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The Right Daycare

Some often-overlooked details to check when evaluating a daycare center, from the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies:

Physical space
Besides clean, child-proofed rooms, make sure the playground is fenced in. Is the equipment well maintained? The play surface should be covered with sand, grass, or padded foam or rubber, not cement.

Caregivers
The child-caregiver ratio should be no more than 4 to 1 for toddlers and 10 to 1 for preschoolers. Don't forget to see whether caregivers get down and interact with kids. They should be actively involved  -- not just supervising from above.

Employees
Besides looking for a low turnover rate, ask how the center tries to retain good caregivers. Does it offer benefits or reimbursement for childcare classes? Observe how the director treats her staff and how the staff treat one another.

Drop-in/pickup policy
You know to look for policies about allowing outsiders into the center and refusal to release a child to anyone but an authorized family member. But don't forget to ask what the policy is for parents. Are drop-ins okay, or are visits limited to certain times of the day (so your appearance doesn't disrupt naptime, for instance)? Which are you more comfortable with?

Snacktime
There should be nutritious snacks prepared in a sanitary kitchen. Also, observe how snacktime's run. Is it a free-for-all, or is food doled out in an orderly manner? And do preparers wash hands often?

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