One of the biggest decisions you will have to make as first time parents will be selecting a daycare! And I recommend all expecting moms to start looking right away and secure a spot.
I will share a little bit of my experiences along with a few tips. Please let me start by stating, every family has to be comfortable with the place they choose and some of my must haves might be completely different from what your family's needs are. There are some really awesome homes and centers out there, as well as some not so great ones! This article will lean more towards centers because that is what my experience is, not because I think one is better than another.
When we started our daycare search, we lived in Minnesota. Instantly, I was a bit surprised that I was on a waiting list! The second thing that floored me was the expense, as we paid more towards daycare than we did our mortgage. Luckily, Iowa is a bit more forgiving, especially with three kids in a center. We selected a center there because it worked best with our work schedules and being a big city, we didn't know any home providers personally.
A few reasons that pointed us towards centers:
- We did not have family around, so we liked that a center had longer hours and was always open. Generally, centers start drop off at 6:30 a.m. and pick-up by 6 or 6:30 p.m. Not that I like being away from my kids that long, but sometimes you have work meetings or travel.
- We really like the consistent hours, they always have a bigger staff so if a teacher is ill others can cover. I quickly found we were missing plenty of work with the kids being sick, it would be hard to take additional time off if your provider was ill or on vacation.
- I always feel more comfortable having more people around - an example, when Dylan was just 11 months he broke his arm at daycare, so one teacher stayed with him and held him until we arrived and took him to the hospital.
Here are a few things to consider when you start your search:
- A great resource to start your search is www.iowaccrr.org, they can help you find a licensed home daycare in your area as well as many other helpful information.
- Home or Center, ask around; I find referrals go a long way. And if a person has negative feedback, be sure to learn why because that may or may not impact you or your child.
- When you do secure a spot at a place you really like, be sure to have a back-up in mind. I've heard several stories of last minute switches.
- Determine your comfort level with your child being transported. Centers often times do bus trips, some home providers may do school pick-ups/ drop-offs or other trips.
- Location: Generally, I really like close to home, and this is what our family does because my husband and I work opposite directions and we like that our children will go to school with some of the same kids. However, at this baby stage, it would be nice to have my baby closer to my work, which is right by our clinic. So, think about if your child has a doctor's appointment, how long will it take you to pick them up, take them to the appointment, drop them back off and go back to work? If that takes a half-day, you might run out of vacation time fast.
- I ask how long the staff has been there, lots of turnover might indicate issues.
- Learn how many other children will be there. I believe all centers follow state guidelines, which is a 4:1 ratio for babies.
- Ask what is provided. Some daycares provide formula, food and wipes.
- What are the activities your child will be doing? One fun thing about our daycare is they participate in a Jump Bunch program, which basically a PE teacher is coming once a week. They also have a drama program and go on a few field trips each year (these are generally in addition to your weekly fees).
- Do they provide pre-school curriculum? Ours does, which is great so we don't have to worry about a mid-day pre-school drop-off.
- In general, homes are more affordable and may give you a more warming feel for your baby, opposed to the center.
- Are you comfortable with the playground area? Our daycare has a gym, which I love since it is too cold to go outside many days of the year.
- What are their discipline strategies? Believe it or not, those sweet little babies tend to get into mischief.
- Ask about vacation policies, most will give you one free week for vacation each year.
- Be sure to check into dependent care credits, so for us, we are able pay the max of $5,000 towards daycare, income tax-free.
Overall, I recommend checking out a variety of places, go on tours and above all, use your instinct! I usually either walk away strongly disliking a place or feel really good about a place.