Choosing the right fit for childcare can be a difficult and emotional experience, but it can also be fulfilling once you find that perfect match. You want a center filled with caring employees who love kids and will do anything for them, but you also want a center that is affordable and will have flexible hours to work around your schedule. Making these two forces meet in the middle can be a long process but one that's certainly worthwhile. Take tours of each facility so you are able to see everyone in action.
When visiting any childcare center, take a look at how the staff members interact with the children. Are they on the floor playing at their level? Are they constantly interacting with the children, whether that's through physical contact such as hugging and holding them on their lap, or through supportive praise and encouragement? The caregivers should be warm and responsive, especially in your baby's formative years when they need plenty of one-on-one time. Ask what the ratio of caregivers to children is at the center.
Make sure the childcare center you consider has policies that gel with your philosophies. Ask how discipline is handled, such as through time-outs, and inquire about the use of television throughout the day. How often are children fed meals and snacks, and are naps offered? How do staff members handle fussy babies? Are the hours convenient with your work schedule? What are the sick-child policies? You should always have a back-up plan in the event your child is sick and cannot attend daycare. Many centers will accept children with colds but if they have a fever, they must stay home.
If your child is too young to talk, you obviously can't rely on her to give you feedback about the center. This is why it's important to keep an open line of positive communication going with your center. As such, you should feel comfortable chatting with staff members about your child's day. You want someone who will give you all the information you need -- such as when baby's last feeding was, how many diapers he went though, what he ate, etc -- but you also want to hear the extras like how he behaved that day and any milestones he may have achieved.
Research the certification of any childcare center you consider, but also look into the backgrounds of all staff members that would be interacting with your child. Ask about any training programs they've gone through within the last year and how long they've been there. Do staff members have additional training above and beyond what's required of them? Does the daycare director hold a degree that has to do with children and families? Do they provide services outside the day care center that would be convenient to you, such as night or weekend babysitting?
When searching for an early childhood learning center, be sure to consider the above factors.