaction and support than preschoolers as well as more duplications of their favorite toys.  With toddlers too many toys, activities, or choices can be overwhelming so teachers need to limit the options and provide adequate time for changes in activities.

After spending time with the director and the children and their teachers how do you feel?  Respected?  Calm?  That your needs were met and your questions were answered?  That this is a comfortable and nurturing place for children?  If you answer yes to these questions you may have found the program for your precious child.

In Chapter 4 look for a checklist to use during your visit to the child care center

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