Nanny? Home? Professional center? It’s absolutely worth your time and effort to find the right childcare provider for your family’s child rearing styles and needs. Go into the process armed with questions, and you’re firmly on the right track.
by Linda Crisalli
Presumably because I have been an early childhood education trainer and coach for many years in addition to being a mom and a grandmother, I often get calls from parents who are nervous about looking for childcare. This is certainly understandable, especially if this will be the first time someone outside of their immediate family will be caring for their child.
Contacting your local childcare resource and referral agency and/or your state’s childcare licensing office is a good place to start. They can give you the names of licensed providers in your area. You might also call your neighborhood elementary school secretary, who is likely to know about nearby childcare providers.
If you are considering a nanny, I recommend that you call the references yourself, even if you are going through an agency that does a criminal history investigation.
Verify that the nanny has a current first aid/CPR card and documentation of any education or training in early childhood education.
If the nanny will be transporting your child, you’ll want to check out driving record and insurance status. If you are considering a nanny-share arrangement, be sure to check out the other family’s home if childcare will take place there.
If this is the applicant’s first job as a nanny, ask for references from past employers or teachers; even though they can’t speak to how the applicant works with children, they can tell you about things like reliability, attendance, following directions, getting along with others and general work ethics.
Home? Professional center?
If you’re looking for a childcare home or childcare center, start by checking into their license/business status. Most states have some kind of regulations that monitor childcare programs, and records are kept about licensing violations and customer complaints.
It’s fantastic if the program is accredited, but it’s not a 100 percent guarantee of quality. As is the case with nannies, I also recommend calling references. Read the parent handbook and program policies carefully. Ask questions.
Never enroll your child without observing the program first. I do not recommend taking your child along. You can make arrangements to bring your child to visit at another time.
Before you visit a prospective childcare provider, find out about the legal limit for adult-to-child ratios in your state. While you are observing, quietly “count noses.” Eliminate providers from your list who over-enroll their programs.
Ask about the staff. Does the director do criminal history background checks and call references? How long have the staff members been in the field, and how long have they been with this program? How much education and training do they have? Are they knowledgeable about child development and school readiness?
Things to watch
Most often, tours and observations are scheduled for mid-morning so you can see the activities that are offered. If the center will allow it, ask if you can also observe during the transition from lunch time to rest time, because it’s the very most hectic part of the day. Most anyone can conduct a nice circle time and plan an art project. Managing transitions is another story. After lunch, most of the children will be tired and grouchy. It can be very informative to see how the caregivers respond to children who are fussy and uncooperative.
How do the staff members interact with the children? Are they warm, nurturing and responsive to the children’s needs? Do they behave in a professional manner and appear to enjoy their work? What does their body language and vocal inflection tell you?
Look at the room where the children spend the majority of their time. Is it reasonably clean and sanitary? Check out the sinks, toilets and diaper changing areas, as well as the tables where the children eat and the areas where they sleep. How often are they sanitized? Do you see any safety hazards? Is the kitchen clean? Are the menus nutritious? Is it easy to supervise all the children at once?
Is there adequate space for the children to play without getting into each other’s way? Are the toys appropriate for the age group who are using them and in reasonably good repair? Are there enough of them?
What is the daily schedule like? Is there a balance between adult-directed activities and child-initiated play, and between quiet activities and active play? Do the children go outside every day?
For the most part, do the children appear happy and relaxed? Are they engaged in activities, playing happily, learning actively, and interacting positively with one another and with the adults?
It’s absolutely worth your time and effort to find the right childcare provider for your family’s needs. Once your child is enrolled, make it your business to be involved in the program as much as you are able. Quality childcare will support your child’s healthy growth and development as well as your ability to work.
I have once more piece of advice. Providing high quality childcare and early childhood education requires an impressive skill set. Once you find the best childcare providers for your family, be sure to let them know how much you appreciate them!
Linda Crisalli has extensive education, training, and over 40 years experience working with and in behalf of young children and their families. Linda lives in the Seattle area, near her two grown children and four precious grandchildren.