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Choosing a child care center for your child should be a challenge but not a chore. It can be made easier with a little preparation ahead of any visits to child care centers. First what are your family’s needs? Second, what are your child care preferences. Finally, what is available in your area?
Family needs and preferences:
Hours: For what hours do you need care? Perhaps you have flexibility in your jobs and only need part-time care or you need early morning or late evening hours.
Location: Do you want to have your child close to your work site so you can see him/her during the day or be close by if he/she is sick or do you prefer to have your child close to home so they do not have to participate in your long commute?
Setting: Are you looking for a corporate setting attached to your work, an urban setting or a rural setting with large grassy playgrounds? Do you prefer someone to come into your home as a nanny?
Expense: How much can you afford to pay for this service?
Your child: Is your child at an age where they will benefit from a small group setting, a larger group or do you have an infant who needs individualized care? Do you have cultural, religious or medical needs that have to be met?
By answering these few questions, you have begun to narrow down your search. Next, you can begin to search for a suitable center. There are several ways to search.
NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) has an online list (www.NAEYC.com) of centers that they have accredited. This is a national accreditation that is standard across the country.
Friends, co-workers or relatives may have suggestions.
The local chamber of commerce, library or telephone book will also have listings.
When phoning these centers, it is important to ask some basic questions and to set up an appointment to see the center. The best guide to use when visiting a center is a list of questions to ask and characteristics to look for at a center. This guide can be found on NAEYC’s web site. It covers staff/child ratios, staff educational background, child development, health and safety and the program’s professionalism. It will certainly help you feel more secure about the interview.
The most important thing is that you, as the parents, feel good about the center. That you have a warm, good rapport with the director and that the center will meet your needs. Many centers have strict policies on numbers of days and full time attendance and you may not need to have your child away from you for that much time; so look for a more flexible program that will meet you needs. Make sure you can phase your child in and you can visit during the day. All centers should be willing to give you parent references. Ask for ones that come from your child’s specific classroom. No one knows the center better than the parents whose children are currently attending.
Remember, trust your instincts and use all the resources available to you to choose your center. Separation is difficult even in the best circumstances, but your child will be happier and more comfortable if you feel confident in your choice.
Jeffra Nandan Executive Director Lawrence Day School, Princeton, NJ
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