By April Tisher
No matter what ages your children are, making the decision about who will care for them when you are away from them is a big one. Whether you are leaving your infant in a full-time day care center while you return to work or are putting your little one in preschool two days a week, finding the right child care facility that not only you, but also your child feels comfortable with is a process. The right choice for your best friend’s child might not be as perfect for you. There are many options to consider before thinking about a specific place — in-home or at a center, faith based or not, full time or part time, etc. Once you have determined what will best suit your needs, it is time to do your research and take tours of the facilities. Here are some things to consider in finding the right child care program for your family.
The Department of Children and Families (DCF) has standard guidelines that child care facilities must follow in the state of Florida. They recommend that you first find out if the center is licensed by the state. There are many safety guidelines that a facility must follow on a continuous basis to receive and maintain licensure. Questions about curriculum, communication procedures between the school and home, and the snacks/meals that are served are examples of things you should ask when researching child care. Visit Myfloridafamilies.com for a printable checklist and other parental resources.
Jan Banks, who has 17 years of experience in child care, recommends taking a tour, and not necessarily a scheduled one. She said just by walking in the door you should be able to get a good feel of the atmosphere. The relationship between staff members should seem happy and engaging. Are the adults and children smiling? This may seem overly simple, but if everyone likes to be there, it tells you a lot as a first impression. “Relationships are what it is really all about,” said Banks. She feels that taking the time to invest in families from the first time they walk in the door makes a lasting impression. Another thing Banks feels is important is the physical environment. Is the facility clean and safe? Does the playground and classroom equipment seem age appropriate and in good condition? Is there restricted or regulated entry access to the children and what are the safety procedures? What does the daily schedule look like for your child’s age group? Not only are teacher directed activities and curriculum important, but so are independent activities, such as centers, stations, art and music. Be sure to ask about school-wide special events, clubs and after-school activities. Are there extra costs associated with these things?
In the end, the place you choose needs to feel right, both to you and your child. Having a working relationship with those caring for your child is paramount to success.
Choosing a Faith-Based Program
If you are choosing a faith-based center, be sure that you understand the beliefs your child will be taught, especially if it is different from those beliefs you practice at home.