1. Are there enough adults?
Children need lots of attention and supervision to stay safe and feel loved. Experts recommend one adult for no more than three to four babies, four to six toddlers, or seven to ten preschoolers. If there is only one caregiver on the premises, find out if there’s a backup who can be summoned immediately in case of an emergency.
2. Is the group small enough?
Smaller groups mean less noise and chaos, better communication, and more individualized attention. Babies should not be in groups of more than eight to ten, toddler groups should be kept to ten to 20, and preschoolers limited to 15 to 20.
3. Is the outdoor play area safe?
Areas under climbers and swings should be cushioned to some degree — wood chips, a rubber mat, or grass breaks a fall and prevents injuries. Yards should be fenced in. Dogs should be kept away from kids.
4. Do the caregivers have training in child development?
Studies show that caregivers who have at least some education in child development tend to be more sensitive and responsive to children and more committed to their jobs. A bachelor’s or associate’s degree in child development is highly recommended, but research shows that any coursework in child care can be helpful, because caregivers pick up tips on child development and learn how to handle behavioral problems.
5. Is there much turnover among the staff?
The lower the better. You don’t want your child to have a constantly changing cast of caregivers. If you are interviewing a woman who cares for kids in her home, find out how long she’s been in business. The longer the better.
6. Are the activities age-appropriate?
Very young children learn by using all their senses — touching, tasting, seeing, hearing, and smelling. Most aren’t ready to sit still or even attempt to learn the ABC’s before the age of 3 or 4. Arts and crafts, nature walks, and water and sand play are all great learning activities for children under 5.
7. What happens on a typical day?
Activities should be varied, with quiet times and active periods. The youngest children, especially those under 1, should be able to follow their own rhythms — sleep when they are tired and eat when they are hungry. Toddlers should not be forced into group activities. There should be some private space and time to look at a book, play with a toy, or just rest when they don’t feel like being part of a group.
8. Can you talk to the parents of other children in the center before you sign up?
If you can’t, walk away.
9. How are discipline problems handled?
Every child acts out sometimes, even yours. You want to be sure that your caregiver would never hit or physically punish your child, or shake a baby. At the same time, children need firm but gentle guidance to learn to deal with their own difficult feelings. They need caregivers who can help them find constructive ways to vent their occasional anger and frustrations.
10. Do caregivers follow hygienic practices?
Hands must be washed after every diaper change. No exceptions. The changing area should also be cleaned after every change. Studies have shown that the risk of infection and disease can be largely controlled through such simple measures.
11. Are all children immunized?
States require that licensed caregivers keep records. If your child is cared for by an unlicensed provider, it’s probably up to you to make sure your child is protected from disease.
12. Are poisons kept out of your child’s reach?
If you’re considering care in a private home, make sure that household-cleaning products, medicines, vitamins, and other dangerous substances are locked up.
13. How will your caregiver communicate with you?
It’s a good idea for your caregiver to keep notes, because it’s often hard to have an in-depth discussion at pick-up or drop-off times. She should also have a system that allows you to write her messages about things that might change your child’s behavior.
14. Can you drop by unannounced?
This is a must. You don’t want to be intrusive or disruptive, but you need the right to see your child — and check up on the caregiver — at your discretion.
15. Why did she choose to work in this field?
This simple question will draw out your caregiver and give you a sense of how committed, loving, and interested she will be in caring for children.
16. Is the program accredited?
Gaining accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is a sign of a high-quality program. This organization sets standards for child-care centers in all the areas mentioned above, and sets them higher than most state licensing agencies. The NAEYC currently accredits 5,730 centers nationwide.