If you are expecting, or trying to go back to work, you will most likely need to find childcare for your child(ren). The best daycares and nanny’s book up quickly, so it is important to start your search early. This post is intended to help you decide which form of childcare is best for your family, and what to consider when selecting a facility.
If you are pregnant you should start looking now! Hopefully you are earlier in your pregnancy, because I could not believe how quickly daycares fill up. I started my search at around 20 weeks pregnant and thought I was jumping the gun a bit. To my surprise, I was actually slightly behind the curve and some daycares even turned me away.
The timing really depends on where you live. If you are located somewhere like San Francisco or New York, you might want to get your name on a waitlist the day you find out you are pregnant! Other places that are more rural, you might be able to walk in 8 months pregnant and secure a spot. However, I would rather be the over-prepared mom who gets a spot on the waitlist way in advance verses showing up late to the party and getting myself in a pinch to find childcare.
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Types of Childcare
You will want to find a childcare setting that works best for you, depending on your situation. The most common options will be a childcare facility, home daycare, in-home nanny, and family care.
A group facility is the most common form of childcare. These typically have multiple classes, sorted by age. Each class will have designated teachers and age-appropriate toys, activities, and goals.This type of center has a classroom-like setting where kids are able to play and interact with other children their age. They have more adults on site and usually smaller child to teacher ratios. It is common for these larger facilities to take place in a commercial building (instead of a residence) and have more regulations and inspections than any other type of child care option.
When searching for a daycare, you will want to first determine which ones are licensed near you. Licensing does not guarantee that it will be a high quality facility, but it does guarantee that they meet the minimum standards.You can look up your state specific licensing information through the National Database of Child Care Licensing Regulations at https://childcareta.acf.hhs.gov/licensing.
There are a few downsides to group care. Scheduling conflicts are the number one reason people decide not to use a group facility. They typically have much more limited hours than the other options and their hours of operation may not work with your schedule. Not only that, but their late policies can be strict; costing you extra if you are running behind for pickup.
Having a large group of children can be encouraging in some aspects. This allows your child to play with other kids, learn how to share, and develop at a faster pace while watching the other kids. However, it also has its disadvantages. Some children struggle with over stimulation and it can take a toll on their sleep schedules. They may also have to share the attention between other children. The teachers only have two hands and the ratios are usually 3 or 4 children to one teacher.
These are similar to group facilities except they are held inside of a residence. The children will vary in age range and will most likely have anywhere between 2-15 total children with 1-2 caregivers on average. The exact number of children and teacher/child ratios will depend on your local government regulations and the type of daycare.
A family daycare usually has only one adult caring for 1-6 kids. Sometimes, these types of daycares will limit the children to a specific age range, but many will take kids of all ages. The other type of home daycare is group care and this usually has two or more adults on site. These types of daycares can have more children and varieties of ages. The number of kids will depend mostly on your local regulations.
Home daycares still have to be licensed in most states to make sure they are following all safety regulations. However, these daycares are typically less stringent on schedules and are frequently less expensive. The homey environment can be very appealing to parents, especially for children that might need more attention or special accommodations (eg. being rocked to sleep). Most home daycares allow for siblings to be together in one room and the hours can be more flexible compared to a center.
Some of the downsides of in-home daycare include less regulations and limited backup plans. Most in-home daycares have a backup plan in place in the event of an illness, but emergencies happen and plans can fall through. Additionally, licensing for in-home daycares vary by state, so the daycare may not have as strict of guidelines to ensure proper safety and cleanliness.
An In-Home Nanny is typically the most expensive option. This is where a Nanny comes to your home and watches your children while you are gone. This is very convenient because you do not have to worry about pick-up or drop-off, packing and preparing bottles/meals, or the spread of germs that comes with a group daycare.
Nannies provide parents with more control over how their child spends their day. You can decide what your baby is exposed to, what and when he/she eats, where they go, and what their overall schedule looks like (like when they take naps). The nanny is focused solely on your child or children and there is no other competition for their attention.
Some nannies will even double as a mother’s helper. Their job could include washing dishes, picking up the house, even doing laundry! This could significantly help out any working parent, and allow for more bonding time with your kids after work, instead of having to focus on household chores. This can also be a huge benefit if you have pets, allowing them to be out and about instead of putting them in a doggie daycare or crating them at home.
Having one person care for your child can help them form a bond to that one person. At a standard daycare, your child could have multiple people taking care of them throughout one day. With a nanny, your child will be able to develop a relationship with the nanny and this can be a very special bond.
Even though Nannies seem to have multiple benefits, they also have their downsides. First, they typically cost significantly more than a daycare. The costs vary by location and number of children, but it would be difficult to find a nanny willing to watch your kids for the same price as a daycare facility with multiple children.
Second, there is usually not a backup plan in case of sickness or tardiness. In a daycare setting, if somebody calls in sick, they are responsible for finding a replacement. If you nanny calls in sick or shows up late, you are now responsible for caring for your child until they can arrive – even if this means missing work.
Third, they are not regulated by any agency. This means they are not required to follow any rules such as keeping up certifications, safe food handling, or following safe sleep standards. This is why it is so important to find a nanny that agrees with your parenting style and is willing to follow any rules you set.
Some families are fortunate enough to have family members close-by that are willing to watch your child. This provides most of the benefits of a nanny, and maybe at a slightly lower cost. However, this is a great option for more reasons than cost. Having a family member watch your children means there is a built in bond and this ensures that they are getting more love an attention than most strangers could provide. You also don’t have to worry as much about a change in childcare. Daycare workers come and go, and nannies may not stay forever. It is much more likely that your relative will stay nearby and will most likely always be in your child’s life.
As great as this option may seem, it still has some downsides. The most common issue is having a power struggle between the parents and caretaker. Different generations may have a different idea on what is “best” for your child. Sometimes it can be hard to come to an agreement, especially on things that have changed over the years (such as safe sleep practices). Most grandparents use the phrase “well I did this, and you turned out just fine”. It’s important to explain to them that although you value their input, you are just doing what you feel is best for YOUR child. Rules can be much harder to enforce with a relative than it is with a nanny or daycare worker.
Another factor to consider is if your child will get the same learning experiences. At a daycare, there are activities to develop important skills. It is important that your child still gets these experiences and the caretaker is working with them like a nanny or daycare would. If you are not happy with how your child is being cared for, it is much harder to cut ties with a family member. You can always fire a nanny, or switch daycares, but it is much harder to explain to grandma why you don’t want her to babysit for you anymore.
Ask around! If you have friends with children, find out who and what type of childcare they use. You can also join local mom groups on Facebook. This will provide you with a starting point. Ask for recommendations and create a list depending on what type of child care you are looking for.
Once you have a solid list of potential caretakers, you can start doing research. It’s not always the best to just ask for one suggestion and blindly hire them. What works for other families, may not be the best option for yours. Look up the facility or nanny, meet the caretaker in person, and take a tour of wherever your child will be spending their days.
Take a Tour & Ask Questions!
Once you have a list of the top contenders, take a visit! Taking a tour of the prospective daycare makes all the difference in the world. When we were interviewing facilities, the daycare that we thought we were going to love ended up being our least favorite. They were so strict on drop-off/pick-up times, they had schedules for every second of the day, and they were honestly a little rude and not very friendly. Although strict schedules may be some parents dream, it wasn’t the right fit for us.
The daycare will most likely give you the whole rundown of how the facility works and what to expect, but here are some good questions to ask while you are there!
- What is your Child to Teacher ratio?
- The less children a teacher has to take care of, the more time they can spend with your child. This helps ensure they are fed on-time and get plenty of cuddles, among other things. A standard ratio is 4:1 but our daycare has a 3:1 policy and I truly believe it makes a difference.
- How do you handle bottle preparation?
- Make sure they are following safe guidelines for storage and preparations.
- CDC guidelines on safe formula storage and preparation https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/formula-feeding/infant-formula-preparation-and-storage.html
- CDC guidelines on safe breastmilk storage preparation https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/recommendations/handling_breastmilk.htm
- What is their policy on visitors?
- Are parents allowed to drop-in anytime?
- Can Moms come and breastfeed during their lunch breaks?
- Who else is allowed to visit during the day?
- Some daycares have strict visiting policies and others are pretty lax; just make sure the dacare you choose fits your needs.
- What is your security procedure?
- Is there a door code or fingerprint scanner?
- What is the procedure on checking kids in and out?
- How many people can be on the approved drop-off/pick-up list?
- My daycare only gives out the door code and fingerprint scanner to parents or guardians. We are allowed to add others to the approved pick-up/drop-off list, but they must check in with the front desk every time, provide a form of ID, and complete the sign-in/out form.
- What does a normal day look like?
- Do they do activities?
- Will they work on achieving developmental milestones by doing things like tummy time or playing music?
- Do they offer daily reports to keep parents up to date?
- How do they handle diapering?
- Do they use community diapers, wipes, or rash cream? (eg. you bring in x amount of packs per week and all babies share)
- Can you use cloth diapers (if you want)?
- How often are babies changed?
- Do they track wet/poopy diapers? (To determine if they are getting enough food)
- What if we are late picking up?
- Some daycares will charge you an amount for every minute you are late. Others will only charge you if you don’t call and let them know.
- What is your policy on sickness?
- There might come a time when your child wakes up with the flu and you will have to stay home from work to take care of them. Most daycares have a policy on when children are not allowed to come in, to protect the other kids from getting sick. This is typically one of the following symptoms or a combination of fever, throwing up, rash, or any other typical flu symptoms.
- What is your santiazitation routine?
- How often do they clean the floors (sweep, mop, vacuum, carpet shampoo).
- How often do they sanitize the toys?
- Are cribs and other furniture wiped down regularly?
- What is the yearly tuition and how often do you make payments? (weekly, monthly, etc).
- Are there any other yearly fees or waitlist deposits?
- Is there a waitlist and/or availability?
- Do they offer discounts (multiple children, paying in advance, etc).
- Are future children guaranteed a spot?
- Ask about the teachers.
- How long have they been in childcare and/or with this daycare?
- Do you conduct background checks on all staff?
- What training do they have? (CPR, first aid, etc.)
- Will you give my child medicine if necessary?
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