Reliable Group Setting
If you're looking for socialization and structure, this option's for you. Many centers offer extended drop-off and pickup hours (although extra hours will probably cost you). It's also comforting to know a solo provider who calls in sick won't catch you off guard. Make sure:
The facility is licensed and accredited. Day-care regulations vary from state to state, but a licensed program should, at the minimum, meet state health and safety standards and have strict caregiver-child ratios (these ratios apply to both a family-run day care as well as a franchised day-care center). For accredited programs that voluntarily exceed minimum state requirements, check out naeyc.org and necpa.net.
There's a schedule. Infants thrive on routine and structure. But there should also be free play for older babies, says Barbara Rigney- Hill, associate professor of family and consumer sciences at California State University in Northridge. "Kids need time for discovery."
The curriculum is varied. If you're planning on keeping your child there for the long haul, it's good to know now whether the center emphasizes early academics. One confidence-inducing sign: There's an activity schedule posted for the week, which indicates forethought.
The kids are varied too. Diversity is a priority for families who want their children to feel like they fit in as they get older and start to notice other kids, as well as for families who want their kids to grow up understanding that everyone doesn't have the same skin color and background as they do.
You'll get daily updates. From feedings to poops to naps, you want to stay looped in. Some centers have daily "report cards" -- have no fear; they're not doling out grades!