Homewood, Illinois is a busy town. Chances are you work in the area or maybe you commute downtown on the Metra, either way traffic in Chicago is hectic morning, noon and night. Getting your child ready only complicates the situation. Nevertheless, you'll always be your child's main caregiver and the most consistent source of love and support in their life. No local daycare can replace your love, however at First Years University we try to come as near to a parents love, so our children flourish and grow into a happy and healthy adults.
I always tell daycare applicants they should approach their childcare search as they would a house search or a job search. You have to be thorough, do your homework, and start your search early. At least six months before you'll actually need daycare is when its time to start looking. Especially in a city like Flossmoor or Homewood daycare slots fill up faster than train cars during rush hour.
First, decide what you want and what you need. Are you looking for daycare near work? Or would a daycare closer to your home be more convenient? Do you want your child around lots of other kids like they would experience in a child care center, or just a few children like a home daycare might provide? Is a daycare with diverse students and parents more your style or do you want a more sheltered environment? Only you know where your child will excel best and what fits with you schedule. The most important thing is to write everything down so you can refer back to the list as you compare and contrast the different child care providers on your list.
Since no daycare center or preschool will ever be perfect as you'd like, be realistic about what you can live with, and what's simply unbearable. Something small like having to bring in your own snacks can be overlooked, but if your child does feel comfortable in the environment or with the teachers that's an issue that's non-negotiable.
First, see if someone you know has already had a good experience at any local Homewood daycares. Your friends and family can help you with referrals because personal references are some of the best around. Of course just because a preschool was great for your friends child, doesn't automatically make it a good fit for your child so always conduct your research even with personal recommendations.
Ask some local experts. Here in Illinois the Illinois Action For Children is a great local childcare resource and referral agency that can refer you to licensed centers and home daycares around the Homewood/Flossmoor area.
Take it one step further and get a list of the accredited centers near you. Two of the most popular accreditation's come from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) or the National Association of Family Child Care (NAFCC), But always stay vigilant and don't let accreditation be your only deciding factor. A preschool can still be good for your child if it isn't accredited, just make sure you're choosing the best overall daycare for your child. To search the online database of accredited child care centers visit the NAEYC and NAFCC websites for guidelines and contact information.
To find out how a particular daycare ranks with other parents, read reviews on sites like Yelp, Google, Facebook, or even Care.com
A tour of the child care center is mandatory. You can ask a few routine questions over the phone (tuition and what documents you'll need, for example), but you'll never truly get a sense of what the daycare is like until you go there and meet the staff and the director. Although most daycares may have a FAQ section its still a good idea to confirm anything that was confusing or didn't go into details on their website such as operating hours, fees, discipline, feeding, sleeping, etc. You don't want to be surprised because you didn't know or understand the child care centers policies. Get a schedule of the day's activities and the center's policies. Pay attention to your gut feeling and how the director or caregiver handles the questions. Ultimately, choosing a daycare is a very personal decision, but basically you'll want a warm, clean, safe environment that employees experienced teachers who are happy with their jobs. Finally, pay close attention to the caregiver to child ratio. Some daycares will purposely under staff to reduce operating costs.
All children require consistency and need to build strong bonds with their caregivers, so ideally you don't want teachers who come and go every six months. Now as a daycare owner I can tell you we aren't getting rich on tuition so as an industry we can't afford to pay workers exactly what they are worth for the amazing jobs they do helping to shape young minds, that's precisely why having a good working environment is essential for both children and staff at First Years University. Because of the relatively low wages for early-childhood teachers high turnover can be a problem, however we believe that the respect we show our staff trickles down to our pupils and helps us retain great teachers.
During your tour to potential preschools try to pay attention to how the teachers interact with the children. Typically at least one caregiver should be on the floor interacting with the kids. In their early years development children need to build loving relationships with adults in order to thrive. Research has shown that there are many aftereffects of childhood emotional trauma that can impact us as adults.
That's why it's especially important that babies' first caregivers be warm and caring. Even when its group time infants and toddlers need a constant stream of one-on-one time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a ratio of one adult for every three children up to 24 months of age. The law in Illinois is
1:4 for Infants (6 weeks - 14 months)
1:5 for Toddlers (15 - 23 months)
1:8 for (Two Year Old's)
1:10 for (Three and Four Year Old's)
1:20 for (Five Year Old's)
1:20 for (school age children)
Children need consistent predictable environments especially with situations that are already difficult like starting daycare. Having a consistent routine helps children form a secure attachment to their caregivers and fosters their emotional growth. If you choose to opt for an in-home nanny you should request that the caregiver you're considering make a one-year commitment to your family. If you're considering a child care center ask how long the current caregivers have been working there and how much turnover the center usually experiences. try to talk to staff besides the director. Sometime support staff like janitors or chefs may tell you things you wouldn't hear on the grand tour. Changing daycares or preschools too often can be problematic to your child's development. We've had a few children come from other local daycares with issues that stem from frequent changes in daycare setting. Now in a perfect world your child will attend the same day care care center for as long as possible with the same caregivers to build the type of security and trust that leads to secure attachment. Of course emergencies will arise, however if you already have a plan your're one step ahead of the game.
Positive word-of-mouth is a powerful endorsement. Sometime a popular daycare will have a buzz. Ask each daycare you're considering for a list of past and present references and actually call them. Better yet try to find out if they hype is true by visiting local forums or on places sites like Reddit or Facebook. When you speak with other parents be sure to ask specific questions. You may also want to check out the Better Business Bureau website to see if any complaints have been filed against the daycare center or an individual caregiver. I also suggest running your own background checks you may find someone who has slipped through the cracks.
If you didn't bring your little one on your first visit come back and visit for a while with your child. Pay close attention to how he or she interacts with the environment.
Find out whether you share parenting philosophies on topics such as discipline (Do the caregivers use time-outs, scoldings?); television (Is the TV on all day or used sparingly, if at all?); feeding (What snacks or drinks are provided for older babies?); sleeping (When are naps offered? How are fussy babies put to sleep?); and so forth. Inquire about the sick-child policy (What symptoms prevent a child from attending?). Also ask whether there's a backup plan should the family day-care provider or in-home caregiver get sick and be unable to work. The more questions you ask early on, the less likely you are to be unpleasantly surprised later.
Trust Your Gut
Your instincts are there for a reason. As a parent you'll know when something doesn't feel right and honestly your child may feel it too. Just because a daycare center has great reviews or comes highly recommended doesn't mean its right for your family. I advise parents to narrow their list to three preschools just in case your first choice doesn't work out. Having an alternate center in mind will lessen your search time if something like that happens. All children deserve, and thrive when showered with nurturing care. If something just doesn't feel right about your first choice daycare investigate your other options.
Get on the waiting list
If the daycare of your dreams isn't available, don't worry because its more common than you'd expect. I good preschool is like a good college, there are always more applicants than available spots. Putting you child on the waiting list almost guarantees you'll get in at some point, even if it's not exactly when you need it. Finally, be sure to ask your first choice daycare for recommendations of other similar places. While your waiting for a spot you should still keep looking and arrange temporary care with a relative or something similar until a spot becomes available at your local daycare.
Until your baby can talk, you'll be relying on what the daycare staff and director tells you about your child's day. Make sure you can communicate comfortably with each other. When you first drop-off your child in the morning you should tell the caregiver how your little one slept the night before and any other important information like if your child is teething, had breakfast, or any special achievements. When you pickup your child you'll want to know similar information, such as the number of diapers uses, napping, and how much food your child ate. It's always preferable to speak to the caregiver in person. If that's not possible, ask if there's a convenient time to phone, perhaps at nap time or end of the day.
Conflicts with your child's caregiver are almost unavoidable, however addressing problems as they come rather than ignoring them until they grow out of proportion is the best course of action. Some issues can be resolved quickly and with your child direct teacher, however others situations may require more discussion or even escalation to the director. Whatever the conflict, treat the caregiver and the director respectful (we appreciate that), but don't be afraid to speak up because we welcome your feedback. When approaching a difficult subject Parents.com recommends a six step approach.
Start with praise
Highlight common goals
Share your expectations
Help them make a plan to follow
Listen to their feedback and adjust your expectations as necessary
Thank them for the openness and for the love they show your child
Be open to change
Remember, you are not obligated to any one daycare, person or situation, and if things don't work out, you can always make a switch. Yes, you want consistency for your baby, but that doesn't mean you can't alter arrangements. Babies are resilient; as long as they're having a positive experience with their new caregiver, they'll be just fine. The great Greek philosopher Heraclitus said it best “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change.”