Selecting quality child care

By Kathleen Olson, Extension Educator, Family Relations

Choosing care for your child is a big step and entails many decisions to find the right kind of care. Plus, there are personal decisions to make before you even call or interview a potential childcare provider.

Think about the basics first. Are you most comfortable with a childcare center, a family childcare home or is a relative or friend available? How far do you want to travel to drop off and pick up your child? Should it be closer to work or closer to home?

Once you have decided on the type of childcare that works best, consider the centers or family childcare home's hours and compare it to your schedule. It may also be helpful to find out if you know any families who have children attending the same location and can serve as a reference.

Find out if the center or home is registered or certified. Home providers and Centers have different staff/child ratio requirements based on the state they are located in.

Once you have decided the basics, it is important to visit and interview the director or home provider. Visit at different times of the day to see what the children are doing in various situations. Try to meet all of the people who will care for your child and spend some time observing how staff works with children.

The key questions to ask the provider in an interview are:
How do children spend their day?
How often do the children go outside?
How will you hear about your child's day - by talking with the provider or in writing?
What is the method of discipline used?
What is the child to provider ratio?
an you visit anytime without calling first?
Are lunch and snacks provided, or does the parent send food from home?
If food is provided, is it healthy and are menus posted?
Where will your child take a nap?
Does staff attend training?
If so, on what topics and how often?
What is the policy for sick children?
What is the cost and when is payment due?
Do you pay for days your child isn't there due to illness or vacation?

Parents should look for the following things when visiting a childcare setting:

A clean space with lots of child-made decorations, and soft areas where children can relax.
A cheerful atmosphere; caregivers smile and play with the children.
Caregivers look at the children when they talk to them and there is lots of laughter.
A variety of toys and supplies appropriate for your child's age, as well as books and story time.
Caregivers who encourage children to do things for themselves, and encourage them to be creative.
Caregivers who respect children and each other.
Patient childcare providers.

You should feel good about the caregiver you choose and that you would have liked to go there as a child. You may want to share similar values, discipline and parenting practices as the caregiver. Parent's intuition and relationship with the caregiver is one of the most important elements of childcare, because ultimately they will be an important person in you and your child's life.

Kathleen Olson has spent her career focusing on parenting issues and believes that most issues we face in life go back to parenting. She is an Extension Educator in Family Relations for the University of Minnesota and has two children of her own.