Picking Infant Day Care

I’m looking for some intelligent and practical tips on picking a day care service for my 3 month old baby girl.

Is a home care operation better or worse than some commercial outfit?

What kind of things should we look for?

We don’t know other people in our situation, so word of mouth isn’t much of an option. Are there other ways to find reliable referrals or find out how reputable a place is?

We have a month or so to shop around, unless places fill up due to demand.

Whatever tips and hints you may have are appreciated.

You need to decide on your priorities.

Routine and consistency in activity or consistency in carers with a less structured day?
Lots of socialising or “family” like environment with just a couple of other kids?
Is flexibility with drop-offs and pick ups important to you?

My baby (who will be 1 next week :eek:) goes to a childminder 4 days a week.

Flexible on pick-up/drop off times.
Family atmosphere, only 4 other kids (2 of whom are her own).
Will take irishbaby if she has a cold or a cough, and is happy to give baby ibuprofen and teething gel if needed (daycares often won’t).
Flexible daily routine- if irishbaby is restless they go to the park, if she’s grumpy they won’t. Irishbaby doesn’t have to fit into anyone else’s set routine (i.e. 11am nap, 2pm walk…whatever).

If my childminder is sick or on holiday I have no childcare (hasn’t happened yet).
How she parents isn’t always how I parent (“I gave her some of my chocolate bar-is that ok?”…um, no, not really).
Her house is not as tidy as I’d like (but it’s clean and most of the mess is toys, so I can’t complain).

Work out what you are prepared to compromise on and what you aren’t.

Depends on what you want - I would consider the LONG term - babies are pretty easy - what’s life going to be like at that daycare when she is three? Change can be hard on some kids, so I’d look for a place where you can be comfortable until Kindergarten. It might even be worth asking about summer/before/after school care. It isn’t that long and happens fast.

Home vs. Center: We went with center. That way her sick/vacation days weren’t our problem. We missed enough work when the kids were little because THEY were sick, didn’t need to miss it because the daycare provider was sick. And scheduling my vacation is something I want to do on my schedule. Also, a lot of my friends that did home had the “well, I’ve decided to stop doing daycare” experience and had to scramble. Home has its advantages too, though - I’ll let someone who did home let you know why they chose it.

Look for: Good care. Kids who are engaged. Security - can the kids get out of the room? Fenced yard for playing in. Supervision. How is discipline handled? Bullying? (at the toddler stage its biting and not sharing, usually). Other kids (this doesn’t become important until they are a little older) whose behavior and parents you can tolerate. i.e. a friend pulled her son from church daycare. She liked the daycare, there wasn’t too much Jesus - there was too much Jesus from the other parents and kids. We wanted some diversity, so picked the daycare with kids that came in colors and cars in the parking lot that had a diversity of value - the parents pulling up in the new Lexus SUV and the parents pulling up in the on its last legs Civic. Also look for hours and strictness on them. There will be times traffic is horrible and you don’t get there if they close at 5:30. (Our center was open from 6:30 to 6:30 - which was plenty of flexibility for us in all but the worst Minnesota weather).

If you have any big deal unusual needs, make sure you talk to the provider about your expectations before you sign up. i.e. vegetarian meals, prayer to the FSM before meals, naps on a special schedule, no exposure to pets, “I want my kid to be read to in three languages for two hours a day,” no TV, early participation in potty training. Before you do that though, have them describe the day - by age - for the kids. For babies this is "they lie on their backs looking at the ceiling, we change them, they sleep, we feed them, cuddle them, change them, they lie on their backs looking at the ceiling, when they fuss, we rock them. But for toddlers and pre-schoolers, what the day is like will tell you a lot.

Referrals - you can ask parents coming and going. Around 5:30 or so there will be other parents coming and going - ask. Also ask neighbors.

It’s difficult to advise on the detail of specific environments because I know that the way these things are regulated in the UK is different to elsewhere, but for the general decision I’d echo absolutely everything irishgirl said.

Use whatever resources you have to see official type reports of places (in the UK we have publicly available inspection reports), but the most important thing is to go and have a look. Even if you decide the first place is great, see lots to compare. Ask questions of the caregivers, make sure you see where your daughter will be, what she’ll be doing and so on. Give it some thought, you’ll be able to identify what’s important to you, and where you’ll be willing to compromise. Remember, she’s your daughter and you’re pretty much entitled to whatever ‘irrational’ limits you want to set! Any environment not keen to answer your questions, show you around, indulge your fears and try to address them is not worth considering IMHO.

My daughter has been with her childminder 4 days a week since she was around 6 months old. The childminder is fabulous, I consider her a partner in the upbringing of my child, and I tell her so, but of course your attitude may be quite different and that’s ok too. My childminder is a member of a group of others, who all get together at least once a week in a big group, so my daughter gets exposure to bigger groups as well. They also do a lot of craft, lots of visits to various places and so on. I couldn’t have asked for better to be honest.

I personally wouldn’t have been comfortable putting her into a larger setting, like a nursery, at that age, although friends of mine have the exact opposite view. Now she’s a bit older (3 1/2) , she’s started at a kindergarten a couple of days a week, which has helped introduce her to a wider group of kids, and a more school-like atmosphere. Ironically though, the stuff she’s doing at ‘school’ is less advanced than she’s been doing with the childminder but I fully recognise I have a good one!

Unscientifically, I’d say go with your gut to some extent. In some ways it needs to be a bit of a leap of faith - how do you feel about this person? how do they seem to behave with your child? with the other children? what do they say about what they do, and how do they say it? You’ll probably need the reassurance of communication on a regular basis, so check how they manage that aspect too.

Depending on your location and the local economy, I’d say you’re cutting it close with just a month to find a daycare. Fortunately (for you), a lot of daycare spots are open right now that would normally be waitlisted because a lot of parents are out of work.

You need to start touring daycare places yesterday. After touring three or four of these places, you’ll start to know what you like and don’t like.

Your biggest choice is between a center and someone’s house. As people mentioned above, each has their pros and cons. Once you decide that, it’s simply a matter of finding the cleanest place with the nicest people.

I don’t even have children, but I recommend random unannounced site visits to any daycare you are considering, and I’ll tell you why.

There’s a day care place behind my house. It’s a commercial business – nobody lives there – but it’s in a house in a residential neighborhood, just a couple blocks from the nearest elementary school.

I go home for lunch every day because I work very close to my house. I cannot tell you how many times, I’ve taken the dog out to pee and stood on my deck listening to the day care ladies screaming at the kids. I’ve even heard slapping, but I can’t see into the yard, so I don’t know who is slapping whom. It sounds to me like a bunch of toddlers are running wild screaming at each other and trying to kill one another. If I had kids, I’d gnaw my own leg off before I’d leave my kid in that environment. I wouldn’t want other little hooligans screaming or beating up on my kid, I wouldn’t want my kid beating up on other kids, and I sure as hell wouldn’t want the caretakers to be screaming or abusive in any way.

I’m sure if I made an appointment to check that place out, everyone would be on their best behavior. So I say: randomly pop in without warning. See what’s going on. How well are the kids tended to? Is outside play time well supervised? Does the day have structure or do kids just randomly pinball around getting into shit? And for infants, how much cuddling/holding time does each baby get? Are they left in cribs or playpens, alone and unstimulated for hours on end, or are they being properly babied?

Missed the edit window: I’m talking about seriously screaming, not just the sounds of kids’ outside voices, playing. I do know the difference (ex mormon: I’ve been around a lot of kids). If the kids were singing or playing an organized game or something, I think I could tell the difference by the voices. But what I’m hearing is just plain old, “AAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIGGGGGHHHH!!!”

It really sucks when you’re sick and trying to take the day off work to sleep or something.

Strangely, daycare vs. home care is another controversial issue with parenting. I agree that you need to find what works best for you. And Dogzilla has a very good recommendation on stopping by several times a day unannounced. The daycare we use is attached to a Montessori school, so my son started there at 10 weeks and is now four and attending preschool there. It has made transitions incredibly easy because, even when he advances from one level to the next, he can still visit his old teachers. Plus, my daughter now attends daycare, so it’s extremely convenient to be able to pick them up at the same building.

However, as noted upthread, they won’t take them if they’ve got a cold and you often have to have a doctor’s note if you need them to receive Tylenol. I understand this and on one hand appreciate it and on the other dislike it. On the one hand, many parents who work try to mask their children’s fevers by dosing them with Tylenol before daycare. Masking a kid’s fever means that they may go to daycare contagious and get everyone else sick. When my daughter was three months, the parents of the kid in the crib next to her kept sending him with a fever. Turned out he had RSV, which can be pretty dangerous to the little ones, and he immediately passed it on to my daughter. Luckily, she has an older brother who infects her with everything under the sun, so she’s pretty hardy and didn’t get that sick. But it’s really the principle of the thing.

On the other hand, if that fever is due to something like teething, it’s frustrating to know that there is nothing wrong with your child and that you have to take the kid to the doctor or call them to fax a note to daycare so you can work.

I have been very, very happy with our daycare. There’s not much rollover with the teachers or caregivers, so the same woman who cared for our son now cares for our daughter. They like each other very much, and even though my daughter is now experiencing a little stranger anxiety, she never hesitates to go to Tina. The same ladies who cared for my son in the other rooms (they have a transition room when the kids learn to crawl, then a toddler room when they’re walking, then a twos room when they need more stimulation, then preschool) are still there, too, so I know them and they know me and we have a pretty good relationship.

So, based on my own experience, wherever you choose to go, I’d try to find someone you and your daughter click with. That person or the daycare should have plenty of age-appropriate toys; if there’s a schedule, they should let you know that and allow the flexibility your child needs because not all babies are the same. They should welcome parent involvement and visiting and the place should obviously be kept clean. Another thing that was important to me was attentiveness. Our daycare has several rooms for each level, but I chose the ones I did because I was allowed to observe the teachers interacting with the kids whenever I wanted and I noticed that some teachers in other rooms, while never abusive, seemed aloof around the kids and I didn’t want that. The ladies in the rooms my son attended and that my daughter is attending are very liberal with the hugs and affection, holding the children often and indiscriminately. They also notice when my children are acting “off” and pay attention to the other kids in their care. They also discipline similarly to the way we discipline in our home, which helps - since the same rules apply to everyone everywhere, there’s no confusion over what’s appropriate behavior.

Thanks for the input so far. I work for myself and have the flexibility to work at home, so I probably have more than a month to really decide.

I guess one thing driving this is I have no idea how much time and effort goes into a child at age 6 months or a year.

She’s only 3 months old now, and she’s pretty easy to handle while I get work done. I’m just afraid when she gets a bit older older, I won’t be able to both work and watch her simultaneously.

If I can just keep working at home, we may not need daycare … or at least not every day.

How are the daycares around you in terms of waiting lists? Where I live, we got on the waiting lists when my wife was still three months pregnant. We got contacted by our current provider when my son was six weeks old. Another daycare near my wife’s office just called us last week asking us if we were interested in the spot as one just became available.

I recommend you start looking right away as well this home daycare blog has some insight to the other side of the interview. Look through the archives for some posts on here interviewing parents for some ideas on what questions to ask.

We were never able to get much with our son as he wanted to be entertained by something. He was more mobile at six months so we definitely couldn’t get anything done.

I think that’s a valid concern - when they get a bit older, it can get far more challenging to work and keep them out of trouble at the same time, especially when they learn to crawl. Plus, they stay up longer and longer, so unlike when they’re really little, they don’t sleep as reliably long during the day anymore. If you keep her at home, I’d recommend at least having someone come in for a few hours to keep her occupied while you work.

With my son, I couldn’t really work and watch him at the same time by about five months. With my daughter, who never sleeps yet manages to stay in a good mood but loves company and interaction, I haven’t been able to work and manage her since she was six weeks old. She only sleeps 30-45 minutes at a time during naps and only takes two a day. With babies, it varies enormously, but I’d say five or six months is around the cut off point when they start trying really hard to get mobile, which can lead to frustration. And they need more stimulation, which means you’re more hands-on. And they start napping less, so they’re awake and playing more. Then once they do get mobile (for my son and my daughter, who’s almost there, it was about 7 months), watch out - they’re into everything. Added mobility also seems to make them slightly anxious - it’s like they just realized they’re a separate person from you and are a conflicted over whether they want to stay with you or move around.

On the upside, though, they’ve usually established a schedule by then, so if you have to work relatively few hours and can work around her schedule, it might work.

My suggestion:

Continue to work from home.
Hire a babysitter to come to your home for a few hours a day, so you can work.
Day care outside the home for infants would be way more expensive than a babysitter for, say 5 hours a day a few days a week.
Not to mention, you can oversee your child’s caregiver whenever you want.

Better yet, hire a grandmother!

You can’t work from home successfully without a sitter once they get mobile. Or, I should say, its very rare for that to be successful. Which could happen in the next few months. I work from home on Mondays and I’ll work from home if they have a day off school or if they are ill - but even with a ten and eleven year old, I only get about half of what I could get done when they are home.

Around here, you’ll pay a lot for daycare. You’ll pay significantly more for a sitter. We had two in the infant room ten years ago at $1600 a month - a sitter would have been $1000 a week - and we’d have been responsible for employment taxes, etc. because we’d have had her around enough to be subject to “nanny tax.”

My wife and I thought she could work part time from home (she’s a freelance writer). It worked OK till Little Miss was 1 year old. By the time they can walk they need something close to full time attention. My wife ended up hiring two neighborhood girls to come in a few days a week after school to watch Little Miss so she could work.

Another thing is my wife is a teacher and can be home by 3:00 p.m. much of the time. Don’t know if that impacts the decision to try the stay at home thing.

Another thing is my mother in law will probably go to part time work in the fall, so maybe I can hire her on her days off.

Those things really depend on the flexibility of your job and hers and your mother in law. I know people who have made them work. I know people who have been told “get daycare of find another job” because their output has suffered and they can’t string together enough child care options.

For me, a lot of my work from home time is phone meetings. Its sort of unprofessional to have the dog barking or the kids asking for something - or screaming in the background. I’ve adapted (I don’t schedule IMPORTANT calls on Mondays - just other people who have worked from home and know dogs bark and kids try and kill each other - if I need to do that on Monday, I go in - my kids are old enough to watch themselves for a few hours now).

How big is your house? If you have room, an au pair might be a good option for you - you would be home to provide some adult supervision, but she is supposed to be able to watch the baby for a reasonable number of hours per week, and is cheaper than a nanny.

Pick one that publicizes a strict “No Return” policy that applies once the infant is dropped off.:rolleyes: