Looking for a daycare has always been overwhelming. You’ve probably heard stories of women putting their babies on waitlists while they’re still pregnant. Looking for daycare post-Covid is, for lack of a better word, a total clusterfuck. The US is on track to permanently lose up to 4.5 million childcare slots due to the pandemic, which has made it harder to find care and created instability even for families who already have care.
I’ve experienced a lot of this first hand with my second son, a pandemic baby. First we tried sending him to the daycare my older son had attended, but after 5 days I woke up an email at 6am informing me that they could no longer provide care for him due to staffing issues, effective immediately. We eventually settled into another school, which we attended for 6 months before getting kicked out again—same reason.
Over the past 4 years, between my two sons, I’ve experienced nine different childcare settings. This is far from ideal—ideally you send your kid to daycare, then preschool, then elementary school. But on the bright side, I’ve learned a lot about what to look for when searching for a daycare. I hope I never have to use this knowledge again personally—it would kill me to have to make yet another switch—but at least I can pass it on!
Here are some things I would recommend asking about:
- Ask for the facility license number. Search your state’s facilities database to see if the daycare has had any Type A (big deal) or Type B (minor) infractions. You don’t need to rule out a school just because they have an infraction, but it’s still worth being informed and having a conversation with the provider if necessary.
- Ask about what communication with parents is like. Will they send photos? How often? Some places are more formal with communication and use an app to share a report about diaper changes / naps / etc, other places are more casual. One is not better than the other but it’s good to know what you’re getting into.
- Ask to speak with a few current families. Also look on social media to see if you can find other families who have experience with the daycare you can talk to, that way you’re getting the perspective of someone not hand selected by the owner. Search the name of the facility in local moms groups, and if you can’t find anything, post asking if anyone has sent their child there.
- When the baby starts solids, will you send food yourself or will they prepare food? If they’ll prepare food, can they share a weekly menu? Do they serve juice or other sweets? If yes, how often?
- What is their approach to discipline? Not relevant for a young baby but if you plan on staying there through the toddler years will be helpful to know.
- Is there any screen time? Different families have different opinions about screen time, which is fine, but you probably don’t want to pay someone to sit your kid in front of a screen!
- What are the illness protocols, including for covid? Are there super clear guidelines about when it’s okay to send a mildly sick kid versus when you need to keep them home? If someone has covid, do they inform the rest of the school? When can you return to school after testing positive? What is the masking policy?
- Ask to see the full vacation/holiday schedule and ask if there are ever any unplanned closures beyond what’s in the schedule.
- Ask about the provider to child ratio.
- Ask to see the nap area. Is it dark and quiet?
- Also ask about the nap schedule. If they have some children who take one nap and others who take two naps, how do they handle it?
- Do they support parents with potty training?
- Do the children get outdoor time? How much? Is there a backyard? Do they go on outings to nearby parks or other adventures? You probably wouldn’t want to be cooped up outside all day, and neither do kids!
- Are babies and toddlers kept separate? Depending on the facility type, laws might require separating babies and toddlers but this may not be the case in home daycares. It’s not necessarily bad to have mixed ages together, but you should know what you’re getting into and think about what your preference is.
- Ask the providers what led them to childcare. What are the best and most challenging parts of the work? This type of questioning can give you a sense of whether they enjoy it or are burned out. You’d be surprised by how honest people can sometimes be!