Many parents start to look for childcare as soon as they know they’re expecting. They often consider cost and location first, since they are easy to determine and help to whittle down the possibilities to an acceptable list. However, parents are often unsure how to rate the quality of a facility. It’s no wonder – a lot goes into determining how a childcare program delivers high-quality care, education, and appropriate child development services. Here are some points to keep in mind when you talk to daycare directors and tour some facilities.

Staff-to-Child Ratio Requirements
Each state has regulations that require the number of staff that must be working with your children. For infants, it’s a low number — as low as 1:3, although in some states, the ratio is 1:6. Ask the day care center’s director if infants and toddlers are placed in the same group, and how many children that group would include.

Age-appropriate Activities
Many day cares have rooms that are dedicated to different ages, so expect to see a room that’s designed just for those six weeks to 12 months old. The activities and learning spaces for a five-month-old baby are much different than those for a three-year-old toddler. Each state has published standards that your day care operator should be following.

Daily Schedule and Activities
A quality childcare facility should have a list that outlines a general schedule explaining what the children will be doing for the day. You should see breakfast and bottle times, floor times to work on fine and gross motor skills, lunch time, cognitive activities that include singing and reading to infants, and nap times.

Staff Education
Every person who participates in your infant’s childcare should have some education in childhood development, such as an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in early childhood education (or they should be working towards a degree). If the childcare center doesn’t include a mention about their staff’s training in their materials, ask them about it. (Staff should also have Criminal Record Clearances, Child Abuse History Clearances, and FBI Fingerprint Clearances.)

Primary Caregiver Responsibilities and Continuity of Care
The day care center should have one person who is mostly in charge of your child’s care, which includes eating, sleeping, and learning. Ask them what they do for the day’s routine so that you can get an idea of that teacher’s communication style. Find out if you’ll be talking to the same staff member at the beginning of the day when you drop your child off and at the end of the day when you pick them up. The center should also schedule some time to meet with your child’s primary caregiver at least twice a year so that you can have an in-depth conversation about his or her development.

Online Federal and State Resources
Most states have several organizations that are devoted to early childhood development within a day care setting and should have a great deal of information on child care resources for your area. National organizations include Zero To Three, National Association for the Education of Young Children, the Early Head Start National Resource Center, and the U.S. Department of Education.

Also, many states have already implemented or are in the process of starting a quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) that can help you learn more about the quality of childcare facilities in your area. You can read about the system here.

One last tip for judging the quality of a day care: parents should note if the children they see in the childcare facility are happy and involved. Remember, learning should be fun!

By: Dana Hardek, Macaroni Kid Stork