The time has arrived for your young one to venture outside the home for childcare. This transition can elicit complicated emotions for parents, but the negative ones can be alleviated by selecting a home-based childcare or school that you trust. Knowing the importance of high-quality early childhood education, how can you determine if a program adheres to best practices and meets the needs of your family?
Beyond the basic, logistical questions such as hours and cost, here are some important questions to ask during your search for childcare, whether in a center or home:
How much outside time does the program offer? Children need undirected time in nature. I teach at a school in an urban setting in frigid Minnesota, but we still make going outside a real priority. Ask how long children spend outside and what activities they engage in.
Which educational philosophies or curriculum do you employ? If you have not heard of the philosophy or curriculum, ask follow-up questions and research it later.
Tell me about a typical day. Note how often children are asked to transition from one activity to anther. The fewer transitions, the better. Also note the percentage of time spent in teacher-directed lessons as opposed to child-directed activity. The schedule should overwhelmingly favor the latter.
How much, if any screen time are children allowed? And how are they engaging with the screens? I am not an anti-screen absolutist. However, zero or very limited screen time is best, and screens should be used for a purpose, such as typing practice, movement breaks, or singing songs, not as a replacement for human interaction or hands-on learning.
How much time to children spend in "circle time"? I love circle time for read-alouds, singing songs, and community building, but I strive to limit it to a maximum of 15-20 minutes. Excessive time spent crisscross applesauce is not ideal for young children.
How do you address dysregulated behavior? Invariably, someone in the class (and perhaps your child) will say something unkind, hit, yell, bite, throw, or kick. First and foremost, programs should focus on prevention rather than reaction. How do they help children develop important social, friendship, and problem-solving skills? Second, how do the adults respond when dysregulated behavior does happen? Make certain that their answers serve your family's preferences and child's needs.
What kinds of food do you serve? Children thrive when they eat nutritious, healthy, balanced meals. Ask the program for a sample menu to see what they provide.
What are the class sizes and adult/child ratios? Class sizes should be small enough to ensure that everyone's needs are met but large enough to have friendship opportunities. We limit our preschool classroom to 15 children, and we find that this accomplishes both goals. All states have specified adult/child ratios that vary for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children. However, some programs do maintain even smaller adult/child ratios than required.
Is there a lot of turnover of staff? Staffing programs is particularly difficult at the moment, but longevity of staff is a great indicator of a stable and functional program. Children benefit greatly from consistency and strong relationships and struggle with constant personnel changes.
Can you meet the individual needs of my child? Be sure to ask about your child's specific needs. Can they receive their speech therapy at the school? How does the school support children with lots of energy, big feelings, or difficulty saying goodbye to parents? You know your child better than anyone, and, in asking these questions, you will gain insight into whether or not the school will prove a good fit.
What questions would you add to this list? How do you get to know a prospective school?