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How do I determine quality childcare?

Be sure to make a preliminary screening of caregivers or facilities by phone. Ask caregivers about:

  • their years of experience
  • references
  • training completed
  • fees, holidays, and hours of operation
  • accreditation
  • the ages of the children
  • the schedule and activities provided for the children
  • receiving written descriptions of the program and its financial strength
  • staff turnover (Will my child have the same caregiver for at least a year?)

If your child will receive care away from your home, visit the home or center. Look around at the rooms and children. Remember that everyone has good and bad days. You may need to visit again to get a realistic idea of the atmosphere your child will experience. Plan to do so at lunch, nap, indoor and/or outdoor times. Ask yourself:

  • Are the children happy and actively involved?
  • Would the noise level be comfortable for your child?
  • Is the setting more home-like or instructional?
  • Are the rooms clean, safe, and not crowded?
  • Is there enough suitable equipment for your child, and is it available on low shelves or must children wait for an adult to hand them materials?
  • Is there a safe and pleasant place for outdoor play?
  • Would your child enjoy the schedule and learning experiences?

Observe the caregiver(s) as they interact with the children.

  • Do the caregivers greet children and parents as they arrive?
  • Do caregivers use simple, positive directions and speak to children in a friendly manner?
  • Do they have a sense of humor and seem to enjoy the children?
  • Do they say negative things like "no" and "don't" and "bad"?
  • Are they showing much interest in the children, or do they tend to spend too much of their time arranging materials and talking to each other?

Ask the caregiver (whether at a center or in a home) some specific questions about discipline. Ask for any other information that you feel is important.

  • What do you try to accomplish with the children?
  • What happens when a child hits, bites, or uses bad language?
  • What if a child refuses to eat or doesn't nap anymore?
  • How do you handle accidents?
  • Why do you do this work?
  • What training have you had?

If your child is an infant or toddler, look for these practices or ask about:

  • Do the adults respond to children quickly?
  • Are children crawling and moving about in safe areas?
  • Do caregivers leave children in cribs when awake?
  • Are children's individual sleep and feeding patterns respected?
  • Do adults wash hands after each diaper change or nose wipe and before handling food?
  • Do adults hold, talk to, and play with children?

Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Childcare - NNCC. Wilson, E. & Tweedie, P.S. (1996) Child care aware series: T2322 Selecting quality child care. Stillwater, OK: Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service. 

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