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Smart Daycare

When your child's in daycare, it's most important that she's safe and happy. But how do you know if she's also learning things there? Here, five signs of a savvy daycare center:

1. Caring Teachers

Are they actively involved and willing to get down on the floor to help a toddler solve a puzzle, or to play pretend with a preschooler? "They should also ask open-ended questions, and then stop and give kids a chance to respond," says Claire Lerner, of Zero to Three, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that focuses on children under 3.

2. Small Teacher-to-Student Ratio

When young kids get lots of one-on-one attention, they're likely to be better students later on. The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends a ratio of 1-to-3 for infants, 1-to-4 for toddlers, and 1-to-7 for preschoolers.

3. Plenty of Books, Puzzles, and Toys

Check whether kids are engaged in activities like flipping through picture books or playing with shape sorters. Also, there should be duplicates of the most popular toys, since children under 2 aren't good at sharing.

4. A Colorful Room

Look for plenty of posters, signs, and collages hung at eye-level (or placed on the floor, for crawling infants) to stimulate kids' senses. The children's artwork should be displayed on the walls, to help nurture their self-confidence.

5. An Organized Room

It should be divided into different areas: an art corner, a kitchen center, and perhaps a "cozy corner" where kids can relax and listen to tapes or read a book. Supply boxes should be labeled with a photo or drawing of what goes inside, so kids will know where to put things without any help.

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