It can be very difficult leaving your baby in the care of others. You want to make sure they are safe, happy, well cared for, and learning! It may be hard to know what to look for when visiting a childcare setting, or what questions to ask. There may also be considerations such as distance from your home or work, cost, and space availability.
Having worked in daycare, I have given tours to many parents. The more questions you come with, the better! We do our best to tell you all the ins and outs of our centre, but we may miss or forget something that would be of importance to you. Don’t feel bad about asking questions, no matter how many! This is your child and you want to make sure you are enrolling them in a centre that will provide the best care.
TIP: Start visiting nurseries and childcare centres 7 months to a year before you plan on enrolling your child. Many centres will have a waiting list, and the longer you wait, the less chances you will have of getting a spot in your preferred centre.
Childcare Considerations for Babies (0-12 months)
Babies need a lot of attention and love. Finding the right childcare, whether it be a daycare centre or a home setting, can make all the difference during their first year of life. Here are some things to consider when choosing childcare for your baby.
- Capacity: How many babies are cared for in one room? Personally, I would recommend a group of no more than 6 infants with at least 1 adult for every 3 babies. The larger the group size, the more likely your child will become overwhelmed and overstimulated.
- Peaceful: Is there a quiet space for infants to retreat too? Babies need quiet time (see The Case For Quiet Time: How Sensory Overload Causes Stress in Babies). With a room full of babies, it can get quite loud. Does the centre have a space where babies can go to enjoy quiet time? Do they promote quiet time at any point throughout the day? (quiet activities, dim lights, no music or other loud noises, etc). Do they have a safe, quiet space for naps?
- Relationships with Caregivers: Do caregivers spend quality time with each baby? Caregivers should be communicating with the babies in a kind, loving manner. They should be making a lot of eye contact with the babies and respecting each individual child’s needs and desires. Watch how they interact with the babies during care tasks, such as changing and feeding (see Creating Magic Moments With Baby During 5 Every Day Tasks). Do they treat each task as a moment to connect with the baby? How do the caregivers respond to a baby who is crying? Do they offer comfort and support or do they say things like “stop crying now.”
- Respectful and Loving Touch: Do caregivers hold and cuddle the babies? Your child will be with these adults for many hours. They will need comforting touch and friendly cuddles. Are staff actively willing to cuddle a child who needs soothing? Does the centre support loving and friendly touch? Are babies encouraged to engage with one another? Caregivers should support babies in interacting with each other using gentle touch, and peer interactions should be encouraged and supported.
- Communication and Language: What kind of language do the caregivers use? Caregivers should be using gentle voices with positive language. How loud are they? Caregivers should be speaking loud enough for the babies to hear, but not so loud that the room feels noisy and overwhelming. How do they speak to the other staff? Children hear everything, even when you are not speaking directly to them. Are the staff speaking to each other in respectful ways?
- Welcoming and Open Door Policy: How do the staff welcome babies and families when they enter the centre? Is each family and child acknowledged and welcomed with a smile and open arms? Are all families and babies treated with the same respect and care?
Does the centre allow for parents to come and go, in and out of the room? I would be very wary of a setting that does not allow parents to enter the room. Parents should be able to enter the space at any time. There should also be a transition period where the parent stays with baby in the room for the first couple mini sessions (30mins – 1 hour), helping the baby to become familiar with the space and setting while having a safe person close by.
- Room and Space: How is the room set up? The room should be set up in a way that allows for babies to explore freely throughout the day, without fear of them getting hurt. Is there enough space for them to roll, crawl and eventually walk without bumping into things? Are there soft areas for baby to play freely? Are the babies moving freely or are they stuck in contraptions (bouncers, seats, walkers)? Use of baby contraptions should be limited, most of the day should be spent moving freely and not strapped into something.
- Access to Outdoors: Does the centre allow babies to go outside every day and for how long? Babies should have access to the outdoors EVERYDAY (even on rainy ones). How long do babies spend outside on a typical day? I would recommend that babies have access to the outdoors for at least 3 hours out of the day. Does the outdoor space provide shelter from sun and rain? Is there a grassy area for babies to roll, crawl and eventually walk?
- Resources: What types of toys and materials are available for the babies? There should be a variety of loose materials such as wooden blocks, balls, wooden spoons, bowls, etc. Is there a lot of natural materials in the baby area or is it full of plastic? Some plastic toys are fine, but I highly recommend finding a centre that uses a lot of natural materials (wood, metal, fabric). Are most of their toys geared towards entertaining baby (eg. flashing lights, sounds, buttons, etc.) or do their toys promote free exploration and examination? Having a lot of flashing, noisy, battery operated toys, is not ideal.
- Books: Books should be easily accessible and available to babies all day. Books should be appropriate for infants (board books, fabric books, books that can easily be grasped and held by little hands).
Where to Start
There are many choices available to you, including daycare centres, home childcare settings, and a nanny who comes to your home. Consider the pros and cons for each type of setting. There are reasons parents choose each setting, it all depends on what would work best for you and your family.
Read reviews, if available, and check in with your local government to ensure that the site you are choosing, whether it be a centre or home setting, are registered and legal. If hiring a nanny, ensure they have an up to date police record check for the vulnerable sector, references and first aid/CPR certification (including for infants). I do not recommend sending your child to an unlicensed/unregulated centre or home setting. Unfortunately, there have been infant and child deaths that have occurred at unlicensed settings, and the savings you might get are not worth the risk.
Visit multiple daycare centres or home settings, and if hiring a nanny, interview a handful of potentials. The more places and people you see, the better chance you have of finding the perfect fit for you. You can also compare and contrast the different options, helping you narrow in on your most important criteria.
Good luck on your search and remember to ask lots of questions and come prepared!
Still unsure or need a bit more guidance? Please contact me or leave a comment and I will happily help.
Do you have any other tips or advice in finding the perfect child care for your wee one? Please share in the comments ♥