In Part 1 of this series last week, I talked about why daycares can be a great option for working parents. But how do you choose the right one?
First, you must realize that there are different types of child care centers, all of which get lumped under the label of “daycares.”
In-home vs. Center-based
There are small, in-home daycares run by moms- usually a more affordable option, but with less and possibly very different-aged children for your child to interact with.
Also, depending on the state and the number of children being cared for, in-home daycares don’t always have to be licensed. So you are relying on the caregiver to take the proper health and safety precautions.
But if you find a home daycare where the ages of the children match your child and you trust the caregiver, this can be a wonderful choice.
The other category of daycares is those that are center-based.
Types of center-based daycares
Among the center-based daycares, you have a few varieties: religious, educational, and unstructured free play.
A Jewish child-care center, for example, may teach Hebrew lessons in addition to other non-religious activities. Depending on how large a role religion plays in your life, a religious daycare is something to be considered for an older child, not necessarily an infant.
Educational daycares provide structured, planned daily activities tailored to your child’s age and developmental stage. The focus here is getting your child ready for pre-school and kindergarten.
This type of daycare will typically be more expensive than the last type of daycare, the unstructured free play center.
I have seen a handful of these unstructured centers, where it seems like the owners just threw some toys in a room and let the kids run wild.
A center that only offers free play all day for your child is more suitable for a drop-in type of situation, and I wouldn’t recommend it for a full-time arrangement.
Once you have chosen the type of daycare, other factors come into play. Most important for many families is the price.
I have found that the good daycares all have relatively the same price for full-time. If you find a price that is substantially less than the competitors, question why it is so cheap.
Too good to be true? Probably.
When inquiring about price, find out what, if anything is included. Some (though not many) daycares may provide diapers and wipes, while others provide meals.
The daycare at which I was the director for three years provided breakfast, snacks, and drinks to the children. Parents were responsible for sending in lunches and dinners, if the child stayed that late.
Where the daycare is located is another important fact to consider. Finding one that is on your way to work is a huge bonus.
I do not recommend choosing a daycare that requires you to drive across town in rush-hour traffic at drop-off and pick-up time.
Hugely important for many families is the flexibility of the center.
If your child normally attends three days a week but you need to add a fourth due to an emergency, can the center accommodate you?
You want to take a vacation week- does the center offer a reduced rate or must you pay while you are away? Can your child stay an hour later than usual if you are stuck in a meeting?
These situations come up frequently.
In Part 3 of this series next week, I will outline even more specific questions to ask when you visit the daycare, and divulge the top five warning signs of a sub-par daycare.