When to begin?
In a word — early. Popular programs fill up fast. “Most program directors will talk to you as soon as you're pregnant,” says Linda Hassan Anderson, a senior director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Don't be discouraged by waiting lists, says Ashley Murphree, founder of Carpe Diem Private Preschools in the Dallas metro area. “If you really like a place, put your name down,” she says. “People relocate, lose jobs and change their minds about child care. You may quickly move to the top of the list.” If possible, take off work and tour all the options on your list in one day — it'll be easier to compare those vital first impressions.
Home-Care Versus Center-Care?
This is a biggie. Some parents are more comfortable with daycare run out of a home; it can feel more personal with fewer children and employees. Also, caregivers may be more flexible with pickup times, evening or weekend hours, and may even accept payment only for days when baby attends. On the flip side, there's less back-up with family-style care; larger daycare centers have a bigger pool of subs and are more likely to have staffers trained in child development. Bigger centers also have the resources to offer extras like music and art. No matter what type of daycare you choose, do make sure it's properly licensed.
Licensed: Meets your state’s minimum health and safety standards (nrckids.org for each state’s minimum requirements), such as:
- Trash must be removed once a day
- No smoking in child-care area
- First-aid kit in child-care center
- Regular developmental assessments
- Sign-language class in infant room
- Activity centers to fine-tune motor skills