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Picking a Great Daycare Shouldn't be that Hard
Among the most nerve-racking parenting experiences is dropping one's child off in daycare for the first time, no matter if the child is two-years-old or six weeks old (the minimum age many daycare facilities will accept a baby). In many cases, because of the competitive nature of many daycare facilities, a parent leaves not knowing whether they've dropped their child off at a good daycare or a bad daycare.
Despite the abundance of daycare facilities, it's of the utmost importance to separate the good from the bad and to spend some time researching these facilities before enrolling your child in one. By doing a little research and asking the right questions, you should have no problem enrolling your child in daycare that will be rewarding for both your child and you.
So how do you know whether a daycare is good or bad? Obviously, parents should do research on various daycare facilities and find out everything they can. That being said, some parents live in areas where the competition for daycare is intense and they don't always get their child into the daycare of their choice. In other places, there are simply more kids than there are spots, so parents are forced to park their kids in second and third-rate facilities. Parking one's child in a crappy daycare feels like the parenting equivalent of euthanizing one's pet. It sucks.
Since my wife and I had about the worst experience with the first daycare we tried, I thought I would pass on the tale of that experience and hope that it might help other parents identify red flags and prevent them from going through the parenting nightmare we went through. Here's our story:
When we learned we were pregnant the first time, we began researching daycare options, knowing that we'd be putting our baby in daycare full-time once he got to be about four months old. My wife and I both work and we couldn't afford for one of us to stay home. We applied to our top two choices and waited several agonizing months during pregnancy only to learn that neither had a spot for us when we needed it. The first never actually called us back, just took our $50 and that was apparently it, while the other took our $50 and informed us that they simply didn't have a spot, but might have one at a later date.
Because these were two of the top-rated daycare options in our area, we were then forced to move to plan B and get a spot wherever we could. This is probably an unfortunate red flag. Much like restaurants that have empty seats all the time, daycare facilities that have open spots all the time likely have some flaws. We didn't really think much about this at the time since we were desperate. They told us they had a spot and we took it. The best thing about it was that it was on my way to work and in a good neighborhood.
The two immediate indications that something might not be quite perfect at this daycare was that the director was about twenty-five and there were very few employees there who had been there for a number of years. One of the things we noticed at the other daycare where we applied was that many of the employees had been there for many, many years, indicating a high level of job satisfaction and experience. At this daycare, no employee had been there for more than four years and most had just started or had been there less than two years, indicating a high-rate of turnover, which could be an indication of poor working conditions or poor management.
Unfortunately, we had no choice. It didn't look that bad. However, there were a couple of quick clues that should have made us worry, but we were new at this whole parenting thing and didn't know any better. The first was that the sleeping beds were not separated from the rest of the room in the infant room. Now, this isn't exactly a non-starter, but it seemed weird. In fact, the beds were right near the entrance. There was also virtually no air conditioning in the room. Some might argue that learning to sleep with a lot of noise can be good for infants and sometimes it is, but our son didn't sleep when he was there.
The next problem that came up was that the staff immediately began working against us and suggesting things that seemed to be for their convenience. My wife was insistent on breast-feeding, but the staff seemed barely supportive. They were immediately unhappy with the amount of milk we were sending in. Not knowing any better and only going on what we read, we assumed the amount of milk my wife produced would be enough (and normally it is). They wanted more solely for the reason that they attributed crankiness to hunger while at the same time barely getting him any nap during the day. One worker even went so far as to suggest she give my son, who was four months old, water. No parenting or child rearing book recommends this.
While my son wasn't moving on his own, he always seemed to be in the same spot every day, which seemed odd. I'm sure they moved him, but it was still strange.
Things got worse the harder time they had with my son, who hardly seemed much trouble at all to us. While he rarely slept for more than twenty minutes for his naps, they basically claimed we were starving him and demanded we provide more milk or supplement with formula. When we refused, they actually called social services on us and called our doctor behind our backs. One of our best meetings ever was with the social services lady who was appalled at the entire thing and said we were doing exactly the right thing. She certainly wasn't the generalization of the social services worker one sees in the movies.
It wasn't long thereafter that we were fortunate to be able to switch our daycare. The new one had people who had been there many years and they were loving and supportive and their communication skills made the other daycare look like a communist newspaper. It was probably the best decision we've ever made with our son and we've been happy there ever since.
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So, to summarize, what are some red flags for daycare:
- Open spots are readily available when spots are not open in other daycare places close by.
- The director of the facility has little experience.
- The facility has a high turnover among its employees (or there are few employees who have been at the daycare a long time)
- The caregivers tend to work against you instead of with you (i.e. they try to encourage or pressure you to do things for their convenience)
- Your child appears to be in the same spot all day.
- The sleeping facility is not separated from the rest of the facility.
- The caregivers recommend certain things you know to be false.
- Bad communication.
- Does not have sufficient ratings from daycare rating agencies.
- Parents are reluctant to talk about the place or finding parents to talk about the facility is difficult.
I hope this story and these details, albeit not comprehensive by any means, can help other parents make informed choices when it comes to daycare.
- Ask Dr. Sears | A Trusted Resource for Parents
- Choosing Child Care
Choosing child care can seem overwhelming. As a parent, you need to ensure that your child is safe and happy in an environment that is fun, educational, and nurturing.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
chimezie odunukwe from Lagos, Nigeria. on August 19, 2016:
Great article to read again. Kudos.
Clementine8 from Australia on November 03, 2012:
I am a teacher and the centre you talk about is very common. Unqualified teachers who care about their convenience and not about good education or about children in general. Its sad that you had to go through this and it is sadder that thousands of children are in these centres. Parents need to be more aware of the differences between centres. Parents assume that a teacher is right and knows more than them, but a parent knows far more about their own childs needs than anybody else, trained or not! Parents often dont take the time to investigate a centre, see how the teachers interact with the children or even settle children. I see parents enrol their child in a preschool and want to drop them off that day, no questions asked!
I have worked in centres that have made me cry the way children are treated and centres that are amazing places for children to grow and learn. Something that parents need to do is spend time in the centre. You can tell a lot by how the staff interact with the children. Most centres recommend two short sessions to get the child used to the centre, but I would recommend more. I would also say to come at different times during the day. Centres always say you can come at a certain time (usually their quiet time), but a good centre should have an open door policy to parents and allow you to come at any time. Watch how teachers support children in times of difficulty, do they nurture them or criticize them? Watch how they discipline them, do they guide them to a more desired behaviour and discuss the childs feelings or send them to time out alone? Listen for a teachers language, is it positive or negative? Are the children drawn towards the teachers or does it seem false because you are there? Do the teachers give your child love and nurturing, children need hugs and kindness....a lot of young babies especially miss this in poor quality centres as they are left in the same spot or in bed! If you have a baby, when you pick him up, is he being cuddled, played with feed etc.. or is he in the bouncer, swing alone on the floor again? If the teachers seem tired and unhappy in the work place you can be sure they will be unkind to the children when you are not around. It is a big decision choosing a centre, take the time to make it a good one.
Please take the time to sign my petition...I see to many centres like the one you describe with unqualified teachers and the people who are supposed to say they are a quality centre are doing a very poor job!
Allen Donald (author) from Colorado on September 02, 2011:
Your comments are much appreciated.
slaffery from Kansas, USA on September 01, 2011:
I voted up and am very glad you shared your experience. I hope you turned this daycare in. Most, if not all states, regulate them. In our state, it is usually done by the County Health Departments. I work for an agency and we partner (purchase daycare slots for our low income families) with center-based and family childcare homes. First of all, no daycare worker is even "qualified" to make the determination of whether or not the breast milk supplied would be enough. Secondly, while they are infants, they should be on the baby's schedule. Up until about 12 months, babies are too young to put down for "scheduled" naps. Third and most important, if a worker is STUPID enough to suggest giving a four month old infant water, than she should have been fired on the spot. Breast Milk and/or Formula have everything a baby needs up until 12 months of age. We as parents have the right to start introducing foods earlier but that doesn't mean they have to. We should ALWAYS follow our gut and our doctor's advice. Getting back to the water. By giving the infant water, that has the potential to reduce baby's hunger and may satisfy him temporarily but it also messes with mother nature as well. Breast feeding is supply and demand. Water takes the place of one feeding which in turn reduces the demand. All I can think of is How dare her to interfere in you and your wife's parenting of your child? I would have her turned her in as well as the daycare. One other thing that concerned me was that the immediately started working against you. It must be a partnership between the parent and provider. In the end the child is the one that suffers. I am very sorry you had that experience. I would add one more thing and that is usually in a lot of daycares there is always a high turnover in the toddler room (12-24 months). It really takes the right kind of person or rather personality to be able to handle this age group