Dear Dr. Debbie,
I’ll be going back to work full time in a few months, and I’m starting to investigate childcare arrangements for my almost 2-year-old daughter. What should I be looking for?
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First you should decide if you want center-based care, in-home child care or a provider coming to your home. Cost and convenience are important considerations so determine your budget and time limits for travel. If your work and commute would start your child’s day before 8 a.m. or end it after 5 p.m., be sure to arrange hours that fit.
Start with Trust
The most important component of your childcare arrangement will be trust. Besides having proper credentials, offering age-appropriate activities and providing a safe and healthy environment, your childcare provider must demonstrate that the moment-to-moment decisions he or she will be making in your absence are in the best interest of your child. Therefore, take your time to observe, interview and check references. You will be partners in discussing and supporting your daughter’s development for the next year or more, so be sure you are completely comfortable with each other.
Types of Childcare
Childcare centers are typically open 10 to 12 hours a day. A few private schools include classes for children as young as age 2 (or even younger) and may offer “before” and “after” care around the regular school day. This means your child’s day would probably include a shift change. She would have one teacher (or two) in the morning and another (or two or more) before her day is over.
If a private school is potentially in your child’s future, it could be a plus to be in a familiar place with familiar faces for the years to come. Centers and schools generally offer a stimulating environment and curriculum. In addition, they must follow requirements of the Maryland State Department of Education for staff qualifications and continued training.
A family childcare provider takes care of up to eight children in her home, usually ranging from infants and 4-year-olds. Some also provide care for school-age children, possibly requiring daily walks to and from the school bus stop. Family childcare providers are also governed by MSDE, requiring periodic inspections, annual trainings and encouragement to maintain standards established by the professional field of early childhood education.
The state registration certificate will be prominently displayed. In-home child care is usually more flexible for individual children’s needs than a school or center and provides a more homey atmosphere than a childcare center or an all-day preschool.
Care in your home can be the most expensive, even though there are no regulations for nannies. There are, however, agencies that will screen and help you select a competent professional. One great benefit to a nanny is that your child does not have to be awakened and rushed out in the morning just because you have to go to work. A nanny has tremendous flexibility to cater to your child’s individual interests, temperament and daily rhythms. Some nannies network with others to meet up for story times at the library or for playtime at a park or a children’s museum.
An “au pair” is typically a college-age girl who lives in your home — a trade-off for lower wages. Some agencies specialize in au pairs from abroad who can share another language and culture with your family.
Other key points to consider are best summed up by the 10 Program Standards put forth by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. NAEYC is the world’s largest organization of early childhood professionals. The standards include:
- Relationships. A teacher or caregiver is warm and friendly, responding sensitively to children’s emotional needs while helping to forge mutually satisfying interactions among children.
- Curriculum. Materials and experiences are provided to enrich learning. Activities are planned around goals for social, emotional, physical, language and cognitive abilities.
- Teaching. A teacher or caregiver organizes activities to meet the individual capacities and cultures of each child. This includes capitalizing on “teachable moments” as they occur.
- Assessments. The teacher or caregiver engages in ongoing observations of your child’s developmental progress. Parents are kept abreast of these formal and informal evaluations.
- Health. Optimal health is a demonstrated priority through nutritious foods, adequate exercise and rest, and other best practices such as hand-washing to prevent the spread of disease.
- Teacher/Professional Caregiver. This is a dedicated professional who possesses educational qualifications, knowledge and skills to promote all aspects of children’s development. A professional also supports the families for whom they work.
- Family Involvement. The family is viewed as collaborators in the child’s development. This may include direct participation in planning and carrying out educational activities.
- Community Relationships. The program incorporates field trips and interactions with community members — in the arts, animal sciences, agriculture, etc. Parents are also connected to community resources to benefit the family.
- Physical Environment. Indoor and outdoor structures, furnishings, equipment and materials support learning, comfort, health and safety. Children can be easily supervised. First aid supplies and safety equipment are at hand.
- Leadership and Management. Personnel have been, or plan to be, long term employees. The entity, whether an individual or an organization, is fiscally responsible. Policies are well-reasoned and fairly enforced. Professionalism and maturity are evident.
Once you have made your choice be sure to support the program. Perhaps not the best analogy, but consider the purchase of a car. A car will serve your needs if you familiarize yourself with the owner’s manual, refill its tank as needed, drive responsibly and keep up with regular maintenance. Likewise, your child’s teacher or childcare provider needs to be valued and supported in order to fulfill this important role for your family.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She has a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long-time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
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What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy[at]jecoannapolis.com.