A Working Mom’s Guide to Selecting Child Care

Whether first-time parent or mother of three, choosing which early childhood education program to enroll our infants and toddlers in is stressful. Selecting a school or center that prioritizes their health and safety is essential. However, we also want them to reap the benefits of an enriching environment that supports their cognitive, emotional, language, physical and social development.

As we weigh our child care options, we may ask for suggestions from friends and family or pore over online reviews. But without concrete guidelines, we may feel uncertain about what to look for in programs. So, what should be on our checklists when touring prospective facilities?

Using the research-based recommendations of what is considered the “gold standard of quality,” the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and my experience as a mom and former classroom teacher, I believe parents should select early childhood education programs with the following attributes.

A health and safety-focused culture: First and foremost, ensure the center is licensed and regulated by the applicable state agency. While walking through the facility, note how the rooms are set up. Spaces should allow for adequate adult supervision and have age-appropriate and functional furnishings, such as child-sized chairs or sleeping pads. Ask the director whether the staff is current on first-aid training, if safety equipment is installed and if there are written policies about illnesses, cleaning and sanitizing.

Positive child-adult relationships: During the tour, check that each class complies with the requirements of staff-child ratios and the recommended group sizes. Teachers and children should be engaged in warm, sensitive and responsive interactions. Staff should regularly participate in activities with children, ask them questions and, if conflicts occur, resolve issues by helping children identify their feelings and find alternate solutions.

Developmentally appropriate curriculum: Inquire about the center’s curriculum and its alignment with daily schedules, routines and materials. Ideally, children should be engaged in a combination of whole classroom, small group and one-on-one activities. Classes should be arranged to provide opportunities for children to learn through exploration and play, including open-ended toys that interest and challenge them.

Effective teachers and staff: Note how personnel supervise their classes and modify strategies or materials to meet children’s unique needs and interests. Ask the school’s director if regular, age-appropriate assessments are conducted to determine whether kids may need enhanced learning strategies, therapies or academic interventions. Staff should also undergo regular professional development and continuing education.

An engaged, family-friendly environment: Families should be welcomed and encouraged to be involved, with clear communication between parents or guardians and personnel. In addition, schools should leverage community partnerships and resources, such as museums, to spark children’s interest and fuel their learning. Policies, operating procedures and other program information should be provided to families and communicated clearly.

Studies consistently show high-quality early childhood programs, like NAEYC-accredited ones, deliver positive outcomes for children, including greater kindergarten readiness and enhanced academic achievement. By selecting a school or center with the above characteristics, working parents can feel more confident that their kids are receiving brain-building experiences for long-term success.

Leigh Keener is the executive director of Joyfully Engaged Learning, a nonprofit committed to supporting early learning programs in their voluntary pursuit of NAEYC accreditation. She is a former classroom teacher and serves on the Arkansas State Board of Education.


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