I have spent a good portion of my life learning about children, education, and all things childcare. I spent the last 13 years working with children in one form or another, however, as of yet I do not have any children of my own, so I have always been on the providers end of the childcare spectrum. Now, as I open my own childcare and begin to meet parents and their little ones who are looking for care, I have found myself thinking about what it must be like being on the parental end of the childcare arrangement. I imagine that choosing a childcare provider must prove to be a daunting and frightening task for many parents, especially if they have not had any educational experiences, or otherwise, in childcare. It is hard to know who to trust, what to look for, and what questions to ask, so I’m going to help you out! I am going to outline the most important questions that parents should be asking, as well as a few things to look for, when interviewing with a provider and touring their space.
1. The first and MOST IMPORTANT thing you should ask a home childcare provider or the director of a childcare center is how much early childhood education they have, and what the highest level of early childhood education their staff is required to have. Many people who work in childcare centers are young and aspire to be educators. A childcare center is a great place to learn and gain experience while they complete their college education. These people are often motivated, energized, and want to do a great job because they love children. However, there are also many people working in childcare simply because it is a job, and generally this group does not have any early childhood education. This does not mean that they cannot be good providers or that they do not love children, and I’m sure some will disagree with this, however, in my experience education is the mark of a great provider.
2. The second extremely important question to ask (especially in large centers) is: “What is the provider to child ratio?”. For infants and older babies the max ratio should be 2 babies to 1 caregiver. Obviously, 1:1 would be even better. For toddlers, the ratio should be 5:1. If there are more than 5 toddlers to 1 adult care becomes strained. For children over three years of age the ratio should be no more than 8:1, and as I said before less is even better. The most important aspect to this question is making sure that the center is being truthful. When you are taking a tour of the center you should do a quick headcount and ask about any discrepancies you see.
3. The third question that parents should ask is “What is your philosophy?”. This is more of a subjective question because something that I believe may be very important in a philosophy may not be as valued by someone else. I believe that a good philosophy is child centered vs. teacher centered, and that play should be a platform for learning. I also feel that a positive philosophy values each child as an individual and tailors care to each child’s needs.
4. Once the philosophy has been explained you should ask the provider how their philosophy is carried through in their curriculum. Ask them for a specific example of a literacy or math activity. Make sure to stick around a while and observe at least one activity to see if you feel the values that they are claiming to have are being carried through to the actual experiences that the children are having. This question may not seem important to parents who have babies right now, but it is, because knowing that the provider truly believes in something, and that they are making it happen is a very positive sign. You should also take into consideration that when you do choose a provider your little one will soon grow up to be taking part in their toddler and preschool curriculum.
5. The fifth thing you should ask about the providers visitation policy. A good provider will have an open door policy. You should be allowed to walk into the center at any time of the day to see and observe your child. Being able to check in at any time might help parents to feel more relaxed and confident in the care their child is receiving. I recommend going in to observe twice before putting your child into care.
6. The last thing that you should take note of is what type of materials they have in each room. This is not something you should ask the provider, rather it is something you should observe yourself. Are the toys age appropriate? Are there lots of materials for the children to choose from? Do the materials draw you in and make you want to play or do they appear lifeless and stagnant? You should ask the provider how often they get new materials and how often will materials be changed? These questions may seem odd, but many providers will have the same uninspiring, non imagination inducing, plastic toys in the same space for years and years at a time. Children get bored with that type of setup and it will hinder their play, which is the most important work that they do all day.
I hope that this little list will be somewhat helpful as you make your childcare decision!
Please visit http://www.loveoflearningchildcare.com and click on the link for parents for more information and resources to help you during the process. Best of Luck!