What Makes a Great Daycare

8 Great Tips, Continued

5. Make sure the teachers are fully attuned to child development. Though 2- and 3-year-olds may be close in age, they are worlds apart developmentally. Try comparing toys and equipment from room to room. "For example, there should be a progression of books -- from board books in the infant room to more sophisticated literature in the older children's rooms," says Scott.

6. Determine whether the teachers feel empowered. Caregivers who work directly with children often have great ideas, and the director should be able to honor them if they're reasonable. But if a caregiver is afraid to ask her boss for something as simple as a few extra art supplies, something may be amiss. "Once, the caregivers at my daughter's center told me, sort of on the side, that they wished they had a microwave so they could heat up the kids' food," says Kleinman. "I later found out that they were scared they would lose their jobs if they asked the director for anything." The issue extends beyond crayons and mac and cheese; a daycare worker who is afraid of her boss's retaliation might also be afraid to bring up to parents important issues that might need the director's input, such as behavior problems. Observe how directors and caregivers interact, and seek a place where their behavior shows that they like and respect one another.

7. Look for engagement. A high-quality center is filled with a sense of engagement, says Scott. "For example, in a 3-year-old classroom, the teacher may be working with a small group on a particular lesson, while the assistant teacher is playing a game with the rest of the children," she says. "Maybe a few children are finishing up an art project. When one of them finishes the art project, the assistant might say, 'Sam, why don't you come over here and join us now?' No child should ever just wander, not knowing what to do next." She adds that teachers should be playing down on the floor with the kids, and the director should easily step in to help. Finally, she says, when you visit a center, watch how the children respond to you. Shyer children may look to the teacher or other kids for reassurance; more outgoing kids may come up to you and say hello. Both reactions are signs that the kids feel at home at the center.

8. Don't ignore your gut feeling. Not every daycare is right for every family, points out Goldstein. "Each family has its own culture and wants to find the match that meets its particular child-rearing style," she says.

If you find yourself deciding between two or more high-quality daycares, go with the one that feels right. As Atlanta mom Sharyn Mulqueen puts it, "I saw other places I knew would be fine, but the place my daughter's at now -- when I visited, I knew she'd just love it."

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