Finding the perfect child care center for your child can be a daunting task. New Hampshire currently only sets forth requirements concerning the health and safety of the centers. This creates two problems. The first problem being that much like any other business that requires an inspection, there are always places who manage to slip through the cracks and pass inspections or get by with minor violations.
The second issue is that there are no mandates concerning the actual education of children in child care centers. This means that while the center is required to provide a safe and nurturing environment for your child, there are no regulations requiring that a center actual educate the children in their care. The purpose of this article is to help parents sort through the good, the bad, and the truly ugly, and choose a child care center that meets their needs.
First impressions are everything when meeting someone. The same holds true when seeing a child care center for the first time. Getting a good look at the building inside and out can help determine immediately if this is the place for your child. The building should be clean and in good condition, meaning there are no safety hazards. Be on the lookout for things such as broken playground equipment, floors that look like they haven’t been cleaned in days, or anything else that may raise a red flag for you. If you see anything that concerns you, don’t be afraid to ask about it! That broken slide outside might have just happened yesterday and is already in the process of being replaced, or it could have been sitting there for months.
The aesthetics of the classrooms can also be a good indicator of how the center operates. Classrooms should, once again, be clean and organized first and foremost. But be on the lookout for children’s art work hanging on the walls, child size furniture, developmentally appropriate toys, and a room spacious enough to fit all of the children comfortably.
After getting a good look at the physical appearance of the building it’s important to now focus your attention on your interactions with the staff. When taking a tour of a center you will most likely be guided by the director or assistant director, but there are occasions when it may be an administrative assistant, classroom teacher, or another professional familiar with the program. Regardless of who you meet with, they should be friendly and able to answer your questions.
Most likely you will have a chance to meet your tour guide first and then will be given a tour of the center and a chance to spend some time in your child’s classroom. During this time take note of what the classroom teachers are doing and how they interact with the children. Are the teachers busy engaging the children or setting up a learning center? Or are they sitting around chatting with each other? Observe how the children act and what they do. Are they happy and playing with their friends? Or are they crying and fighting with each other? While the tears and the tantrums are bound to happen, a teacher who engages the children and provides a safe, calm atmosphere can help prevent many negative behaviors.
Following the tour you will have the chance to sit down and ask some questions. Many times this is the part where parents end the tour, leaving without asking some very important questions. The following is a list of questions every parent needs to ask before walking out the door:
- What are the discipline procedures?
- What curriculum does your center provide for the children?
- What types of credentials/certifications are required of your teachers?
- How do you ensure that this is a safe building and only parents and staff can get in? (ex. does the building have a secured entrance that requires a code to get in?)
- Are conferences held? If so, how often?
- How will I know what type of day my child had? (ex. do teachers write daily notes outlining the day’s events and activities?)
- Am I allowed to stop by unannounced to see my child? Can I call to see how my child’s day is going? (The answer to both of these questions should ALWAYS be yes)
- Does your center have any additional accreditations, such as NAEYC or Licensed Plus?
In addition to this piece, the links to both the NH Child Care Licensing Bureau and NH Early Learning Guidelines are provided. The first outlines what health and safety standards centers are required to meet in order to be licensed by the state of NH. In addition to that the site provides reports from licensing’s inspections of every licensed child care center in NH. The second link is the curriculum guidelines set forth by the state of NH that early educators are encouraged to follow.
Hopefully this article can help parents when finding the right child care center. While each parent may have different standards and expectations, the most important thing to follow is your own instincts. When you find the right child care center, you will know it. Everything will feel right and you will know deep down that your are giving your child exactly what they deserve: the absolute best.