A daycare teacher’s thoughts on choosing childcare

Guest post by Kat Mayerovitch
Free School Child's Hands Choosing Colored Pencils (unedited) Creative Commons

I’m 27 years old, married, and have nine children between the ages of one-and-a-half and three.

I confess, I’m a professional childcare provider. My job is to help families of all stripes live the lives they want, balancing their dreams as parents and as independent adults. Offbeat parents and families have an especially difficult time deciding to place their child in group care. Will the adults in my child’s life tear down my values? Will I be judged for my parenting decisions? How can I make this work for my family’s unique situation? So here it is: everything I’ve always wanted to say to offbeat families who are considering childcare.

  • It’s not about the center. It’s about the teacher. A good teacher makes your child’s world. No matter what “philosophy of education,” mission statement, or facilities a given center has, a good teacher that fits your family can make the experience wonderful. The wrong teacher in the most beautiful school won’t help you at all. Never choose a center without speaking to your child’s potential teacher. Yes, it’s tricky to take faculty out of the classroom for an interview. But yes, they DO have the staff to make this happen for you. Management can certainly pop in for 15 minutes to supervise the sandbox while you talk.
  • On the other hand, it’s about the center too. Do they provide what’s needed to nurture families? Is there an open-door policy? Do they have guidelines supporting diverse family needs? A teacher with an assistant is going to have more time to keep a portfolio, write you regular notes, or call when they have a concern than a teacher without any staff support. No climbing equipment in the room means no climbing can be permitted. Can you bring your child in late? Are field trips allowed? What matters most to you as a parent?
  • Find a teacher who respects (not necessarily shares) your values. I once overheard the following between two teachers: “I just found out [child] still sleeps with his parents!” “Oh, I knew he was a co-sleeper.” “Doesn’t that bother you?” “He sleeps fine on a cot during nap, so it has nothing to do with me.” This is the teacher you want in your life. No childcare provider is going to share all your beliefs about raising children. But you’d better make sure they’re not going to upbraid you for them, or attempt to undo what you’re carefully building at home.
  • Find a teacher who sees you as a partner, not a problem. If your questions are seen as pestering or your dietary restrictions elicit eyerolls, this is NOT someone you want as your childrearing second-in-command . Being asked to call back at a better time is absolutely acceptable. Apologize for interrupting the Great Diarrhea Cleanup of 2011 and try again later. But being asked never to call again is Not Okay.
  • Be sure you see your teacher as a partner, not a problem. If difficulties arise (and they will!), is your first instinct to blame the person who is probably just as frustrated by the situation as you? Mutual encouragement and education are needed to make your child’s family and teacher a winning team. You won’t get good results out of the childcare experience if you can’t put good things in.
  • Realize that not all your preferences are feasible in a group care setting. No, your child cannot be carried constantly in a room with other children who need equal care. State and local regulations may restrict how your child is fed, disciplined, or helped to fall asleep. If your family has needs that do not fit into this structure, group childcare may not be for you. Consider other options, like an in-home caregiver.

The quick version: do you like this person? Do you trust their judgment? Would you be totally bummed if your child started embodying some of their qualities? Anyone you can’t talk to comfortably for ten minutes is never going to fit well into your pattern of family life. Offbeat, on-beat, or somewhere in between, families and their caregivers who appreciate and enjoy one another make for the happiest childcare experiences for everyone involved. And happy, healthy kids — that’s what we all want, isn’t it?

Comments on A daycare teacher’s thoughts on choosing childcare

  1. Thanks for posting this. I was so conflicted/guilty when our son first began childcare, and yet he did really well. I did start noticing a few things, however, that made me nervous for when he was older. So, despite liking his teachers a lot, we changed him to a different place, and we LOVE LOVE LOVE it. He is SOOO happy there. He is excited to be there every morning. I rarely feel any guilt now. I miss him, but that is about me. I don’t feel guilt, because I know he is doing so well. I worry sometimes about job loss and not just because of lost income, blow to ego and pride, etc, but because I’d hate for him to lose his spot in his school! So, I would add to this list from a parent’s perspective: trust your instincts (something just didn’t feel right at his first place, and it nudged us in a new direction that is really wonderful). And also, don’t necessarily be afraid of a daycare center that has a daily routine, etc, as therefore too onbeat or restrictive. That was the one thing that made me nervous about our new daycare, and wow is our son thriving with the predictable routine.

    • I’m so glad you found a place that works for you! That gut-check for guilt or concern is so important. Feeling nervous about leaving your child in group care for the first time. Still feeling nervous after a couple of months is a definite warning sign that you might be happier with another setting. Thanks for speaking up about being an offbeat mama who has found a great childcare fit!

      • The issue with our first daycare was that it was a corporate daycare, which isn’t bad if the owners are engaged, but these owners were never around and were only in it for the money, and this forced the director to do everything possible to cut corners and maximize their profit, and I felt this was showing more and more and that children were shuffled around too much from room to room to “meet ratio” — which was interpreted as a minimum and not a maximum, it seemed! The new daycare is not-for-profit. I don’t think not-for-profit is inherently better and that profit is necessarily bad. But, this particular for-profit daycare did show signs of wrong priorities, I felt. It took me a while to figure this out, just because the actual people working there were wonderful. We felt very very sad leaving, and I will always view them as my son’s first teachers. But we made the right decision and are very happy with where we are now. Thanks for writing your column!

  2. Thank you for posting this! We have had such a hard time with Day care and just found the perfect fit. Our daughter is actually disabled and therefore we had preschools and day care that were unwilling to take her. We finally found a public school program called Head Start that does a preschool program for disabled children. We were a little worried about the public schools approach but her teachers are fantastic! She is doing absolutely wonderful with Half a day at school and the other half the day with Grandpa.

    • Head Start is a great program. They’ve got incredibly high standards and do a wonderful job of integrating groups with all kinds of different needs. And hanging out with grandpa for half a day sounds like a fantastic learning experience too!

      • I certainly wish that Head Start Program was as effective here as it is there. I tried taking my son to Head Start in August and we didn’t make it more than an hour there. So many problems.

        Luckily through preschool evaluations, my son (diagnosed with Asperger’s) is now in a playgroup until he can enter pre-k next August and I’ve over the moon at how wonderful things are going.

  3. good advice! I’d want to check the place’s training ethos for their staff; my sister is a trainee nursery nurse and she got all sorts of others when she was just starting her training and they could pay her £90 a week, now she is semi-qualified she can’t find a place because most of the childcare provider’s (around here at least) are looking for the cheapest staff they can get 😮

    • What a bummer! It’s a wonder how many places think that nobody cares about anything but price. For junk food, sure, but childcare? I think one of the most revealing questions you can ask of a potential childcare provider is, “Are you happy working here?” If they hesitate, they’re probably not thriving in that setting, and it’s quite likely the children aren’t either.

  4. I chose the kindy for our eldest daughter based on a great recommendation from my husband’s grandmother. The kindy has a family feel to it, the kids that are transferring from kindy to prep/preschool are consistantly doing better in school than the surrounding kindergartens, they accept differing levels of ability and make sure that the kids accept other peoples differences. What actually clinched it for us was that Jazzy loved it from the minute we got there. She threw a temper-tantrum when it was time to go home! The staff have even said that they’re looking forward to our younger daughter starting kindy when she’s ready, and there is a very low turnover of staff (which is odd for this area).

    • Sounds good! I think it is so important when there is continuity of staff. It is one thing very important to us in our new place. Most of the teachers have been there years and years. To me, that says something good about the work environment. That said, our son’s very first teacher at his new daycare had just been hired two weeks prior. This was a change of plans from when we made the decision to change. (The teacher who was to be his teacher was moved to a higher age group, and that teacher, who had been there ten years, was let go. It was a long and complicated process and kind of gut wrenching, I gather, but was in the best interests of the children and I respect the director for making the decision.) So, I kind of freaked out. But this new hire was amazing. We could not have asked for better.

  5. ” But yes, they DO have the staff to make this happen for you. Management can certainly pop in for 15 minutes to supervise the sandbox while you talk.”

    YES. And, this is important, if they DONT have enough staff for you to talk to the teacher for 10 minutes, then they are understaffed and your child wont get their own needs met either. Check with your state childcare licensing laws and make sure your child’s center is operating at or below teacher to child ratio. AND make sure that the adults that are being counted as teachers are able bodied and able minded to help, Ive seen some daycares try to pass off a sleeping granny in a wheelchair as a “teacher” so they can make ratio.

  6. As a former childcare provider and current Head Start/ECSE (yep we are lucky to have kids who are dually enrolled) assistant I want to say this is spot on!

    When I started teaching I was 21 and it was my off beat mamas that taught me the most about the mother I wanted to be. I had one breastfeeding,co-sleeping, cloth diapering mama and she really influenced my personal parenting philosophy. Make sure you mesh with your child’s teacher…it really makes a world of difference!

    • Thanks for the reply. Right now my daughter’s new daycare is great and trying to meet her needs as a special needs child. Her first one would let her sleep all day, got upset when she didn’t eat her food( we had to pack her snacks and lunch and not offer a discount for this), and had a teacher who acted poorly when it came to handling her. However we are having her therapists( Speech, ABA, and Development) come in since they do not have anyone there. I know this is a hard topic for offbeat mamas. And communication between you and your child’s teacher I have found out to be very important.

  7. Thanks for the tips. I know at some point our child/ren will have to be in day care but I’ve still got my head in the sand as finding a good place seems like such a daunting task!!

    • Along with all the good points mentioned in the article, make sure they meet ratios (4 to 1 for infants up to 18 months, 6 to 1 for 18 months to 30 months, 10 for 2 1/2 to 3 1/2, 12 for 3 1/2 to 5, and 15 for 5 to 6), a good sick-child policy (do they allow feverish, green-snotted children to stay in school to not “annoy” the parents?), ask about staff turnover (to break into the feild, I worked in 2 bad centers, left after only a year). Staff turnover is a big sticking point, in fact. Young children get very attached to their teachers. I’ve noticed my students being more clingy and whiny after I’ve taken a personal day or come in late. Parents have reported to me that their child is more whiny at home when I take vacation. You want someone who will not only partner you in helping to raise your child, but someone who is constant in your child’s life, not someone who has their foot already out the door. Also, make sure children under 24 months of age have a primary caregiver-one person who does most of the interaction with the child, though all the teachers work together to care for all the children.

      • These ratios are NOT national standards, so you need to check for your state. In Vermont, for example, our ratio doesn’t extend to 10 until all children in the group are over 3, and 2 year olds have a 5 to 1 ratio.
        Its a good idea to read through the licensing handbook for your state so you can be informed and ready to advocate for your kids. Sadly, not everyone in this business is in it for the right reason, but without the help of concerned parents states are often unable to fix things.

        • Also, in my state, church-based daycares are exempt from DHR regulations. Some will mention their DHR policies in their materials, but if they are not actually regulated, they are not beholden to maintaining those standards. So, if this is something that matters to you, be sure to look beneath the surface of what they say. Most state DHRs have a website where you can see what is compliant. You can also look for the certification on a bulletin board inside the daycare. (We are in a church-based daycare that is DHR certified. But we visited some that we discovered were not, which can mean the ratios are not appropriate.)

          • I would urge anyone considering an exempt religious based daycare or school to throughly keep an eye on it and know the ins and outs of what is going on. I realize many parents would do that anyway, but some parents who are otherwise very concearned in thier child’s life assume that because it is a religious based school that it is a good place for the children. My husband suffered abuse and a substandard education as a child in a religious based school while all the time, his parents thought they were putting him in a better place than the public schools.

  8. Thank you for this perspective. So much of it applies to working with schools/teachers as our kids get older too. The kid’s going to benefit when the parents and teachers work together and respect each other. A little communication goes a long way!

  9. Thank you for posting this! My son is in a religious pre-school because we know the teachers. We are not religious but we do understand that it is best he be exposed to as much as he can be to learn the most. It made us very nervous to expose him to religion in a school setting because of pass experiences but we went with our gut and did it. It has made off huge! We work with the teachers on any issues and rewards for him. Communication with teachers is HUGE.

    I am also raising my 17 year old brother. ALL his teachers have my number. He has had a trouble few years but because I keep in contact with his teachers, we have been able to catch him a few times before he went down a horrible path.

    All the points in this post applies to older kids too.

  10. Communication also means being informed. Particularly for large centers where directors oversee a lot of staff and students, reading the parent handbook is really important (and if there isn’t a parent handbook, that’s a red flag). As a caregiver it makes all the difference to know that parents are paying attention and want to be a part of the school community, which means understanding how it functions. Sadly where I work we spend a lot of time answering questions and defending decisions that are already addressed clearly in our handbook. I have no problem talking to parents about their concerns, but if a center has policies you don’t believe in, ignoring them is no way to deal with the situation.
    The majority of states pour a ton of money every year into making sure parents are able to make informed, safe choices about their children’s care but sadly a lot of it goes to waste. Take advantage of these resources, ask lots of questions, advocate for your kids and their peers.

  11. I am also a childcare teacher and had the same idea for an article but I guess I’m too much of a procrastinator. lol. I think you expressed things at least as well as I could have and I definately agree. The teacher is the number one factor in a succesful childcare experience but the other things you mentioned are important too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard certain teachers badmouth a parent’s practices behind thier back and have also experienced parents who sometimes take out thier frustrations on the teacher. Of course, being a parent myself, I try to understand what they could be going through and that helps a lot. Once again, great article. Wish I had written it, but you I enjoyed your perspective.

  12. I’m a new mom and going back to work in January. We agonized over this process… I’d also add that it really helps to speak with other parents whose children go to the center(s) you are looking at. The director of the place we ultimately chose was more than happy to pass my number (w/my permission) to a couple of moms who were more than happy to call me and sing the center’s praises and give some tips on optimizing the experience for our son and us. This meant so much to us and automatically opened up a new support system for me (none of my current mom friends work)! I’d beware of any place that was not willing to provide references.

  13. I am a secondary school teacher in the planning stages of parenthood. But, as a teacher, I am definitely ALL about the planning ahead and have already been feeling somewhat turned about and bamboozled about childcare options for when I eventually return to my three-hundred odd children between the ages of 11 and 18! Thank you very much for this post — I will be printing it off and ticking the points when I do get to the visiting stages!

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