Deciding what’s nonnegotiable in selecting a day-care center
When a Solo Mom begins the daunting task of seeking out a day-care center, there are three main areas to consider: 1) How the center handles health and safety concerns, 2) whether or not the budget and schedule meet your needs, and 3) if the center operates with your key values and philosophies reflected in program.
Health and safety
Begin your search by asking for word-of-mouth recommendations from local moms and parent groups about the safety of local centers. Join Facebook groups, and ask local moms which centers they recommend. When I spoke to a local police officer, he suggested that word of mouth is the best way to learn about which local day-care centers might be the most reliable.
- When you have a short list of possibilities, visit each center. For each one, ask yourself whether or not you have a positive gut reaction to the vibe there.
- Ask if the center is accredited. The National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Association for Family Child Care are some helpful organizations that work to establish standards of care.
- Here are some additional questions to consider asking when interviewing possibilities.
According to a preschool child-care provider with extensive experience with children from infancy to age five, you should be sure the day-care center is extremely clean. All employees should work to clean all toys regularly—they should be soaked in a water-and-bleach solution and then rinsed with soap and water. Cribs, cots, and bedding (including the railing that babies mouth all day) should also be thoroughly cleaned. She advises to look for bins marked “mouthed toys” and other systems that reflect a strict attention to cleaning routines. Hints such as these are a good indication of the level of attention the center gives to hygiene.
She also emphasizes that a clean environment promotes a safe and healthy area for babies and children to play, explore, and rest. In such an environment, babies and children can cruise around, discovering and exploring without you being too concerned about the possible negative outcomes.
For Solo Moms in particular, a healthy day-care environment is critical. For example, you can expect that your baby will be sick less often, and therefore you will miss less work. It is a win-win. Although some illness is inevitable, reasonable steps to clean the area regularly can and should be undertaken to protect the health of the children who are enrolled in the program.
Budget and scheduling
- Ask whether rates are inclusive. When budgeting for child care, knowing what you are spending your money on is obviously an important factor.
- Ask about flexibility. Is there an added fee for a late pickup?
- It is also important to ask whether or not items such as diapers and snacks are included in the quoted rates.
- It is necessary to understand the center’s sick policy. Are sick babies and toddlers allowed to attend the day care? If so, how are other children protected from exposure to illness?
- Ask about the vacation schedule for the day-care provider. Does it line up with your children’s school-vacation calendar?
- Make sure that the schedule is one that also works with your work schedule.
- Consider a cost-benefit analysis of the program in tandem with your specific need as a working Solo Mom.
Be honest with yourself about these considerations when choosing a program that will work in the long term. It can be disruptive to you and your schedule if you need to switch day-care providers more than necessary.
This is perhaps the most difficult aspect to consider, and it is certainly the least measurable by objective standards.
- As a Solo Mom, your ideal day-care provider will understand that you need consistent care and that you may have less wiggle room than other enrolled families.
- Ask to spend some time observing the program while the day care is in session. Get a sense for how the program runs, and observe the level of engagement the staff has with the kids.
- Make sure that you are happy with what you see when you are observing. Are the kids and staff generally happy with one another?
- Ask questions about the center’s philosophy regarding guidance and discipline. Are your parenting philosophies generally reflected in the program?
- Ask whether or not the staff is trained in and/or knowledgeable about childhood development. What are their specific qualifications?
- Are infants given enough individual attention? Are they held in staff members’ arms, or are they placed in swings or ExerSaucers? If you have a strong preference for humans holding your baby, make sure to see that the program is properly staffed to meet those requirements.
- How are children soothed when they are wound up? Are they read to or given a space to decompress before rejoining the group? Is screen time ever permitted?
In many ways, this selection will come down to a gut reaction—when something feels right, you will know. Solo Moms know, more than most, that it takes a village to raise a child. The village of day care can be a very enriching experience. In addition, an arrangement that works for all parties allows a Solo Mom to meet her professional obligations while simultaneously providing a warm and nurturing social community for her child. It is just one more way you are rocking it as a Solo Mom.
Tara Shafer is the cofounder of Reconceiving Loss, an online resource center for families coping with pregnancy and infant loss. She is a contributing blogger to the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and BabyCenter. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and on National Public Radio. You can follow her on Twitter at @reconceivinglos.
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