Picking a daycare is one of the most important tasks a parent undertakes in the first few years of a child's life. There are a variety of options, from in-home caregivers to large daycare facilities, each one catering to the different needs of modern families. This task can feel daunting, but it doesn't have to be with the right resource. When taking a tour of a facility, be sure to ask these 15 questions to ensure the care centre is a good fit for you and your family.
Some daycares require a tour before you can put your child's name on the waitlist. It's a good idea to check out the space and meet potential care providers, regardless. Keep these questions handy so you don't forget what to ask about when you're there.
Print this handy checklist so you're ready for your daycare tours. Click here to download.
Is it unlicensed? ("private") or licensed? Is there any official oversight?
There are two types of daycare services caregivers can choose between for their kids: licensed or unlicensed (also referred to as "private"). While requirements vary between provinces and states, licensed daycares have more rigorous screening processes for employees and must pass regular state inspections.
Official oversight is required for these centres, unlike unlicensed care services. Unlicensed daycares typically operate in someone's home and have a smaller number of children. Unlicensed care services are usually more flexible and affordable than licensed centres.Drazen Zigic / Getty Images
Cost: Daycares vary widely in cost. Some charge by the day, while others charge monthly.
Some daycares don't make their fees easily available on their website, and you'll only find out by going on the tour and asking in person. However, most centres will discuss services and costs over the phone with parents who want more information before committing to a tour. Costs fluctuate depending on the daycare centre's quality rating, location, ages of children, and services offered.
A recent cost-of-care survey found that parents should expect to pay $226 USD (that's around $300 CAD) weekly for daycare services at a licensed facility.
What's the staff-to-kid ratio in each room?
The answer to this question provides valuable insight as to what level of care you can expect your child to receive at the daycare. A high staff-to-kid ratio (meaning one staff to numerous kids) has the potential to leave children vulnerable to accidents.
The recommended ratio for toddlers is one adult to every three children and one adult to every four children for preschool-aged children. Research has shown these ratios improve child outcomes and reduce behavioral issues. Information about staff and ratios can usually be found on a daycare's website.FatCamera / Getty Images
Another important factor to consider is the staff turnover rate. While this is not something the centre will advertise, being nosey can go a long way to discovering this answer. Find other parents who have used the daycare and ask about the teachers and workers—parents will likely know how long caregivers have been there and which ones are fairly new.
A high staff turnover rate can indicate that the daycare does not treat its employees well or have good working conditions. If the caregivers at the daycare are unhappy or inexperienced, this can affect the quality of care children receive.Dejan_Dundjerski / Getty Images
Are there any all-daycare vacation weeks or holiday closings?
Sometimes daycares will identify certain weeks as "all centre vacation" weeks, or they'll close for major holidays. This is important to consider when selecting a daycare, as it can leave parents in a bind if unprepared. Daycares will often list these weeks or holidays in their brochure or on their website, but it is imperative you double-check when registering or renewing your contract each year.
Depending on your circumstances, ill-suited daycare holidays might call for looking elsewhere, or you can choose to enlist a private sitter during those periods if you really like the daycare.Luis Alvarez / Getty Images
What's the drop-off and pick-up window, and is there a formal late policy?
Is there a formal late policy? These questions are important to consider when thinking about daycare and family schedules. Families should check drop-off and pick-up times when selecting a daycare to ensure it fits within their work schedule.
Inevitably, unforeseen circumstances, such as traffic or illness, will cause parents to be late to pick-up occasionally—some daycares charge per minute late, while others boast a lenient grace period.Fly View Productions / Getty Images
Daycares vary wildly when it comes to food services. Many daycares do not provide lunch or snacks, while others take care of all dietary needs when the children are present. For the facilities that provide food, ask how often the menu changes and consider if your child will eat what is offered.
If your family has specific preferences or allergies, let the daycare know, as many can accommodate these needs. Be sure to ask what the policy is for when children are hungry at times when food isn't scheduled, and request changes if this policy does not work for your child.
Group of children and teachers preparing fruit in kindergartenWestend61 / Getty Images
What are the expectations around toilet training and diapers?
Some daycares offer to toilet train children, while others require that it be handled at home. Often, children are asked to wear training pants instead of underwear if they are having frequent accidents during toilet training.
For those children in diapers, a log is kept detailing each time a child has a bowel movement and when their diaper is changed. Some preschool rooms at daycare require children to be toilet trained, so keep that in mind.rudi_suardi / Getty Images
Sometimes daycares or childcare centres will accept government subsidies. This can be a great boon to parents whose finances are tight, and all of these centres must be licensed and accredited. Information about whether a daycare accepts subsidies should be available on their website.athima tongloom / Getty Images
Naptime is crucial for brain development. For babies, ask whether the children take one or two naps a day. (This is mostly relevant for infant and toddler rooms. Babies tend to drop the second nap before they turn two.) Additionally, consider whether kids are allowed to sleep when they're tired or if there is a set naptime for everyone. If there is a set naptime but your child no longer naps, inquire if kids are allowed to read quietly instead of sleeping.
Oftentimes, children all sleep in the same room on cots or blankets, which can be a challenge for some kids as they adjust to the new environment. Ask about the sleeping arrangements to determine if the daycare will be a good fit for your child.skynesher / Getty Images
There are many ways daycare centers can handle squabbles, and consistent behavior protocol ensures your child receives consistent quality care. Daycares are not allowed to use physical discipline, but there are several schools of thought when it comes to promoting good behavior within a care center. Some facilities use redirection, while others use "time outs" or taking away privileges as discipline. Be sure to pick a daycare that aligns with your family's values.
How do they handle squabbles, such as two toddlers fighting over a toy? (Redirection or discipline? Do they use time-outs?)Zabavna / Getty Images
While this may seem like an odd question to consider, it actually provides a lot of information as to when spots open up for younger siblings or when to prepare your child for a change at daycare. Typically there’s a lot of turnover in August and September when the oldest kids leave daycare to start junior kindergarten.
Expectations vary between the age groups, so your child may need to be toilet-trained or independent in opening their lunchbox when they move to a different room. Also, ask if there's a cut-off for when children may "age out" of that specific facility for daytime care. Sometimes this happens when kids turn 6 and must be enrolled in school.SDI Productions / Getty Images
Playing outside is shown to improve learning outcomes, creativity, and critical thinking skills. Research even suggests that kids who spend more time in nature are less aggressive and angry than kids who spend the majority of their days inside. Most daycares, even those in big cities where space is limited, boast some kind of outdoor play area.
If the daycare facility does not have an outdoor space, ask if they go on outings to the park or splash pad.eclipse_images / Getty Images
The illness policy of a daycare is one of the most important aspects to consider when making your decision. Many daycares require children to be fever- or symptom-free for 24 hours before they can return to the facility. This affects your work schedule and can be a big deal if you don't have an alternate caregiver.
Asking about over-the-counter medications for minor illnesses and prescription medication protocols can help provide clarity as to what daycare is the best fit for your family. Will staff give OTC medicines like Tylenol and Advil? Can they administer antibiotics if your child is healthy but still on a 10-day course of prescription meds? These are good things to know.filadendron / Getty Images
While the daycare can't answer whether all their charges are vaccinated—it violates health privacy law—it is prudent to ask about the daycare's vaccination policy. Some daycares require all children to be vaccinated in order to attend, while others are more lenient and allow exceptions. If your baby is younger than 12 months, this may be of special concern.
Many preventable childhood illnesses, like measles, are on the rise, and daycares are one of the primary places outbreaks occur. Some parents, however, feel strongly about not vaccinating their children. Whatever side of the fence you fall on, vaccination policy is an important factor to consider when choosing care.
Download or print this checklist to get the most out of your daycare tour.LordHenriVoton / Getty Images
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