How do I pick a good day care for my child?

How do I pick a good day care for my child?

Ellen Rome, M.D.

Ellen Rome, M.D.

Dr. Ellen Rome is a board-certified pediatrician who was among the first in the U.S. to be board certified in adolescent medicine. She... Read more

Choosing a good day care is a lot like finding a great partner or spouse: Look at all available options, and observe how clean they keep their place and how they spend their (and your child's) time.

A few points to consider:

  • What's the ratio of adults to children? For infants, it should be no less than one adult per every four babies, and for toddlers, one adult for every six children.
  • What's on the walls? If all the pictures say "No This" or "Don't Do That," you are less likely to find a positive environment where kids can safely find a "Yes."
  • Are parents allowed to drop in anytime and feel welcome? And if not, why not? There are differences between helping parent and child separate safely and gracefully, versus not wanting "meddling parents" when unsafe activities are going on.
  • Is it clean? Do they encourage good hygiene/hand-washing? You want to make sure your child is not coming home with scabies or other goodies.
  • Is there a TV, and is it on? Not so great for baby's brain development, plus there's a good chance it'll be used as a babysitter at some point in the day.
  • Does the center match your ideal balance of structure versus free play? If you run your life on a tight schedule, a day care with a loosey-goosey schedule isn't going to cut it. Meanwhile, if too much structure gives you hives, you'll likely want a more child-centered learning approach that has a degree of flexibility built into it.
  • Does your child need more structure in order to keep her sleeping on time and happy when awake? Ask about scheduled nap, snack and meal times.
  • Are you expected to provide meals and snacks, or are these offered by the site? If it's the latter, are you okay with the food options?

No matter which setting you choose, background checks are a must. Any private, in-home child-care providers (and any other teenager or adult living in the home) should be screened with reference and background checks. For a school- or institution-based day-care center, you can do a site check, which should involve verification that employees are screened with background checks. Last, use your gut instincts. If your maternal or paternal alarm bells are ringing, try to figure out what set them off while you look for another place.