As I begin my research into preschools for my two year old daughter, Ilse (yes, I am planning ahead), I am reminded of the research I did when I was finding daycare for her. I spent seven months looking for the right place. After I documented my search and shared it with my fellow mommy friends and social groups, I was asked about the kinds of questions to ask daycare providers, and now I would like to share them with you. To streamline your decision process and get the most out of your daycare tours, here are my top five topics and key questions to address with prospective daycare providers.
Daycare is not cheap in San Francisco. During my initial search, I saw prices range from $1,200 per month to $2,000 per month for full-time enrollment – five days a week, all day. After this “sticker shock,” my husband and I sat down and determined a budget we could work with and based our search on that budget. In addition to reaffirming the cost of the kind of care you need, whether it be part-time or full-time, it is also wise to ask about billing and other fees that might be involved, as they add into the overall cost of care.
_What is the monthly tuition?
_How does billing work?
_ What other fees are involved and when are they due (e.g. enrollment fees or late fees)?
Parents need to make sure a daycare provider’s hours can meet their family’s needs. Not all daycare facilities are open 8 AM – 6 PM. Some have shorter hours or may have later opening times. While a facility’s business hours may be listed on their website, it’s a good idea to ask providers about their business hours and holiday calendar. Asking these questions will help you plan for the days that you’ll need to find alternative care. It will also help you decide between facilities, if one daycare provider has operating hours that better meets your needs.
_What are your hours of operation?
_What holidays are you open/closed?
_Are there any days that you close early? Which ones?
_How early do you accept children?
Understanding what a typical day looks like and the rooms and outdoors spaces your child will be in gives you an idea of how playtime, meals and naps are laid out and the kind of play and educational activities that take place. Just as you would ask questions at a job interview about what it’s like to work there, it’s important to ask questions for your child’s day “at work.” It’s important to know what our children are doing while they under someone else’s care, and, for me, I wanted to ensure my daughter wasn’t being placed in front of a television or screen all day.
_Can you describe a typical day for me?
_What educational activities do you do with the children?
_Do you ever take the children off property (e.g. to local parks or on field trips)?
_What safety provisions do you take if you leave the property? (In a future post, I’ll outline all of the safety and security questions I ask).
4) Child Provisions
Now that we know how the daycare facility will care for our children, we need to know what items we will be responsible for providing. This will largely depend on the age of the child. The younger they are, the more gear for which parents are responsible. My daughter, Isle, has been enrolled in daycare since she was four months old. In the beginning, they asked me to provide breastmilk or formula, two spare bottles, infant acetaminophen, two changes of clothes, diapers, wipes, a bib, a blanket, and a comfort item. My pumped milk, jarred baby food, diapers, and wipes were given on demand, as needed. As Ilse’s grown, our daycare requires us to bring fewer provisions for her, but we still send her with a daily bag (we use a lightweight Lesportsac backpack) with a spare set of extra clothes, pain medication (or any prescribed medications), spare diapers, and wipes.
_What items will we need to bring with us to daycare?
_Where will my child’s personal belongings be stored?
_How do you handle food allergies?
_Do you require a copy of my child’s immunization record? (Tip: I give updated copies to my daycare provider after every round of immunizations.)
Personal references are essential to getting a feel for how daycare providers interact with parents and their children. They also demonstrate how happy the families are with their care. Who better to tell you about how well their child does at a daycare than another parent? A reputable facility will not only provide you references, they may also provide you with a contract to review. My daycare provider gave me a list of three references, and I contacted all of them, asking each the same three questions.
_Can you describe your experience with the provider?
_What do you like/what needs to improve?
_Why would you recommend this provider over another?
Interviewing prospective daycare providers can be stressful, but making sure to cover these five topics during the process will help you identify the perfect caregiver and give you a little peace of mind.