Q: [Baby to 5 Years] I’m going back to work and want to find the best childcare facility I can. What should I be looking for when I’m researching facilities?
A: Parents often come in and don’t know what to ask, or they get distracted by some of the things I’d call “bells and whistles” like new technology or a shiny new play structure. But as someone who has been in this field for over 22 years, there are really three main things parents should be looking out for when evaluating childcare options.
Safety: First and foremost, safety is the No. 1 thing parents need to look for when researching a childcare facility. I encourage parents to look beyond physical safety (like a fence around the playground) to also look into program safety and ask the program director the difficult questions that are important to your family—there is no such thing as a dumb question. Some program safety questions might include, “Do all of your staff have immunizations?” “Do you have regular center inspections?” “Are there background checks for all staff members?” These are all important things to keep in mind beyond physical safety.
A Focus on Education: Your primary concern for your child may be great, safe care in a loving environment. As it should be! But you should also look for a center that will help your child begin building skills that will be crucial as they enter kindergarten and first grade. Research shows that cognitive skills, like math and literacy, as well as the physical and emotional development your child builds between birth to 5 years old can set them up for success for the rest of their educational careers. No matter what curriculum a program offers, they should be able to explain their guiding principle and show you results. At KinderCare we regularly assess our students to track their progress, and our results show that the longer kids stay with us, the better they perform. Wherever you go, make sure the director knows the curriculum, why they use it, and how it’s proven to benefit their kids. And when you walk through the classrooms, check for evidence of what children are learning to make sure the program is delivering on its promise.
Relationship Building: You want your kid to be at a center where you have a good, open relationship and communication with the director and the teachers. There should be an open-door policy in terms of being able to call or come in to check on your child, and you should feel comfortable going to your director with any questions—no matter how tough. Look for a director who is willing to spend as much time as you need to be comfortable during your visit. This is the person you’ll go to if you have a problem, and they should listen to your concerns. A great way to tell if a center focuses on building relationships with their families is by asking, “What kind of things do you do for the families throughout the year?” At KinderCare, we have family events and parent/teacher conferences, which builds connections between the families and the center.
Rebecca Nehez is currently a center director at Aliso Viejo KinderCare. She has been in the child development field since 1996. She has a bachelor of science in education with a concentration in early childhood education. www.kindercare.com