Some parents have had their daycare chosen since their baby was just a glimmer in their eye, but what about the rest of us? What should you look for in a daycare and where should you even start?
Here are all the things you need to know when “shopping” for a daycare. (Note that these tips are primarily regarding child-care centres rather than home child-care providers. See a note in Resouces regarding home daycares.)
1. Start your search as early as possible. As in, during your pregnancy, and in many cases, as early as your first trimester. You can still find quality child care at a later date, but it makes your search more difficult. Do a search to find the daycare centres near you and ask about tours and open house dates.
>>See a list of Toronto Daycare & Child Care Centres
2. Opt for licensed daycares. Only licensed daycares and child care facilities must comply with provincial regulations with regard to staff certifications and qualifications, caregiver-to-child ratios, criminal record checks, space and equipment, activities, food quality and handling, smoking, discipline, and emergency procedures.
3. Be extra-vigilant with home daycares. Home-based child care can be an excellent option, but not all are as rigorously evaluated as licensed child-care centres. Consulting an umbrella agency like Wee Watch that monitors its member home daycares, can give you some peace of mind.
That said, don’t completely rule out independent home daycares. Some home daycare providers that aren’t with an agency are still excellent. They may just be so in demand that they don’t see a need to pay a membership to an agency. What’s most important is doing your homework.
4. Ask for references. Daycares (especially home daycares) should give you contact info for current or past parents so you can ask them about their experience.
5. Register with at least three facilities. Some daycares have fees to be put on a waiting list, so you may not want to be on every list. But it makes sense to have at least three options.
Ask about the length of the waiting list and how likely your child will be to get a spot. This will give you an idea of how many facilities you should register with.
6. Evaluate cleanliness and safety. Does it appear to be clean and safe? Is the room child-proofed? Are there smoke detectors and fire exits? Ask about cleaning and sanitization schedules for diaper station, toys, and play area. Do caregivers wear gloves to change diapers? Are toys in a good state of repair? What about cots and cribs for naptime?
See a handy, interactive guide to health and safety standards as per the Ontario Day Nurseries Act.
7. Consider the indoor and outdoor environments. Do they seem welcoming and well-lit? Large enough for the number of children? Do you get a good “vibe”?
Care and Programming
8. Get a sense of the routine. When and where do kids eat? When and where do they nap? What’s the process for getting children to nap (especially if they have trouble)? How is the room prepped for naptime? (Lights dimmed, music?) Are children allowed a soother, toy, blanket, etc.? Are infants allowed any pillows, blankets, or toys in the crib? (They should not be, without parental consent at least.)
9. Ask about weekly and daily activities as well as special outings and programs for children. Do kids watch TV? (It happens at some home daycares.) How much outdoor time do they get? is there a good mix of free play and organized activities? A mix of physical activities, thoughtful play (e.g. puzzles and building), and creative time with music, drawing, etc.?
10. Discuss discipline. How are behavioural issues dealth with? What happens when a child acts out? What if another child strikes your child? What if your child strikes another child? What is the procedure for excessive crying? Tantrums?
11. Look into the food. When you begin your daycare research, your baby may still be on a liquid diet, but food will soon be an important part of daily life.
Ask to see a menu and ask specific questions like: What is your philosophy for kids’ meal plans? (Translation: Is the seemingly healthy menu due to the current chef, and may change with a staff overturn? Or is it an integral part of the daycare’s mission?) How often do kids get sugary treats? What types of yogurt/bread/granola bars do kids get? How will allergies or food sensitivities be accommodated? For babies, how is breastmilk handled?
Logistics and Communication
12. Review pick-up and drop-off times and holidays. Opening hours and holidays aren’t uniform for all daycares. Be realistic. Even if you love the daycare, if it doesn’t work with your family’s schedule, it just won’t work.
13. Know how and when communication happens. Do they provide daily or weekly reports for parents? How can parents get involved? (Some daycares have parent-run boards; home providers may ask parents for feedback periodically.)
You don’t really need to know all of this at this point, but it’s a good indicator of how open and communicative care centres are with parents and how well (or poorly) they’ll receive questions or concerns later on.
14. Ultimately, go with your gut. If the caregiver seems lovely but the space gives you a bad feeling, don’t talk yourself into it. If you get a “weird vibe” from a staff member, pay heed. You may be picking up on something that will return to haunt you if you ignore it now.
As when searching for a home or making any other major life decision, you’ll get a “feeling” from the right place(s). Don’t let your feeling take precedence over common sense. (By paying for a more expensive daycare than you can afford, for example.) But do trust yourself—you are your child’s number-one advocate and you know best!
Finding Quality Child Care is a helpful resource for Canadian parents. You can find regulations for each province and search for child care by postal code.
The Ontario Ministry of Education maintains a helpful interactive online tool outlining health and safety requirements in the Day Nurseries Act.
Daycare Bear is a national website with parent reviews of daycares. (As with any anonymous, review-based website, all evaluations should be taken with a grain of salt.)
The City of Toronto maintains a database of more than 900 licensed child-care centres.
Wee Watch is a licensing agency that matches parents and guardians with home-based child care within its network of approved home daycares and caregivers.
IMAGE: PHILLIPA WILL/FLICKR CC
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