At first glance, it can feel like a daunting task to choose a care provider for your child: should you pick a nanny or a day care? With so many options, finding the right balance of safety, warmth, nurture, education, and friendliness can seem nearly impossible. Trusting someone else with your child is one of the most significant decisions you’ll ever make as a parent, so it’s understandable that so many parents worry about finding the best fit.
Luckily, there are some handy tips and tricks you can use to identify the right day care facility or nanny for your child. It takes a little bit of research and a lot of thought, but you’ll end up making a decision that fits your family.
Step 1: Create a Wish List
Remember that scene in Mary Poppins when little Jane and Michael Banks singsongingly create their wish list for the perfect nanny? As they created their letter outlining the qualities of their ideal nanny, they actually created an excellent model. Perhaps never giving castor oil or gruel isn’t a top priority, but it sets the scene.
When you envision the perfect care provider for your child, what would that look like? Cozy day care facility, a nanny that comes to your home, or an academically-based preschool environment? If you take some time to think about where you envision your child, you can quickly narrow down your options.
Step 2: Do Your Homework
Once you have created your own personal Mary Poppins persona, it’s time to get to work. Now it’s time to do your homework.
The first step is to start by doing some online research on the various childcare facilities in your area. You will want to check for things like their safety record and their accreditation and licensing. When possible, read as many online reviews as you can find. You’ll want to keep location in mind, too, since more convenient options will be close to your home or office.
This step can be somewhat time-consuming, so try to stay focused. Just be patient and be diligent about keeping notes on what you find.
Ask Around in Your Community
After you’ve taken some time to nose around online, the next step is to start talking to other parents about their childcare providers. Reading reviews is great, but talking to other parents in person is even better.
Check-in with neighbors and friends about the options they have used. Ask questions like “Who provided the best care for your children?” or “With whom did you feel most comfortable?” Carefully listen as they answer because their experiences will give you a glimpse into what your child might experience. You may also want to ask your pediatrician’s office or local schools for their recommendations.
Step 3: Make a List of Your Top Picks
Once you have found the best options, write them down or input them in a spreadsheet and start comparing them. Include all the details: advantages, disadvantages, and especially costs. It may be helpful to work on this list with the help of your spouse, significant other, or a trusted friend.
This list will likely have a large number of options on it. That’s okay. You’ll start to pare it down later in the process, but right now, keep your options open. You may also want to categorize your list with options like nannies, day care centers, preschools, etc.
Step 4: Schedule Visits
You have your list, so the next thing you need to do is to schedule visits with your chosen providers. This simple act of calling to schedule appointments may start trimming down your list of choices. Any school that isn’t willing to accommodate you and your child for a visit is probably not a good fit for you. Remember, this first point of contact with the facility is critical!
Be sure to carve out a decent chunk of time to see their process, schedule, and methods. When you schedule your visit, request to stay for more than just a quick tour so you can get a sense of what a day would be like for your child at the school or day care.
Step 5: On Visit Day—Ask Questions!
Be prepared with your list of questions or bring along a printable checklist like this one to help you stay on track. You might arrive and get so swept up in how sweet and adorable the facility is and leave, realizing you didn’t ask the crucial questions. Bring your list and don’t hesitate to write answers down for later comparison.
List of questions you will want to ask:
- How long have you been in operation?
- How many teachers or providers do you have?
- What is your child to adult ratio?
- What is the philosophy of your facility?
- Do you have an academic curriculum?
- How do you handle a child having a bad day?
- How do you communicate with parents?
- What does the application process look like?
These are just a few of the many questions you will probably want to ask. Feel free to add to this list and customize it to get the information you want to know. Be sure to ask about costs, so this doesn’t become an issue later. There’s nothing worse than finding the perfect school only to realize it’s way over your budget.
Some Red Flags to Be on the Lookout For
When you visit, this is your opportunity to get a pulse of their style. But at the same time, also be on the lookout for red flags. Some of these might include:
- Teachers that show little compassion
- Safety violations
- Dirty facilities that aren’t well kept
- Potential hazards on the playground
- Unsanitary conditions
- Lack of control over the food they serve
- Children seem bored or unhappy
- The facility won’t provide you with references to contact
- You get a bad vibe—always trust your gut
Step 6: Narrow It Down
Take a break and try not to scrutinize the decision for a couple of days. You might want to jump right into a choice, but allowing yourself a little time to digest everything might help make the decision-making process much easier.
Take Your Time
Just sit with the information you’ve gathered and talk to other people you trust. Remember that while choosing childcare is a big decision, it is reversible, so you aren’t completely locked into your final decision.
Just take a couple of days to mull things over without putting on the pressure of decision-making. It’s an important decision—there’s no need to rush it.
Compare Your Options
If there are any options you can toss out at this point, go ahead and do that. Ideally, you can narrow down to a couple of options to compare. Move through the list and identify possible factors that make that option not the ideal for your family.
Start by tossing out your least favorite one or two. Then halve the list that is left. Ideally, you will pare down to a list of two, or maybe three, options, and then it’s time to get down to a decision.
Talk It Through
Schedule some time with the person you trust most when it comes to making decisions about your children. Sit down and talk it through. Most people find that talking through the process of narrowing it down will eventually lead them to a pretty clear, obvious choice.
Deciding who will care for your child is a huge decision. Having the ability to talk through your options can help you reason out the best choice. When you think about the decision on your own, you might feel like you’re moving in circles. By talking it through with someone trustworthy, you can identify concerns that might not have been apparent yet.
Step 7: Make it Official
You’ve made your decision! Congratulations.
Now it’s time to make it official. Hopefully, during your visit, you talked about the facility’s application process. Perhaps you even have the necessary papers to get the ball rolling. If this is your first time enrolling in a day care or school, you might be surprised that there is a process for applying and submitting all of the proper documentation for your child.
If not, reach out to your top choice and let them know that you would like to enroll your little one. Ask about their requirements to reserve a spot for your child. You will need to submit documentation (things like vaccination records) to begin attending. Be sure to ask for all of the details you will need to take care of before your child can start.
Deciding on the right person to care for your child when you’re unable to is not an easy feat. In fact, it’s one of the most important parenting decisions you will make. By taking the time to walk through these steps, you can feel confident in your decision and know your child is in the best hands, whether with a nanny, a day care, or a school.
When the day comes for you to bring your child in for their first day, you will have the confidence that you made the right choice for your family. This will make the process smoother and happier for everyone.