If you are putting your child in daycare, you should ask the daycare provider these key questions first. Make sure to look around and get to know the center. These 13 questions will give you a good understanding about your child’s daycare center’s safety and overall approach to caring for your child. As you walk around the center, it is likely more questions will come along. Don’t be afraid to pick things up, touch things and look closely at the environment around you. It is your right as a parent to be comfortable with your child’s ‘home away from home’. This isn’t meant to be an all inclusive list, but it is a great place to start.

Are you licensed/accredited?

Prior to looking into daycares, become familiar with your state’s regulations and process for licensing daycares – this is done through what most states call children and family services and/or the department of human services. If you’re going with a home daycare, find out about the rules for those as well so you can hold your provider accountable. You can also look up licensing on most of these sites.

What are the qualifications of the teachers in each classroom? What about the assistants?

By asking this question, you can find out what requirements and potential licensure they require for their teachers. Do they have an early childhood degree? Are they certified in any way? These are important things to give consideration to depending on the age of your child. While it may not be as important for your infant to have a provider with an early childhood degree, you may want your preschool age child to have someone with that background.  

How many staff are safety trained (CPR, First Aid)?

When you leave your 6-week-old in the hands of anyone else, you want to know they can manage any emergency that comes their way – CPR and First Aid will ensure that they can help your child until someone else with more skills can get to them.

What is your sick policy?

Every daycare, preschool and school has a different threshold for fever. While some may say 101.5 is their cut-off for fever, others may consider as low as 100.5 a point to send a child home. Once your child is sent home with a fever, all facilities have a ‘fever free for a full 24 hours” which sometimes can be inconvenient, but this is to ensure it doesn’t spike back up, which is known to happen.

Make sure you know the specifics of your school’s policy, then create a plan for when baby is sick. If you don’t have many sick days, look to family and friends to create your plan ahead of the cold and flu season for how you will handle sick days once you have used up all of your paid time off.

Are you prepared to meet any special needs? (allergies, delayed development)

If you already know your child has a special need – for example, they may be experiencing developmental delays, have behavioral issues or already have a known allergy – then you will need to ask specific questions to ensure their needs can be met at the school or daycare they are attending. Don’t assume that daycares or preschools cannot meet the needs of your child(ren) – many are willing to accommodate with some guidance.

Once your child reaches Pre-K/Kindergarten level, at the public school, if your child isn’t meeting standards, they can be tested into receiving individualized educational services if their needs become more pervasive.

What is the staff to child ratio in your child’s classroom?

When they are babies, there should be one teacher for every 3 to 4 children. As they get older and hit the toddler and preschool years

How often do they play outside and what kind of play – structured or unstructured? How much time will they get to play outside each day?

Consider how they determine when they will not go outside. Ask about their sunscreen policy and if they will allow them to play if the ground is wet. Check that against your own comfort level.

What is their discipline policy at each age and stage?

Make sure you are comfortable with the approach they take with consequences to negative behavior. There are a variety of ways schools go about discipline it can include time-outs, loss of recess time or the use of positive reinforcement.

What is on the school’s weekly menu? Do you have the ability to opt out?

You want to know if your child is mandated to eat at the school or if they can pack for several reasons. If your child has an allergy, this could be problematic. If the menu is unhealthy, this could also be problematic. Make sure to look at the menu for the past few weeks if possible and pop in during their lunch time to see the food when it is served. Ask to see where they prepare meals.

How will they communicate daily and weekly happenings with you?

Each school and sometimes each teacher will have their method for communicating. Some have a daily report they fill out on a half-sheet of paper detailing how much of their lunch they ate, if they napped and behavior, for example. Others may just give you a verbal, “It was a good day.” Decide how much detail you want about their day and choose your childcare accordingly.

Are they ensuring diversity and inclusion of race, religion and family dynamics?

Look around the center – is there a diverse population of kids? This can be observed and you should ask the staff about how they ensure all cultures are celebrated. If you are a single mom or a jewish family, you don’t want your child to feel like the odd kid out because of it. Teachers should be ensuring their teaching tools include children of diverse backgrounds and cultures are depicted. Diversity should be observed across the board.  If you are specifically attending a Christian school or Jewish Center, non-denominational or children of other religions are often welcome, provided they respect the practices and traditions of that religious school. Don’t assume you can’t attend simply because you are not of that faith.

If there is a TV in their classroom, how and when will it be used each day? If there isn’t one present, ask if the children will watch TV or video at any time. 

A TV in a classroom can be a red flag at a childcare center, but consider and ask when it will be used. Look at the whole picture and then decide if that is a deal breaker for you.

How often will you change out toys/stations?

This is important at young ages to encourage growth and development – so asking this question is not out of the norm. Early Childhood teachers often have bins of toys that they rotate in and out throughout the year based on educational goals. If they aren’t rotating toys, that’s an indicator they aren’t working to differentiate their instruction or vary the play to keep the children engaged. While it may not be a deal breaker, if say you are using a home daycare, consider discussing it with your provider for developmental purposes.

What questions would you add to this list? 

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