Back when I was preparing for maternity leave, I was on the hunt for the perfect daycare. I wanted video camera access, a high security facility, organic menu items. Well, wasn’t I the pickiest little first time mommy?! But how do you choose the right daycare for your toddler?
I was spoiled after my son’s first daycare experience. The facility and staff weren’t perfect, but boy were they close. The teachers were amazing, the facility was clean (by comparison) and the overall curriculum and menu provided were top notch.
After a move to Florida, I was back on the search. I went into it with high standards, but soon realized I couldn’t be as picky. We are in a much smaller town now and our options are limited. This time, I was looking for the basics. Clean with a variety of toys and attentive and warm teachers at an affordable price. Shockingly, these basics were very difficult to find all in one place, but I finally found the right daycare for my toddler.
My standard of clean is simple. Kids and toddlers are messy, but the facility should be clean. Mats should be disinfected regularly and there should be enough space to accommodate the toys and toddlers throughout the room. Playgrounds need to be safe, kept up and inspected for dangerous living creatures (wasps, snakes, mosquitos) on a routine basis. The first 4 daycares I toured, did not even remotely achieve these standard. I finally found ONE that was clean, and we signed up to secure his spot, but they fell short in all other areas.
Variety of toys
This one seems a little snooty, but it’s not. My son is inquisitive and incredibly active. If there are only a handful of books and plastic play food toys for 12 toddlers all day every day, my son is going to be bored and he will act out in response. He needs toys that enhance his motor skills, like ride along toys, mats to climb or roll around on, and balls to throw and catch. He needs educational toys and books that teach him during play time. He needs musical toys to explore his sense of rhythm and creativity. He needs blocks and other mechanical toys to teach him spacial awareness and help him understand how things work together. This is a non-negotiable for me and it should be for you too.
Attentive and warm teachers
B.A.S.I.C. necessities for a daycare you select and yet one of the toughest things to find. That daycare we originally signed up at, failed immensely in this department. Trust your instincts and trust your child. Z is 20 months old, but fully capable of showing me his discomfort. He refused to let go of me at drop off. He screamed and even if I sat and played with him for awhile, he never left my grip. His teachers were cold: I felt it, he felt it, other children felt it, and he wanted no part of it.
I sat with him for 45 minutes one morning to help calm him and the 2 teachers in the classroom didn’t speak to any of the children in the entire time I was there. I read to the kids, sang with them, played with them while receiving dirty looks from the teachers! The only things they said the entire time I was there was, “no,” “get down off of that,” “don’t touch that,” “no,” no,” and “no.” That day, I spent several hours looking for a new daycare. That was the last week my son was at that particular school. Make sure your child’s teachers are interactive and warm. Your child should be excited to go to school and their teacher should be inviting and loving. If it feels off, it probably is.
This is different for every family, so you have to weigh what this means for you. For me, it meant falling in the same price range as our Atlanta-based daycare. I needed something that was under $950/month for at least 3 days/week. We are currently in a school that is $820/month for 5 days, but the hours are very strict and we also had to forfeit some other benefits we were used to. Z’s daycare is only open from 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., which is very difficult if you work in a traditional office setting. Because of this, if (and when) I move back to a traditional work environment, I will need to find another school for him yet again. But for now, this is what works for us. This particular school also doesn’t offer meals or diapers as some of the other facilities do.
The most important thing when choosing the right daycare for your toddler is understanding what your family’s requirements and needs are. What are the things that are most important to you in a childcare facility? Do you need a school that provides diapers, wipes and meals? Do you need a school that is open at 6:30 a.m.? Do you need a school with an alternative teaching style?
Regardless of whatever your specific requests are, you have to clearly define what it is you need from a daycare and what it is you’re willing (or unable) to negotiate on.