As your child’s first school experience, early childhood education is an important foundation for future educational experiences. Whether you work full time or part time or just need an occasional caregiver, quality child care is a necessity for both you and your child. While no one can replace a loving parent, an excellent child care provider can enrich your child’s life and give you peace of mind that your child is in good hands.
For some, choosing quality child care is simple—a favorite family member offers to care for your child. For others, the search turns into a series of phone calls, questions, and visits to child care providers. In other words, you may spend a great deal of time searching for the right caregiver.
Trust should be a primary issue when choosing child care. Trust begins at the first interview and continues throughout your entire child care experience. Having confidence in your provider is one of the ways you know you’ve found quality child care. The bottom line is, you need to feel that the child care arrangement you select will be a safe and loving experience in which your child will thrive.
When should I start? It is that time of the year when parents are starting to think about where to send their children to early childhood programs. One thing is certain: you can never begin your child care search too soon. If possible, start your child care search at least six months before you need the care. The more time and thought you put into choosing your provider, the better you’ll feel with your choice. One of the best places to find help is your local resource and referral agency.
Where do I start? Figure out your priorities.No matter how many early childhood programs they consider, parents know why they’re looking. Figure out what is Important to you. No matter what all the experts say, you are your child’s biggest advocate and the best judge of what type of environment he’ll do best in. Think about your child’s personality. Is he shy? Does she make friends quickly? What do you want from your child’s preschool? Are you looking for a rigorous academic program or something more socially-based?
· Write down what you want from your child care provider. Think about what your child may also want. Ask her, if she is old enough.
· Talk to the staff at your local resource and referral agency, read parenting publications, and ask trusted friends and co-workers for references on child care providers and programs.
· Think about what you can afford. Check into any child care financial assistance through the State or your employer. What will your monthly budget allow?
· Interview caregivers on the phone. Ask about staff-to-child ratios, costs, the learning opportunities offered, and whether the provider is licensed. Remember, there may be times in the day when a child care provider is unable to speak with you because she is caring for children. You may be asked to call back at a certain time or to stop by and visit.
Educational Philosophy. When evaluating preschools, it helps to know the basic most common early education philosophies. Read on for descriptions of Play-based, Montessori, Waldorf,International Baccalaureate, and academic early childhood and tips for how to know which is right for your child.
· This is the most common early childhood philosophy in the U.S. Also called progressive or developmentally appropriate. The credence is that children learn best through play. This increases their motivation to learn and try new things, building creatively, confidence, and a love of learning.
· Children blossom into independent thinkers is a serene setting (or “prepared environment,” as founder Maria Montessori put it), using their senses and working with materials introduced in a very deliberate way.
International Baccalaureate (Primary Years Program)
· The PYP focuses on the development of the whole child as an inquirer, both in the classroom and in the world outside. The philosophy is guided by six transdisciplinary themes of global significance, explored using knowledge and skills derived from six subjects’ areas, as well as transdisciplinary skills, with a powerful emphasis on inquiry. The PYP is flexible enough to accommodate the demands of most national or local curriculums and provides the best preparation for students to engage in elementary school preparedness.
· Waldorf programs incorporate three aspects of the student — the spirit, soul and body. Through creative free play and group activities and using all give senses, these elements are stimulated and developed in preschoolers through immersion and a nurturing atmosphere.
· Be wary of too-nice art and wall displays. One local mom recalls a painting her 4-year-old made of a rainbow. “I thought, my daughter couldn’t have done that.” Sure enough, all the rainbow paintings tacked to the classroom wall were identically perfect, a sign that the teacher was more interested in pleasing parents (and herself) than in letting kids experiment and express their uniqueness. The mom soon discovered that the same rigidity permeated other aspects of the school.
Cost. You have set out to find the best child care possible. You may not be aware, however, just how much of the family budget, and your pay check, will be needed to cover your child care expenses.
In California, care for infants and toddlers costs an average of $700 per month, for a total of $8,400 a year. To find the right provider and keep your budget intact, there are a number of factors and choices you will want to consider.
Your child’s age is important because infants and toddlers need more specialized care, and for centers this means more caregivers per child. Centers serving preschoolers require fewer caregivers per child, so the cost can go down as much as $150 to $200 a month.
It’s also important to remember that the cost of care does not necessarily equate with its quality. Don’t base your assessment of a facility on the fees or on its appearance. You may be surprised to find that a flashy entrance, shiny new equipment, or squeaky-clean everything does not guarantee high-quality child care. So look beyond your first impression and ask yourself: Is this a place where my child will be safe and where the provider will give her the kind of nurturing she needs? Will she learn, be happy, and prosper here? Your child’s safety, health, and happiness are, after all, what you are paying for. Child care expenses are an investment and in most instances a necessity. However, selecting the highest quality care pays off many times over in your child’s future.
Distance and Transportation. Compile a List of Schools Near You. There are a lot of different options out there. It’s up to you to weed through them all and determine the best fit. So where do you start? Ask around. Anyone you know with kids is a good person to query, whether you know them from work, the neighborhood, playgroup or the library. In particular, focus on the folks who have kids close in age to yours and whose kids have similar personalities. You may even want to have a chat with your pediatrician about what she thinks, especially if your child has some underlying medical issues.
A qualified staff. Preschool teachers should at least have an associate’s degree if not bachelor’s, in early childhood education. Supervisors should be qualified, too. Parents should interview directors about their backgrounds to get a sense of their ability to work with staff and young children. Qualified teachers for centers that care for infants or preschoolers must have completed at least twelve units of early childhood education, including three units of Infant/Toddler coursework. For teachers in centers with a license for school-age children, the units may be in multiple education subjects or recreation-related fields appropriate for the care of older children. Additionally, employees of centers may be a part of several professional organizations and/or may attend continuing professional education courses.
Teacher-student ratio. The staffing ratios for child care programs are established by the State of California to provide minimum standards for adult supervision at a child care center. Ratios of caregivers to children vary depending on the age of the child and the number of trained staff members present. When looking at a child care center ask:
How many trained staff members care for infants and preschoolers?
Find out the number of trained staff that supervise school-age children.
Parent Tip. Staffing ratios, or the number of staff per child, are a very important factor to consider when choosing quality child care. A ratio establishes a minimum standard a provider must follow to receive and retain a child care license. There are also many types of child care licenses, and the ratios are different depending upon the age of the children and the number of adults. Make sure you feel comfortable with the number of children being cared for by the provider.
Research Preschool. Research shows when your child receives high-quality child care, she has a better chance of success in school, academically and socially, and in life! Above all, measure quality child care by whether there is a warm, positive relationship between the child and the caregiver and whether there is a safe, healthy, and stimulating learning environment. During the preschool years, your child will be incredibly busy. Cutting, pasting, painting, and singing are all daily activities. When your child starts kindergarten around age five, make sure home and child care activities include learning numbers, letters, and simple directions. Most public school kindergarten programs are usually only a few hours a day. You may need care before and after school. It is never too early to begin your search.
When looking for quality care for your preschooler, consider:
· Are there other children the same age or close in age to your child?
· Is there space for climbing, running, and jumping?
· Are there books and learning activities to prepare your child for school?
· Is television and movie watching selective?
· Are learning materials and teaching styles age-appropriate and respectful of children’s cultural and ethnic heritage?
· Are caregivers experienced and trained in early childhood development?
· Are children given choices to do and learn things for themselves?
· Are children rushed to complete activities or tasks?
· Or are they given enough time to work at their own pace?
Make your decision
· Environment: How many caregivers will be with your child in a day or week? Are there plenty of interesting toys and materials for your child to play with? Is the center organized so your child can find things easily? Are the children smiling and happy?
· Values: What are the provider’s philosophy and values? How does the provider discipline children? How does the provider individualize learning activities, nap, mealtime, and toilet training?
· Communication: How does the center staff share information about your child’s progress and daily activities? Can you visit at any time? How is discipline handled?
· Staff: How long have the caregivers worked at the center? What is the staff turnover? Are the management’s and caregivers’ values the same? Does the staff seem relaxed and responsive to the children’s needs?
· Parent Involvement: Are you welcome to participate in the child care program? Are you required to volunteer? Does staff encourage your input on how well your child is doing? How is your child’s progress shared with you?
· Education: What type of experience, education, and credentials do the caregivers have?
· Licensing: What type of license does the center have? Can your child attend from infancy to school-age? Did you contact Community Care Licensing to check on any previous complaints? Location: How convenient is it for you from your work, home, bus route, and/or health care provider? Cost: Can you afford the monthly tuition? Is there an additional registration fee? Is there a family discount? Does the center charge a fee for late pickup? Are there any other costs for materials, field trips, or books?
· Evaluation: Does the program staff have a process of determining what they are doing well and what needs to be worked on?
Congratulations! You now have more child care information than you ever knew existed. Know the life you are entering into may be overwhelming at times. You’re going to be balancing work, household duties, and child care. That’s a lot! You’ll have times when life runs smoothly, then out of the blue, your child is sick and your car breaks down. That’s when you start to scramble. It’s easy to get angry and want to quit. It’s at these times you need to stop and look at the big picture. Your life may be more rewarding by providing for your children, learning new job skills, and being counted on as a vital part of the work force. At the same time, your children can learn, play, and socialize with others every day at child care.
If you need help, ask your child care provider, ask your friends, ask your co-workers. It’s amazing how people are willing to help.
But first, you must ask. Although it may be hard to reach out, it is the only way to build a support system and back-up plans that work. The only certainty about being a parent is that nothing is really certain at all. So when you’re working, you need child care options, especially if your provider is unavailable or your child is sick. The right support system and back-up plan may make a difference in your success at work and as a parent.
Parenting takes a lot of work. Factor in a job, family life, kids, more kids, schedules, summer vacations, car pools, and bills, plus all the other bumps in the road, and it’s amazing what we do manage to accomplish.
After all is said and done—after you’ve read and listened to all the suggestions of others—trust your own instincts. You know best the right child care arrangement, the one that meets your needs so that you can keep on working, learning, parenting, and smiling.
Written by Michelle Windes Owner/Operator of Discovery Place Child Development Center