hen I needed to find a daycare and a preschool for my girls, I spent days on Google, on the phone, and then visiting child care providers. I visited 16 centers before settling for the one that felt right for us. In this post I will share 10 tips that I hope will help you in your search for finding great and affordable child care.
1. Start your child care search early, as far as a year in advance, especially if you live in a concentrated urban area like Washington D.C. or San Francisco. This is even more important if you will be looking for an infant. It’s usually more difficult to find space for an infant than for a 3 or 4 year old because of the teacher-to-child ratio: for infants, you must have 1 teacher for 3-4 infants (depending on the State) but for a 4 year olds, it’s around 10.
2. Create an email account for your daycare search. If you plan on visiting lots of child care centers or posting an ad online, you will most likely get tons of emails from child care providers. To ensure you don’t get your personal email inundated, get a temporary new email account.
3. Research schools before you visit them. Use CareLuLu to find child care options that fit your specific needs whether it is cost, services offered or teacher education. This will save you time by not visiting daycares that are out of your budget, for instance. CareLuLu allows you to compare providers in your area and unlike other care finding sites, it also offers tuition rates so you won’t need to call or visit just for that!
4. Request to see a child care license (State license or County permit) and make sure it hasn’t expired. This is really critical and will ensure that minimum standards are met in terms of safety, teachers’ education, and staff background checks.
5. Spend time talking to the director during your visit (or the assistant director) to see how engaged they seem. I’ve spoken to lots of directors as a parent in search of child care and some have shown a lot more interest in being accommodating and in working with me. Your discussion during the tour is usually quite telling of how helpful and flexible the director will be once your child is actually enrolled.
6. Upper management is just as important as the teachers. Directors have a great impact over the morale and atmosphere of the entire school. Happy teachers generally means happy kids, so if possible, see how well the management and the teachers seem to get along. A frequent change of directors is a bad sign.
7. Ask about teacher turnover rates. Teachers that work at the same center for a long time provide stability, which is much needed for children to develop a strong relationship with their caregivers. You should ask specifically about the tenure of the teacher(s) that would care for your child.
8. If tuition is important, say so (and ask for a special deal!) If tuition is critical in your decision making, point it out to the school and say that you’re considering other daycare options in the area. They may be more willing to give you a reduced rate. Also, be sure to ask for discounts and special deals. If you don’t ask, you don’t get! This is surprising to most parents but saving $100-$200 can be as simple as asking if they can waive the registration fee (a lot of them do.)
9. Ask for a free Discovery Day before enrolling. Although not all child care providers advertise it or even offer it, some schools do allow you to bring your child for a few hours or even a day to test out the school. See how your child feels about the center before committing yourself to it.
10. Ask the school for at least three parent references. Don’t be shy and do call those parents to get their feedback on the school. You will likely learn something the school administrator didn’t mention. Stay away from child care providers that are reluctant to give you references.
I hope this helps! What about you, what are your own tips for finding that perfect child care? Please share them with others!