Choosing the right childcare centre for your family is really important. I’ve done hundreds of parent tours at my centre and most of the time, parents aren’t asking the right questions.
Licensed centres across the country are governed by provincial laws that regulate every facet of their business. Before you begin touring licensed childcare options, familiarize yourself with those laws so that you know the minimum operating requirements and can observe if they are being met. Plus, asking questions related to staff ratios and qualifications of caregivers (which are both legislated), don’t give you a good idea of how well a centre is run. If you really want to find out if a daycare is the right fit your family, this is what you should be asking.
1. Can I spend some time observing the room where my child would be enrolled?
There is no reason why a centre shouldn’t allow you to observe the room where your child would spend the majority of their waking hours. Some centres will tell parents that it’s too disruptive, but you have to feel comfortable with the caregivers and how they interact with the children. If you can arrange to be there in the morning during circle time or during planned programming, that will give you an even better idea of the quality of the care in the room.
2. Can I speak with the ECE who would be caring for my child?
Speaking with the ECE is only possible if you arrange it with the centre ahead of time. There are very specific caregiver to children ratios that have to be met in each room during the day and ECEs don’t have the luxury of leaving to speak with someone unless there is another person who can step in for them. However, even if you’re only able to arrange for the ECE to call you on their break, use this opportunity to do a mini-interview. Find out their background; their philosophy on early childhood education; what types of activities they do with the children; and their behaviour management techniques. Ask specific behavioural questions like, “What do you do if a child repeatedly hits another child” or “What strategies do you use other than redirection”. The ECEs answers should reflect what you’re told during your tour of the centre.
3. Who does the cleaning at the centre?
If the cleaning is left entirely to the staff in the room, either care of the children is going to suffer at certain points during the day or the overall cleanliness of the room is suspect. A professional cleaning company ensures that staff can focus on what’s most important during the day….your child.
4. What do you do for your staff for team building, recognition and to show them they’re valued?
After more interviews that I can count, an alarming reality is that many centres treat their employees rather poorly. A centre that treats their staff with respect, engages in purposeful team building efforts and has an employee recognition program shows that they care about the well-being of the individuals who care for your child. And everyone knows the benefits of happy employees!
5. Who is your caterer? How much food is made from scratch? Are the menus reviewed by a nutritionist? Can I see the nutritionists review and take a copy of the menu home?
When I first started visiting daycares for my oldest child, I was dismayed to see boxed fish sticks and frozen peas at one centre and minute rice with a sprinkle of ground beef and frozen mized vegetables at another. The quality of a centre’s food speaks volumes about whether they invest in the areas that matter for your child.
6. How high is your turnover? What percentage of those who leave are let go by the centre and what percentage resign? Under what circumstances do you terminate an employee? What strategies do you use when the staff change in a room?
High turnover isn’t a good sign, especially if the majority of it is because staff are resigning. This may be indicative of internal issues that would be hard to a spot during an average tour. If most are leaving because they aren’t meeting the centre’s standards, this may be positive (yay, high standards!) or it could indicate a hiring or training issue.
Managing the staffing change within a room should always focus on creating as much stability and continuity as possible for the children. Any centre that doesn’t have a solid answer to this question doesn’t put the needs of the children first.
7. Do you encourage your staff to engage in appropriate physical affection?
There is power in a hug, kindness in the ruffle of a child’s hair and it builds trust when a child can seek comfort in the lap of a caregiver. Many centres discourage this type of behaviour for liability reasons, but as a parent you need to know their policy to decide whether it’s compatible with your child’s needs.
8. What do you do when a child is crying? Does your approach change based on their age?
A child who is crying due to emotional distress, such as separation anxiety, should never be left to cry on their own. Centres that tell you that children are left on their own because they need to learn to be independent are wrong and even worse if they tell you it’s what they do in their infant program. Different approaches are reasonable for different age groups, but children need to have their emotional needs recognized and met, which can’t happen without nurturing and empathetic caregivers.
9. How do you transition children into the centre? Is it a similar method when they move into a different room?
Some centres use a sink or swim approach when children are simply dropped off as of day one. Other centres use a more gradual approach where children attend for longer and longer periods building up to a full day. In my opinion, the best method is one where the parent can also attend for one or two days for a short period of time with their child at the beginning to create positive associations with the caregivers and the environment. The added bonus is that this approach gives parents time to really communicate their expectations and child’s needs to the people who will become the 3rd party who’s raising their baby.
10. Can I speak with three parents who had a problem that you resolved?
Speaking to parents who’ve had a problem is one of the best ways to find out the core philosophy that governs how a centre is run. Ask each parent to tell you about the problem, how the centre handled it and whether they were satisfied with the outcome. As a bonus question, you can also ask if they would recommend the daycare to a new parent.
A centre that is confident in their policies and practices won’t have any issue with divulging this information. It also speaks to the level of transparency at a centre so that you can be confident that the information you receive about your child is a true account of what happened during the day. If a centre tells you they’ve never had to resolve any problems with parents…run. Run far away.
Last, but not least, trust your gut. If there’s something that doesn’t sit well or if it just doesn’t feel like the right place, don’t settle. I remember after leaving one centre, I called my husband and told him that if we had to send our son there a little piece of me would die every day. Needless to say, we went somewhere else.