Here's what experts say to look for in a daycare provider before you enroll your child in a program.
- Is the facility licensed and accredited? Daycare regulations vary from state to state, but a licensed program has at least met the minimum health and safety standards and maintains age-appropriate caregiver-child ratios. The National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies lists licensed programs at childcareaware.org. If you want to locate accredited programs that voluntarily exceed minimum state requirements, check out the Web sites for the Education of Young Children (naeyc.org) and the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (necpa.net).
- Are kids on a schedule? The day should be structured but flexible, says Rigney-Hill. "Kids need to have long periods of time for discovery."
- What's the educational focus? Is the emphasis on early academics or developing social-emotional skills during free play? "Children need opportunities to learn to be friends, to take turns, to listen in a group, and to express their feelings," Rigney-Hill says.
- Do caregivers read to the kids? "That's not to teach reading, but to expose children to new words and concepts that don't come up in their regular environment," says Jill Stamm, PhD, author of Bright from the Start (Gotham Books).
- Is there a TV in the room? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television for children younger than 2 and only two hours daily for children older than 2. "There's good research on the increase of ADHD characteristics in young children who watch a lot of television," Stamm says. "It wires their brains differently for quick hits of short bits of information. If you want a child to be successful cognitively, foster her ability to have a longer attention span, not a shorter one."
- What's the discipline policy? "Beware of centers that use time-outs for every problem -- they're relatively unsophisticated," says Adam Cox, PhD, author of No Mind Left Behind (Penguin). "While time-out is an extremely good intervention, it's not appropriate for every problem."
- How do the caregivers communicate with parents? You want to know how caregivers will update you about your child's general progress or if they see any learning, behavior, or social problems developing.
- How does the caregiver deal with social dynamics between children? Ask how the staff would draw out a shy kid or manage an aggressive child. How would they intervene if your child had trouble making friends, seemed to get picked on, or experienced excessive separation anxiety?
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