When I was pregnant with our first baby, I was advised by my mom friends to start thinking about daycares. They even suggested I call around and get on a waiting list. At the time, I was elbow deep in books on preparing for childbirth and wading through newborn feeding and sleeping schedules. I had yet to meet my baby – how could I possibly wrap my head around the idea of leaving him or her in someone else’s care?
But I quickly learned that many daycares have waiting lists up to a year in length, meaning the earlier you start your search, the higher the chance you will get your daycare of choice.
As a new parent, finding the right care for your child can be a challenging and overwhelming process. But if you do your homework and plan ahead, you can feel confident knowing you chose the right program for your child and your family. Here are some considerations to keep in mind during your search:
Think about your family’s needs.
Like anything in parenthood, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to childcare. While some families desire a small and intimate home childcare environment, others are seeking a fully accredited, educationally focused daycare centre. “At our daycare centre, all of our staff are educated in developmental changes in children, so they’re trained to do the programming that would appeal to them.” says Kristen Arkell, owner and operator of Eh to Zed Preschool Canada in Aurora.
Of course, location is another key factor – is drop off and pick up going to be convenient for your commute to and from work? Budget is also top of mind for most families, as well as schedules – are you looking for full or part-time care? Answering these initial questions can help you formulate a list of daycares to consider in your search.
Assess the programming.
There are many different daycare and preschool approaches in Canada. When assessing daycare programming, look at what makes it successful and determine if this is the right fit for your child.
“The best thing to do is to look at the history of programming at the daycare – this will give you a good indication as to what to expect for your child,” advises Arkell. “Everything needs to be documented in a daycare, and when you come into the daycare centre, you should be able to see the programming on display.”
Tiny Hoppers is a private daycare centre in Newmarket, and the franchise takes pride in its program, which is “one step up from the early learning curriculum,” according to Director Sandra Amador, and allows for a lot of flexibility. “Parents need to take a look at the structure of the program,” explains Amador. “You want to know that your child will have an opportunity to make their own decisions; do they want to be part of that activity or would they rather just read a book.”
Take a tour and spend time at the daycare.
Always visit the physical space before making your decision. This allows you to experience the centre for yourself. Is it clean and attractive? Are the learning toys in good condition? Is the physical environment safe and secure? Is there an accessible outdoor play area? Do they have a kitchen on site?
“For me personally as a parent, the most important thing is to come in and spend time in the classrooms to get a feel for how the teacher interacts with the children,” says Priscilla Baro, Regional Director, Preschool Canada. “Situations are going to arise, and seeing how the staff handles things under stress shows a lot.”
Come equipped with a list of questions to ask the daycare director— teacher to children ratios, daily routines, meal preparation—and pay attention to how they communicate with you. Communication between director and parent is key to a successful daycare experience for your family.
Trust your gut.
“The most important thing is the gut feeling parents will get from speaking with the supervisor and meeting the teachers,” says Arkell. You could be influenced by factors you can’t quite put your finger on – it comes down to your level of personal comfort and trust.
“When you entrust your child to a daycare, you’re giving up a certain piece of control.” Arkell explains. “A good staff will be able to reiterate how their day was, how they behaved, whether they napped well, and how much food they ate.”