Choosing good child care

Choosing the right day care is a big decision.

But rest assured, there are many good options. With a little research, you'll be able to find day care that is both safe and nurturing.

Narrow the possibilities

There are several types of day care. A good first step toward choosing one is to think about your needs:

  • Do you prefer a day care center close to your work?
  • Is interaction with other children important?
  • Would you prefer to have your child cared for at home?

Figure out what you need. Then consider your day care options. Here is some information on the different types of day care.

Day care centers. Day care centers are also called preschool, nursery school or learning centers. A day care center may be a good choice if you prefer:

  • Larger groups.
  • More caregivers.
  • Organized activities for your child.

Most day care centers need to be licensed by the state. Centers may also be accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children or the National Child Care Association.

High-quality day care centers will often be accredited or in the process of becoming so, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Family child care. In this type of care, you'll take your child to someone else's home. This may be a good fit if you prefer a smaller group setting and homelike environment for your child.

Family child care centers may be licensed and registered with the state.

In-home care. For this type of care, you'll hire a person who looks after your child in your own home. This may be best if you think your child will be more comfortable at home. It means less interaction with peers. But it also means less exposure to illness, notes the AAP.

Keep in mind that you will need a backup plan in case the caregiver calls in sick or needs to take time off.

The right choice

Once you choose a type of care, it's time to find a quality provider. Ask family, friends and co-workers if they know of any. When you have a short list to work with, arrange to meet with the candidates.

Find out about the caregiver's training and background. Ask for references. Also ask whether he or she is trained in first aid and infant/child CPR.

If you will be taking your child to a center or another person's home, look around the building and outdoor play areas. Do they look safe and well-kept? Is basic safety equipment, such as smoke alarms, in place?

Also consider:

  • Are there a variety of activities and play equipment?
  • Is the center or home caregiver licensed?
  • How often do inspections for health, safety and cleanliness occur?
  • What are the center's or caregiver's policies on discipline, illness, etc.? (Ask for a written copy.)
  • For family care, find out who else lives in the home or visits it. Ask if they will have contact with your child.
  • How many caregivers are available? The younger the children, the more caregivers are needed. A good ratio might be three children per caregiver for infants younger than 1 year, notes the AAP. One caregiver watching up to eight 4-year-olds would be adequate.

For in-home care, you will want to keep a few other considerations in mind. For instance, you will need to make your expectations clear to the potential caregiver. Describe what types of activities you want for your child and whether you set limits on TV. And be sure to talk about discipline.

Once you hire an in-home caregiver, make sure things go smoothly. Write up a daily schedule you would like the caregiver to follow. And ask a friend or neighbor to periodically drop in unannounced and check on your child.

Learn more

For more help choosing quality child care, visit the AAP website at aap.org. Or check out the Child Care Aware website at childcareaware.org.

reviewed 3/29/2019

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