How to Find the Right Child Care for Your Children
There may come a time when you need child care, and it can be tough finding the perfect fit for your family! There are tons of options and I have been on the "shopping"; side of this equation more times than I'd like to admit. Throughout my trial-and-error experience, I've identified some important things to look for when choosing child care for your kids.
Setting: When my little gals were babies, they went to this amazing home day care, run primarily by one saint-of-a-woman with superhuman, Mary Poppins-like powers. I loved this setting for them, because it "felt"; more like home. As my oldest daughter neared two, I felt that getting her in a day care program that was more "school"; focused would better prepare her for preschool.
There's certainly no shortage of child care options — traditional day care, in-home care, mother's day out programs and drop-in "play care"; places where you can leave your child for several hours. Here are a few things to consider.
Schedule: A full-time working mother will have different child care needs than a part-time or stay-at-home mom who just needs a few hours of kid-free time each week. When looking at your child care options, definitely find out:
- Their days and hours of operation
- If they have special "early bird"; and/or "afternoon"; add-ons — typically accessed more by working parents
- If the program runs year-round
- If they accept or have space for part-time children
Some programs may wind down in the summer, while others may offer summer-only programs. If you only need a couple of days a week, a mother's day out program might be perfect. A lot of churches in my area have these programs. There are so many options out there!
Policies and Procedures: Pay special attention to the "fine print,"; as this is where you can run into problems if things don't work out. I had to pay double day care one month because I didn't give 2 months' notice that we would be switching to another day care. Be sure to ask:
- How the center disciplines children and what their "parenting"; philosophy is
- Whether kids watch videos all day or follow a curriculum of activities and learning
- What the policies are for naptime, meals and snacks, medications, etc.
- What constitutes a "sick child"; and when children can return to day care
- How flexible they are if, for example, your child receives a therapy service and you'd like the therapist to see him/her during day care hours
- How much notice you need to give if you decide to go somewhere else
Costs: I've seen so many different options with how child care costs are broken down. These are the types of things that I have seen a lot of variety on, interestingly enough. Some options are:
- Hourly, daily, weekly, monthly
- Discounts for paying for a semester or an entire year
- Charging only when your children are in attendance
- Charging extra if you pick children up after "closing";
- Charging a flat fee whether your children are there or not (this is most common, in my opinion)
- Types of payment accepted: cash, check, credit card or automatic bank draft
- Fees that include meals, snacks or even diapers
- Fees that include basic child care and none of the extras
- Discounts for subsequent children or charging extra for infants
Gut Instinct: This one is listed last, but it really is the most important. Gut instinct, paired with flexibility in policies and procedures, has been the driving force in me switching day cares in the past. Check to see if:
- You get "warm fuzzies"; when you interact with the people caring for your children
- Your children are happy when you pick them up
- Your gut tells you it is the best fit for your kids and your family
For me, feeling 100% comfortable is top priority. I may drive to another city to take my kids to a day care, even if I pass 10 cheaper and closer ones on the way!
If you don't find a program that meets your needs, consider additional options, including:
- Grandparent or other family member
- In-home babysitter/nanny
- Live-in au pair
Remember that finding the right child care may be easy, or it might take a couple of tries! I have struggled with whether to change providers or settings in the past, because I didn't want to move my kids or start over somewhere else. However, when you ask all the right questions and find a child care situation you are truly happy with, it is very well worth it!
Tara Boyd, North Texas mother of three, to Beulah ("Boo";), Lucy ("Lu";), dishes practical advice on marriage, motherhood and munchies with humor and southern charm in her blog, Boyd Meets Girl.