Updated: Aug 16, 2019
My son, now 3 years old, has been in daycare for about a year and I can safely say I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew was that I needed time to work, somewhere really close that wasn’t too expensive and most importantly, somewhere my son would enjoy going to.
Well, I found a place right across the road from our condo, so I was pretty pleased with myself. The price was good because it was new (also good news), the activities seemed like a lot of fun and I liked the teachers there. It would do, I thought.
In hindsight - isn’t hindsight the best and worst thing?! - I should’ve delved a little deeper in my quest. My son has had his ups and downs at daycare but the thought of changing may be worse than staying put - you all know how trying a new situation can be for a threenager.
Anyway, if you’re searching like I was, here are the things I wish I had thought about before choosing:
1. Sit in the daycare, nursery, preschool (or whatever) for as long as you’re allowed to get a good idea of what the atmosphere, activities and care are like.
Of course, the principle is going to show you around and sell you on the place as well as answer any questions you have. But the proof is in how it FEELS to be there.
I went to one place and the kids were so quiet. Too quiet, I thought. Kids are loud if they’re being themselves, aren’t they? Are they too afraid to be themselves? Alarm bells went off. Fat “no” for that place.
At another place, we visited for over an hour, which was great! We got to see a lot of the interactions between the teachers and students, which were mostly good!
2. Ask them what activities they do.
Most places will tell you all about the activities that they do. Some have very elaborate schedules with external agencies coming in to conduct classes. A word of warning, some say they only practice Montessori but many places are not certified and only incorporate Montessori methods into their activities.
I tend to go for play-based activities over anything leaning towards academic, just because I know my son and the kinds of activities that engage him. I didn’t care much about the specific method as long as there’s a mixture of art, music, movement, practical skills and other play-based activities. The more hands-on the better.
3. Ask them how they handle negative behaviours.
Ideally, you want the way they look after the kids when things don’t go right to be as close to what you’d do in that situation. Or at least acceptable enough for you to feel comfortable that even if your child faces consequences, they’re fair.
I asked them, what would you do if:
You see two children fighting over a toy?
A child (or my child) hits, bites, spits or throws things?
A child is having a tantrum?
A child refuses to do something you’ve asked? Or an activity that’s planned?
It’s good to think about how you deal with these situations and what’s acceptable to you. The most important thing for me is to listen beyond their words, if their answer is caring and gentle, I’m good.
4. Ask them about how they handle the child’s first few hours/days.
Most places will expect you to leave pretty soon after you arrive. So I always want to know how they’ll look after my son after he arrives. I’ve heard a mixture of responses from “we would let him sit by himself to adjust on his own” to “we assign one teacher to him to look after him so that he can start to trust one person first”.
Once you know what they’ll do and have chosen a place, I use that to prepare my child for Day 1, so they know what to expect.
5. Ask them about their protocol for sickness.
I’ve got zero control over another parents actions, i.e. if they decide to send their child to daycare even if they know their child has a cough or has a runny nose. I also know that it’s inevitable that my son will catch something from daycare from time to time.
But it sucks when kids aren’t sent home when they are truly unwell, so I’m always keen to find out at what point they send kids home. Most of the time it’s temperature-based, but one place I went to said they wouldn’t send them home, they’d just separate the kids, so it’s good to check.
6. Does the child get the same carer or how often do the staff change?
You don’t normally get the chance to ask the teachers directly but it’s worth asking how long the teachers usually stick around. The daycare that my son was at previously had an alarmingly high rate of turnover and several of Josh’s favourite teachers left, which was hard for him to process.
What should be normal is that the child only changes teachers once they move up to the next year group. One place that I visited was very proud of the fact that their staff members were all experienced (in their 40s) and had been involved with the school for a decade or more!
7. Watch your child while you’re visiting - how comfortable are they in the space?
Ultimately, the choice of where to send your child is yours, but kids have an amazing capacity to tell whether or not somewhere is safe for them.
Watch how comfortable your child is when you’re visiting do they cling to you for the whole time or do they get down to start exploring? Does the Principle or teachers engage with your child during your visit, and what’s the quality of that engagement? Does your child respond back?
By the end of one of my visits, my son was playing independently and when we went to leave the Principle asked him if he could put away the toys he’d been playing with, and he did so without hesitation.
8. Ask for recommendations from other parents
Choosing a daycare or nursery for your child can be a challenge but the shortcut to finding somewhere good is to ask for recommendations. If you don't have your own network and you're looking for recommended childcare centres in your area, post your question in The ibu Tribe Facebook group we've got over 9,000 members. Or if you have somewhere you'd recommend, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, we'll be keeping track of the childcare centres you love.