I have often been asked by friends and family over the years what they should look for when choosing child care as they know I have been in the profession for over 20 years now.
I have worked in both as a qualified educator but I have also approached them from the perspective of a parent who wants the best care for their child and I know what an emotional experience it can be.
12 things to consider when choosing centre based care for your child.
Staff that smile at you or acknowledge you in some way as you walk in the door. Better still, they actually stop and talk to you or introduce themselves or you see them greeting each other warmly or laughing amongst themselves. I know most people will say seeing happy children is at the top of their list but personally I always look at the staff faces. If they aren't happy then trust me the kids aren't that happy either. Child care is a tough work environment and woefully underpaid, you have to really love children and your workplace to be able to offer the best care.
As you walk in look around and ask yourself how you feel, what you hear, what you smell, what you want to do. Sounds silly but a parent's instinct is a powerful force and if you feel safe and welcome and a little bit excited then chances are your child will too. If you are overwhelmed, scared or frustrated then your child will probably feel the same way.
As you are shown around the centre (and you should be shown around without feeling like a nuisance by the way) take notice of the different rooms and the behaviour of the children. Is there a lot of hitting and shouting? Is there an educator in each room engaged in play and learning with the children? Are they coming down to the child's level to talk and play? If not why not? Are there children crying or trying to seek attention continuously? Children will show this sort of attention seeking behaviour if bored or not feeling as though they belong in their space or are being listened to.
Don't just look at the room, ask to see the toilets too. Are they clean? Are the children being supported to toilet train or progress in their toileting, is the nappy change area clean, are the toilets relatively free from clutter? Is there a toilet training/nappy changing policy you could read through? Do they have expectations around ages and level of toileting independance?
Are there enough staff? Seriously. Often there isn't and that is a fact. Ask who will be in your child's room and the qualifications they hold and how many children are booked into the room. Is this the correct government approved ratio?
If the service provides meals ask to see a sample menu. Is it nutritious and appropriate? Are there allowances made for allergies and those children that prefer to bring their own lunch/snacks?
Is there an educational program of play and learning somewhere in the room and accessible to parents? Do you see individual children's needs being met as you glance around the room?
Ask about the routine…children like flexibility but they also need structure and planning to feel confident about their environment and what is expected of them.
Is the furniture throughout the centre clean, stable and safe? Are the toys and other resources in good condition?
Is there access to toys and materials on low shelving for children to explore and make their own choices or are toys all packed away in boxes and only a few things put out at a time?
Are there natural resources and open ended materials available? Don't make the mistake of thinking something needs to be new, bright or plastic to be good. Some of the best play experiences occur with older toys and resources that have been well looked after over the years.
They just need to be safe…well loved is wonderful! Treasures from the thrift and op shops can also help children engage in real life play and exploration and model what they see happening with the same ‘tools' at home.
Make sure to look outside. I consider the outdoor environment just as important as the indoor spaces. Are there opportunities for children to explore natural elements and use all of their senses while also playing and challenging themselves on equipment?
Are there areas for quiet spaces as well as active play and room for little imaginations to grow? The children should be spending a large amount of their time outside as part of a balanced early childhood program…don't underestimate the importance of this area.
If the area feels sparse or unloved or just has piles of metal climbing frames and planks packed into every space then I personally would be a little concerned about the vision of that centre and their commitment to quality outdoor play.
Please ask how the centre communicates with parents.I like to know how my child's day went, how I can extend her learning at home, how I can be involved in her day even though I wasn't there. Are there communication books, newsletters, portfolios, emails, photos, an emphasis on verbal communication, good communication systems between early and late staff or do you only find out about your child's day if you can get there in time to see the room staff? What is their preferred system, does this work for you?
Most centres run to a 12 hour day which means that often there will be early shift staff and late shift staff. Ask whether the roster changes each week or whether the early/late shift is always staffed by the same educators. This is important because if you drop off to the centre early or pick up late it is much easier for you (and your child) to see a familiar face at these important times rather than someone different each day or week. Also a good idea to ask other parents or the director about the centre staff retention rates…high turnover of staff in one room or across the whole centre often means it is not a happy environment.
Ask them how they involve children with high or special needs into their service. How do they include those with behavioural challenges or developmental delays? Ask about what is important to you as a parent. For me I needed to know the centre understood the challenges of a child with sensory processing difficulties. Some directors looked at me like I was a nutter when I mentioned Ruby's sensory needs…others were passionate about the subject and shared their strategies and thoughts freely.
Don't be swayed by bright colours, fancy brochures and lots of talk. See with your own eyes, ask questions and make an informed choice. You will no doubt be forming a relationship with your child's centre for a few years to come (and you are also paying a lot for this service)so you have the right to ask questions and receive answers.
All photos were taken in the twins new preschool room and outdoor space at Friends Child Care Centre…..I knew I wanted my girls here as soon as I saw the environment and talked with staff! It's a special place full of inspiration and happy staff and kids…and it was worth the search, yours will be too!
Do you have any tips or questions you ask when choosing a child care centre?
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