Updated: Oct 25
There are so many things to consider when looking for a preschool or new childcare center for your kids that it can be overwhelming. We've compiled a list of the things we think are important to look for or ask about in your search.
1. State licensed - we suggest looking for a state licensed facility because, as the name suggests, the state monitors these centers. They ensure proper ratios, background checks, cleanliness, food, and general safety standards are met. Furthermore, they make it easy to see if there are any dings against the facilities - things like proper safety standards not being met, complaints etc. This is not to say that facilities that aren't licensed are bad - they just aren't monitored as stringintly. In order to make things a little easier, we have compiled links to the websites where you can search for these facilities. Bonus: many of the state's websites also include information on: eligibility for funding for childcare, preferred curriculum etc.
United States of America (and territories) Licensing Website List
Alaska - There is a button to click to search for a provider, however, the website appears to be down.
Nebraska : offers two links to choose from for your search
U.S. Virgin Islands: we could not find a filtered search, however you can do a business search
2. Curriculum/style followed: There are many different styles of preschools and childcare facilities from montessorri to nature-based. Learn about the different types and see which one you think would be best for you and your child. Below is a list of some of the popular ones along with links to their main websites with more information.
Child Care/ Preschool Curriculums/ Styles followed
3. Calendar: take a look at the center's current calendar online if possible. It will give you an idea of how often they are closed, if they have half-days, if they follow public school's general calendar etc. See if you can find out if they close for snow days and other inclement weather too!
Are there specific drop-off and pick-up times or can they vary? Is there an after-school program available?
4. Sick policy: most centers will have a pretty similar sick policy (child can't attend if they have fever, vomiting etc.) but there may be some differences in the specifics. Take a look at their: COVID, flu, and RSV policies as well.
5. Payment policies: the cost of early childhood education and care can be very high. See what kind of policies your center has in place for payment plans, scholarships, paying while on vacation etc.
**Click here to learn more about federal help
6. Children with disabilities: the ADA requires that centers not discriminate against children based on disabilities. See what kind of accomodations yours makes.
To learn about ADA requirements early childhood centers must follow, click here.
You've gone through all of this and have found a center you are interested in. Here's 10 things to look for/ask while you are there.
1. Ratios: State licensed facilities must follow state mandates - one of those items they must follow are ratios. Every licensed childcare facility is sure to tell you that they follow ratios, however, it's always a good idea to not only ask what their ratios are (and make sure they line up with requirements) but to do your own count if you are able to visit the facility. See how many children there are versus how many engaged staff members.
2. Materials: Depending on which style of center you have chosen, the set-up/ materials will look very different. However, regardless of style, the materials should be safe. Obviously you cannot look at every single toy and marker but you should be able to see if there are any glaringly dangerous toys around (not safe for age group, broken pieces etc.)
3. Discipline policy: Presumably your center will give you a packet that contains this information but it's always good to ask this as an on-the-spot question. What happens if a child bites? What happens if a child does not listen?
Make sure that their approach to discipline or redirection aligns with yours.
4. Communication/parent involvement: How will the school communicate with you? E-mail, mobile app, phone calls? Will they post pictures of your child (you should have to sign a disclosure form stating you approve or not). Will they hold conferences to discuss your child's development, send regular updates?
Are there opportunities for parent involvement? Will there be events that require or ask for your presence?
5. Bathroom/diaper policies: Do you provide your own diapers and wipes? How do they help children who are potty training? Are they allowed to help wipe when there is a messy bum? (Many places will not do this).
6. Eating: What types of food are you allowed to send in - avoid allergenic foods and sweets? Do they provide a lunch or do you? Will they heat food? Will they keep food cool? Should you send your own utensils?
7. Sleeping: What environment is provided for sleep? This will vary based on age group - infants sleep more than toddlers and follow different sleep standards.
8. Schedule: What schedule do the children follow each day? Do they have playtime indoors and outdoors? Is there time allotted for gross motor movement? How much time do children have to eat their lunch?
9. General happiness: Of course happiness of children and staff varies from day to day however if you are able to visit the center check for this!
Do the children seem happy and engaged with what they are doing? Of course not every child will be - however if none of the children appear happy and engage this is a huge red flag.
What about staff? See if you can find out about turnover rates and gauge if the staff are happy in their roles. Staff who are paid well, respected and treated well overall by the center are more likely to do a good job and want to stick around. Another good way to check this is to check out the center on glassdoor. Make sure reviews are recent as their may have been changed in management in recent years. Happier staff = less turnover = happier kids!
10. What does your child think: It is not always possible to do a center visit, however, if it is, it's a great idea to take your child with you. Not only does this allow them to see where they will be attending child care or preschool but it will give you the ability to gauge how well you think your child will fit in there. Children may show apprehension to a big change like going from being at home to going to a center, but if they are comfortable and maybe even a little excited, it will make things a lot easier!
We hope this helps you narrow your search. If you have any other suggestions or questions/comments please let us know!