No one can care for your child the same way that you do, but there are many care providers who can offer a safe, comfortable atmosphere for kids. The key, of course, is finding the right provider for your child.

As a parent, keep in mind that you aren't just looking for a babysitter to stay next to your kids while they watch TV and become couch potatoes. You want to find a provider who encourages healthy habits, good behavior, and strong interpersonal relationship skills.

Childcare Checklist


In addition to issues like availability and cost, parents should consider the following, according to Karen DeBord, Ph.D., of The National Network for Child Care.

Do both parents and children feel the program is a safe and comfortable place to be?

  • Is there ample space?
  • Is the environment reasonably clean?
  • Do caregivers deal with people's feelings (both children and parents) in a relaxed way?
  • Is there support at times of separation (when parents leave for work)?

Are the children encouraged to feel good about themselves?

  • Is independence encouraged?
  • Are children allowed to make choices throughout the day?
  • Are positive guiding techniques used?
  • Are reasonable limits set with consistent reinforcement?

Are the children involved in meaningful activities?

  • Are children allowed to explore?
  • Do caregivers attempt to build language skills?
  • Is problem-solving and personal expression encouraged?
  • Is a schedule of daily activities posted and followed?

Is the environment child-centered?

  • Are kid-friendly materials on shelves accessible?
  • Is there child-sized furniture?
  • Are the rooms tidy and organized in a way that makes sense to children?
  • Are children's projects displayed at children's eye level?

Does the environment encourage positive social behavior?

  • Are rules for behavior fair and consistently enforced?
  • Do caregivers provide reasons for rules?
  • Are children encouraged to find positive solutions to conflicts?
  • Are the indoor and outdoor environments safe for children?
  • Are activities planned with encouraged physical activity?

Taking the Next Steps


Before signing your child up for a day-care center or nursery, spend some time at the facility. Watch what happens there, and talk to parents whose children attend it. Find out about the backgrounds of the teachers and the types of experiences they have.

In addition, take into account your child's individual needs. For example, if your child has a disability, will that program be able to meet your child's needs? Is there an instructor there who's knowledgeable and experienced in that specific disability?

Crunching the Numbers


Another important aspect of out-of-home care facilities is the child-to-staff ratio. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers guidelines for child care according to the age of the child:

  • Birth to 24 months: The child-to-staff ratio shouldn't exceed 3:1; maximum recommended group size is six.
  • 25 to 30 months: The child-to-staff ratio shouldn't exceed 4:1; maximum recommended group size is eight.
  • 31 to 35 months: The child-to-staff ratio shouldn't exceed 5:1; maximum recommended group size is 10.
  • 3 years: The child-to-staff ratio shouldn't exceed 7:1; maximum recommended group size is 14.
  • 4 to 5 years: The child-to-staff ratio shouldn't exceed 8:1; maximum recommended group size is 16.

 

You should also expect your child to be assigned to the same caregiver each day in order to promote a sense of security and consistency. The most important thing about choosing a child-care provider is that you and your child feel comfortable with the facility, the quality and training of the caregivers, the openness of directors about answering questions, and the overall environment of the care center.