We started our daycare search by asking friends and coworkers for recommendations; additionally, we visited our state's daycare licensing website to search for daycares in our zip code and nearby zip codes. (If you live in Texas, click here for the site). Selecting a licensed daycare provides some peace of mind that the daycare meets the minimum state licensing standards. For this reason, we only considered licensed daycares in our search. Depending on your state, you may be able to review the results of recent inspections online to give you an idea of their compliance history.
First, you'll have to decide what type of daycare you want to consider - such as smaller, in-home daycares, or larger childcare centers. Each has benefits, so this is a personal decision. Next, compile a list of possible daycare options that meet your criteria using a combination of friends' recommendations and state licensing website. Narrow down the list based on proximity to your work or home and other preferences you may have. Is it important to you that the daycare is faith-based (e.g. church affiliated)? Do you want a daycare with a Montessori approach? You can probably narrow down the list quite a bit just by looking at the location and the daycare's name (which may indicate the type of daycare it is).
Finally, look up the websites of the daycares remaining on your list to evaluate their operating days and hours. We found that many daycares in our area only operate on certain weekdays (not Monday-Friday) or had shortened hours (such as 9 AM - 2 PM), which ruled them out as options for us based on our work schedules; we needed a daycare that was open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM (at a minimum) every weekday.
Once we had a list of options, we called each daycare to schedule an appointment for a tour of the facility. We ended up visiting 9 or 10 daycares, although some we ruled out fairly quickly after stepping inside the facility. We allowed an hour for each tour, although most of them only took 30-45 minutes.
Develop a list of questions to ask before your tour so that you ensure you get the answers you need and can make an apples-to-apples comparison among the daycares you visit. For reference, here is a list of the questions we took with us (a compilation of a bunch of lists I found on the internet); we printed out a clean copy for each daycare we toured so that we could make notes of the responses. Since we visited so many, it would have been hard to keep them all straight without our notes!
- What ages do you accept?
- What are your hours (earliest I can drop my child off / latest I can pick up)?
- What happens if I am late picking up my child? (Is there a fee?)
- What holidays are you closed? Are you closed for extended periods of time at summer or Christmas break?
- What is your inclement weather policy?
- Do you have availability? What is your waitlist process like?
- How do I register or get added to the waitlist? Is there a registration fee? Is it refundable or non-refundable?
- Do you offer a part-time care option? If yes, do I have to commit to a set schedule or can it vary week to week?
- Can I visit the facility without an appointment?
Daycare Staff and Training
- How long has your facility been providing daycare?
- What is the staff to child ratio?
- Does your staff have training in early childhood development? What is their accreditation?
- Are teachers trained in first aid and CPR?
- What is your staff turnover?
- Are background checks completed on staff members?
Curriculum and Schedule
- Does each child have their own crib?
- What is your curriculum like?
- Do children move up to the next class based on age or is it skills based?
- Is there any outdoor time?
- How much time do they watch television during the day?
- How do you communicate with parents? Is there a daily report or another way you inform parents of what children did during the day (naps, bottles, diapers, etc.)?
- Do you feed babies on demand or on a schedule?
- How do you prepare breastmilk?
- Are meals provided by the daycare once children start eating solids?
- Are snacks provided by the daycare?
- Can we make our own baby food or do you require it to be store-bought?
- Do they allow for special needs diets?
- Are parents given a monthly menu? Can I see a sample of your current menu?
- Do you have adequate storage for breast milk?
- How are they disciplined?
- Are diapers and/or wipes provided or do we supply our own?
- How do you handle toilet training?
- At what age do you require weaning from pacifier and/or bottle?
- What is your sick policy?
- What do you do if my child becomes sick at daycare?
- What is your policy for handling falls or incidents?
- Are immunizations required?
- Do you dispense medication only with a parent or doctor’s signature?
- How often are toys washed? What do you use to clean them?
- Do caregivers use gloves when handling food and when changing diapers?
- Are there video cameras (with webcam option)?
- Are there restrictions on who may pick up my child?
Registration and fees
- How do I reserve a space for my infant?
- What are your daycare fees for full-time? Part-time?
- Is there a reduction in fees if my child is sick or takes vacation?