Helpful tips on finding a good daycare

As a first-time parent, finding a good daycare for my daughter weighed heavily on my mind. My husband and I both work full-time and our parents live out of state, so we knew that our daughter would go to daycare. This article is about tips on finding a good daycare.

Unfortunately, I learned about this topic the hard way. In our initial daycare search, we chose a daycare that we thought would be fantastic. Then it turned out that daycare was not a good match for our family.

Hindsight is 20/20. Although we had the best of intentions in finding a good daycare, there were some key items that we overlooked in our first search.

So, here are helpful tips on finding a good daycare.

1. Take everything a facility says with a grain of salt

If you meet with the owner or director of a facility, they are most likely trying to promote their business. Let’s face it, daycares are businesses, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

A director is never going to tell you…our teacher-to-child ratio is awful! Yeah, our teacher turnover rate is pretty bad too.

According to a director or owner, they are going to have the best of everything. Some may even try to throw their licensures, degrees, and certifications in your face. (This actually happened to us.)

Alas, you probably won’t find anything bad or off about a facility from the people who are trying their best to promote it.

2. Drop in unannounced

tips on finding a good daycare
Is the facility clean and organized?

Most daycare facilities have open door policies, meaning you can drop in, visit with someone in charge, and ask questions. You don’t have to call and set up a tour for each facility, which is what we did in our first search.

You’ll get more of a feel of the daycare’s ambience when you drop in unannounced. At first glance, does it seem chaotic? Mellow? Is someone there to welcome you? If any children are in sight, do they seem happy, content?

If you schedule a tour, your visit may be more structured. There’s no telling what a director or facility does to prepare for a tour. It could be everything or it could be nothing.

In my experience with visiting facilities, if a director is at ease with you dropping in unannounced and can provide you with lots of information off the cuff, that’s generally a good sign.

3. Review state compliance reports

Generally, most states have laws and regulations governing facilities that provide child care for children. In New Mexico, compliance with these laws and regulations is strictly mandated.

Depending on your state, the agency that is in charge of implementing these regulations may post compliance reports or facility surveys on a website for the public. Here is the facility survey site for New Mexico. If they are not published online, you can probably call the agency and ask for them.

Compliance visits are usually conducted on an annual or semi-annual basis, so you can review the reports and see if the daycare facility is compliant or non-compliant in different areas.

I have seen the most random and minute things on compliance reports. One report noted that there wasn’t a roll of toilet tissue in the kids’ bathroom but that it was fixed on site.

I have also seen more serious violations, like staff members not being CPR certified. That, to me, seems like a red flag.

This is one of the best tips on finding a good daycare.

4. Get other people’s opinions

The easiest way to do this is to start asking questions of your friends, family, and neighbors. If you can talk to at least one parent whose child actually attended the facility, that is a bonus.

Also, check reviews on Google, Yelp, and Nextdoor. For my neighborhood, there were so many reviews of childcare facilities in the area. Many people even had recommendations for the best neighborhood in-home daycares.

For our first-choice daycare, no one had ever heard of that daycare and I wasn’t able to talk to any parents whose children were enrolled or attended in the past. Well, we enrolled anyway and it turned out to be a bad fit for us.

With our current facility, a family friend’s children attended a few years ago and she loved it for her kids. She said the teachers will love your daughter and the environment is great. It turned out to be true.

5. How old is the daycare facility?

In our experience, a lesser established daycare facility did not run as smoothly as one that has been operating for decades. 

When we chose our first daycare that had been running for less than five years, I didn’t give a second thought about the length of establishment. Why would that matter, right?

Well, business practices ultimately affect many aspects of your child’s care. With a newer business, there will be some growing pains.

At our first daycare, there was a really high infant teacher turnover rate, which I noticed immediately. They could not keep an infant teacher there for longer than a month.

In the three months that my daughter attended, she had many care providers and substitute providers. She wasn’t able to establish a bond with one specific provider.

Also, the director’s interaction with parents was less than savory. Although she had a master’s degree in childhood development, she did not have any experience in running a daycare and it showed. 

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all newer daycare facilities will be bad but the length of establishment is a factor you might want to consider.

6. Do they offer meals?

tips on finding a good daycare
Eating meals together builds a sense of community

Our first daycare did not provide meals for the children, so all students had to bring their food for the day. I thought this was the status quo for all daycare facilities.

Asking about meals was not a thought on my radar when I first visited facilities but it’s so important. There is a huge difference between packing all of your child’s meals and snacks every day versus not having to think about it at all.

At our current facility, the daycare provides breakfast, lunch, and two snacks every day. All the kids eat family style. Parents are able to see the schedule of meals for the week. It is amazing.

7. Don’t judge a book by its cover

Shiny and new isn’t necessarily better. I chose our first daycare facility partly because it looked really nice. Everything was new, bright, and shiny. The infant room looked like it hadn’t even been used.

New equals good, right? No, not even close.

Unfortunately, I was also of the mindset that more expensive equals better, which is absolutely not the case.

Our current daycare is well used and much less expensive than our first choice shiny new daycare. The only thing that matters is that our daughter loves her current daycare and she is well taken care of.

Tips on finding a good daycare

I hope these tips help you in finding a good daycare for your little one. I know it can be tough, emotional, and sometimes a roller coaster.

We all go through things for a reason, right? Although our experience with our first daycare wasn’t ideal and we ended up switching, I became a better parent in advocating for my daughter’s needs and trying to do the right thing for our family.

Truthfully, if we hadn’t gone through the experience of a bad daycare, I don’t think we would have been as in love with our current facility. Things work out in funny ways.

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