What daycare features promote child development? The following are important.
- Low child-to-staff ratios and small group sizes For daycare centers, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a child-to-staff ratio of 3 to 1 and a maximum group size of 6 for babies under 1 year; 4 to 1 ratio and 8 maximum for children from 13 to 30 months; 5 to 1 ratio and 10 maximum for children 31 to 35 months; and 7 to 1 ratio and 14 maximum for 3-year-olds. For family daycare, one adult for six kids when there are no children younger than 2 years; one adult for four children when there is one child younger than 2 years; and one adult for a maximum of two children younger than 2 years.
- Trained caregivers who love children Ideally, providers should have a child-development associate's credential so they know the kinds of interactions children need. Loving their job counts, too. A National Institute of Child Health and Development study found that when caregivers were loving and responsive, kids had more positive interactions with one another.
- An environment that builds creativity That doesn't mean the latest electronic gizmos. "One parent asked if she could purchase a DVD player for us," says Lynn Wiener, assistant director of the Yale-New Haven Hospital Day Care Center, in Connecticut. "But children need creative activities, such as using blocks and dress-up clothes. They should experience things they can't do at home -- squishing mud through their fingers, building sand castles, or watching hermit crabs."
- Minimal turnover It takes time for caregivers and children to develop a connection to the point at which caregivers can truly understand their charges. Yet by some estimates, yearly turnover rates among daycare providers are more than 40 percent. "Children build trust by staying with one primary caregiver over time," says Goldstein. "With continuity of caregiving, there's one person who's attuned to your child's temperament."
Barbara Solomon is a mother of three and a writer in Scarsdale, New York.
Originally published in American Baby magazine.