To kick-off our maternity leave month, we asked Genie Borrego, an expert in child and adolescent development with over 10 years of experience in Early Childhood Education to answer the important questions about finding the right child care for your family. Genie’s worked in every avenue of care, from being a nanny to teaching Kindergarten and everywhere in between. She’s also a working mom just like you.
When is the best time to start looking for child care options?You definitely need to look for child care before your baby arrives. I suggest looking during the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy, so you can have enough time to check out all of your options so you don’t make a rash decision on the spur of the moment. By choosing care early, you will also avoid the hassle of long waiting lists. Once you start maternity leave, the last thing you’ll want to do is worry about finding child care. The sooner, the better.
What are the different types of care available? In a perfect world, we would all have a grandparent that lived right down the street that would happily watch our children for free! But in reality, that’s most often not the case. The good news, however, is that there are so many other great options available to working parents.
- Center or preschool-A school environment with several different classes and teachers. Centers usually range from infant rooms through Pre-K, and some have after-school programs. There is usually a curriculum in place to make sure baby hits all developmental milestones.
- In-home daycare-A class that usually has low teacher to child ratios which allows for personal interaction in a familiar, usually comfortable environment. In-home daycares may not have age specific rooms, meaning your baby might be in a room with older children.
- Nanny-A personal assistant that is solely responsible for your child throughout the day. A trusted nanny can be a great option because it allows your baby to remain in the home and allows for one on one attention. Make sure your nanny is on target with providing the development tools (like Tummy Time) to help your baby learn.
- Church preschool-They also usually have low teacher to child ratios and will most always follow a curriculum with the added bonus of teaching your child about your chosen religion.
- Cooperative preschool-Such a great opportunity, these schools are taught by the parents with the guidance of a teacher. Each parent will have certain days to teach the class, meaning you get to spend certain days with your own children to help instill a love of learning early. Another added benefit is that these schools definitely come with a low cost.
What are some elements to consider when looking for care?
- Cost. First and foremost, parents must think about the cost of the care they are considering. After you pay for care, are you still bringing home enough money to make a difference in your family’s budget? If not, you may want to think about part-time or different options. Make sure to check out how the payments are processed. Do you pay weekly or monthly? Can you set up payments directly from your paycheck? Is the price of child care negotiable? Does the price go down as your child gets older? These are all important questions to consider before selecting a care provider.
- Location. For some parents, location is a key element to finding the right daycare. If a center is close to your home or work, it will be easier to get to your child if they are sick or if you forget that much needed paci. Also less time spent in traffic, means more time spent with your baby.
- Teacher to child ratio. A very important aspect to consider is how many children are allowed to be alone with your child’s teacher. The lower the number, the better. Look for centers that have a good balance of teachers to students so that every child has the opportunity to be cared for and have their needs met in an appropriate amount of time.
- Teacher qualifications. Are you looking for a center that only hires teachers with degrees in early childhood education? If using a nanny or in-home daycare, you’ll want to make sure they are up to the challenge of educating your child socially and developmentally by incorporating the appropriate activities.
- Services provided. Curriculum is a huge maker or breaker for me. With my own babies, I like to look for providers that have programs such as music class, Spanish and yoga, so that I know they are meeting and exceeding their developmental goals. Are there fun opportunities for parents, such as parents night out or special lunches with your children? As a child gets older, are there meal plans available or are you required to pack your own lunch?
- Communication. Will you receive daily reports from your baby’s activities? Can you pop in unannounced at anytime? Will you be able to remove your child at any time if you feel the provider is not meeting your child’s needs?
How will I know if a center, teacher or person is qualified to watch my child? Do your homework about any place you will be leaving your child. A daycare must meet the proper state qualifications, as well as, become accredited. Check out the different types of accreditation at naeyc.org. Definitely interview with and call references for your provider. And make sure to visit several different types of daycares and preschools to see which one you like the best all around. And pay attention to things that may be easily missed. For instant, is the place messy? How is the trash taken care of? Are diaper pails dumped? Is the place decorated appropriately for play? Are there developmentally appropriate toys in place? (You don’t want a bunch of legos on the floor where your baby will be playing!) The most important thing to make a note of is the children. Are they happy? Do they love their caregiver and is that caregiver meeting their needs when asked? Does everyone have the opportunity to join in activities? Are the children clean and well kept?
How can I prepare my baby for the transition from home to daycare? It’s a hard time for everyone. Keep in mind that the younger you start, the easier the transition will be. For your baby, it will just be another set of people that love and care for her. But also make sure to do a visit with your care provider before starting, that way your baby has time to get used to her new surroundings and you can feel more comfortable about knowing what’s happening in her daily routine. On the first day of drop-off, get there early and spend some time getting settled in. If your child is older, make sure to talk to them about the exciting changes that will be taking place. If your older child cries or doesn’t want you to leave, sometimes the best (but hardest) thing is to just leave them with their teacher. They will calm down after a few minutes.
How can I prepare myself for leaving my baby and going back to work? It’s tough and you can never be fully prepared, but after a few days you will be okay. Just remember you are doing the best thing by providing for your family, while allowing yourself a little grownup time to readjust to your new life as a mom. To help ease your mind, make sure to have all emergency numbers (the director, the assistant director, the teacher) handy on your phone or in your purse. If leaving your baby with a nanny, make sure to have all contact info and emergency numbers written down in a common area. Rest assured you can call a million times the first week and pop-in if you just need to see your baby.
Remember, going back to work is a tough decision, but rest assured that your baby will be taken care of by providers that really know how to provide for and love your child.