When my husband and I first found out that we were expecting our first child, we were elated. It had taken us some time to become pregnant and we were so glad the time had finally come to grow our little family. However, it did not take long for the panic to set in regarding all of the decisions that we needed to make. I knew, even before getting pregnant, that I wanted to go back to work. Since I am very much a planner, I started to look into child care in the early months of my pregnancy. I was so overwhelmed and had no idea what to look for. Since I have gained a lot of insight on this topic, I have put together the working mommy’s guide to finding child care.
If you ask any parent out there, they are going to tell you that putting their child in a center all day is not something they necessarily want to do. However, there are many families in which keeping the children at home is not an option. There are many wonderful chid care centers out there. However, it is important to do your research before deciding on the best option for your child. I have learned the hard way as to what is most important to look for when it comes to child care. We were so fortunate to find a few amazing places for both my daughter and my son. Although, my son’s last school was definitely our favorite.
I am sharing my guidelines for child care centers because that is what I know best. A nanny was not really something that we considered and we had a really bad experience with a home-based provider when my daughter was a toddler. However, I am sure that many of the guidelines outlined below could apply to any child care environment.
This is what I feel are the most important things to consider prior to enrolling your precious bundle of joy in a child care program.
Low Child to Teacher Ratio
In the early years, it is so important for children to receive individual attention. This is why it is crucial to find a child care provider that has a low child to teacher ratio. Each state typically has specific guidelines in place based on the age of the child. However, many centers strive to keep their ratios below that threshold to ensure that children are getting the attention that they need. A lower child to student ratio allows teachers to spend more time with each student. This allows children to create a stronger bond with the teachers. This is very important for working parents, since their children will spent a large part of their day in the classroom.
Child Care Philosophy
A chid care center should have a similar philosophy toward development as you have in your own home. For me, play-based education is important and I have always strived to find a center that has a similar approach. Regardless of your stance on raising children, you should look for a center that has a similar views as your own as it relates to education, discipline and child development. It is hard enough to leave your child while you go to work. You do not need the added pressure of conflicting viewpoints.
When you are touring centers, it is important to ask about their approach to discipline. You want to make sure it is in line with your beliefs. Each of the centers that we have attended had a slightly different approach and there were a few that I did not agree with. This is an important question to ask because you want to make sure there is consistency between school and home to create the best environment for your child.
It goes without saying that you want the environment that your child is in to be nurturing and inviting. When you visit a center, you want to see artwork and projects on the walls. This will be a good indication of the activities in which your child will participate in. It is important that there are a lot of books and educational toys to help foster development. I once toured a center that had 8 baby swigs in the classroom. I could not get out of that place fast enough!
It is also valuable to tour a center when learning is taking place versus during nap time. I really enjoyed seeing learning in action. This will also allow you the opportunity to see how the teachers interact with the children.
Parent Communication & Involvement
Communication between parent and teacher is so vital, especially in the early years in which your child is not able to communicate. As a parent, you need to be in the know about eating and sleeping habits to ensure there are not any issues that need to be addressed with the pediatrician. It is also important to know how your child is developing and since so much time is spent in school, the teacher’s input is very important.
A good center should have some way in which they communicate to you daily. There are some centers that utilize a paper report and some even log that information electronically. To me, it did not matter the method in which the communication took place as long as it was happening. Sadly, my daughter attended a school in which the communication was poor and I had no idea what she was doing from one day to the next. We did not stay at that center for very long!
Many centers have opportunities for parents to get involved. This could include a holiday event, fall festival or just an opportunity for parents come into the classroom to volunteer. Parent involvement early on helps promote a positive learning environment both at home and at school.
Teachers & Staffing
A loving, nurturing teacher is so important as it relates to finding good child care. Again, we have had both ends of the spectrum. Unfortunately, child care is a high turnover industry and it is not uncommon for centers to have difficulties recruiting and retaining top talent.
When you visit a center, you will want to ask about the turnover and how long the teachers have been working there. You will also want to ask about experience and certification. The centers that we have had the best experience at have had a consistent base of teachers. In fact, many of the teachers even held college degrees.
To me, passion is the number one requirement for a good teacher. If they truly love their job and what they do, they are also going to love your child. Typically, a quick introduction and observation of a teacher will indicate whether or not they have that passion. My children have had many wonderful teachers and many of them they still talk about today. My son talks about his child care teachers more than he does his elementary teachers, which makes me happy and sad all at the same time.
Our Favorite Child Care Center
If you are in and around the Jacksonville, FL area, I highly recommend Bartram Academy. Between my two children, we have attended at least a half of dozen centers and they were by far our favorite. My only compliant is that I wish they had opened sooner, so that my daughter could attend as well. My son went there from the time that they opened until he graduated onto kindergarten.
Bartram Academy is an eco-friendly school and serves only organic and natural foods. They do not serve anything that comes out of a can. The meals and snacks that they serve are amazing and they even got my son to eat spinach! They have also made a real commitment to going green. They use essential oils and salt lamps versus nasty cleaning chemicals and they are even cloth diaper friendly.
While I appreciate that the school is eco-friendly, what I really love about the center is their philosophy on education. Being a former teacher, I know how crucial the early years are for child development. Their curriculum is based on many aspects of the Reggio Emilia approach to childhood education. This model of learning uses a play-based approach, but provides a little more teaching and structure. This method of education is designed to work for newborns all the way up to six years old and is the basis for Google’s on-site preschool for Silicon Valley employees. In 1991, it was named one of the best systems in the world. Bartram Academy is one of the rare schools that applies this method to all students, from babies to four-year-olds.
Kelly and Roger, the owners, are absolutely wonderful and are always available to answer any questions that you may have.