Shopping for Daycare – Finding the perfect place for your child

By Holly Netz

Choosing childcare is like choosing that perfect pair of stilettos. Some are glitzier than others, some seem more solid and dependable, some are cost effective for the amount of wear that you will get out of them, and for some we are willing to pay the extra green for the WOW factor – the fact that they just make you feel….amazing….

But shoe analogies aside, it’s all about finding the right “fit” for you and your child. Whether you are a first time childcare mom with an infant, or relocating with a child that’s been in childcare before, it is a daunting task to find the perfect place to leave your child while you can’t be with them. After all, who could possibly replace mom???

Whoever you choose to care for your little one, the decision must feel right and be comfortable in the end. It is a process that requires some time, so set some aside. (Just like finding the perfect pair of summer mules! Okay, maybe it’s a little more involved than that...) Options such as selecting a nanny or in home care provider can be very time consuming, and a bit like dating in that it takes awhile to make a perfect one-on-one match, and traditional daycares can have long waiting lists that also require a deposit. Advance planning is the key, but whether you have 9 months or a month, many of the basic principles are the same.

One of the most important steps of the quest for perfect childcare is in the visits you make and the talks you have with potential caregivers. Make sure you can and DO visit outside your scheduled appointment time. Ask to see the diaper changing area, the classroom area that your child will be in, interview the person on duty each time you visit. Will there be more than one person caring for your child? Will there be a different person on different days, or more than one at a time? Talk to them all. Don’t feel weird or pushy; this is your child you are talking about. This is about finding care to fill in for YOU we are talking about... You can’t be too thorough or too pushy. Some other questions that you want to consider might be:

• Am I able to drop in at any time and feel welcome?

• Is there an in-class web-cam option available?

• Is the daycare/home child center or nanny certified by any board possible and do they follow the child to caregiver ratio mandates in Montana?

• Is cost a factor in your decision?

• Will the caregiver be able to meet my child’s specific needs?

• What are the hours of care you will need?

• What will be your alternate backup care plan? You can’t take a child that is sick to a daycare facility, but a nanny would be able to still care for your child.

• What are absentee policies and vacation policies?

• How are safety and developmental training standards monitored?

• How is potty training handled?

• Is there an organized schedule or program? Is free creative play encouraged?

These are a few of many things you need to think about when choosing what is right for you and your child. You can look at daycares, in-home childcare, or private nanny care. When all is said and done at the day’s end though, there are a couple of basic questions that will make your decision for you. What is your gut feeling about the place? Usually you are right with your first reaction. Usually happy and busy children, a staff that welcomes your visit instead of seeing you as another issue to deal with, and smiles on faces will give you everything you need to know. That’s when the mothering instinct kicks in – and that’s what it’s all about. SFM

Holly Netz was born and raised in Montana. As a working mother of two, she now resides in Richmond, VA. She enjoys freelance writing in her spare time.