After nine months of having your baby inside you and then several months close to her, the time has come to send her away – to daycare! The immediate thought can cause your heart to explode into a million pieces, and it’s perfectly normal! Maybe you’re getting back to work. Maybe you have lots of responsibilities at home and think your little one should make more friends his age. Or maybe you’re planning to start your own venture, like so many Indian Moms today.
Whatever your reason, the first and foremost concern is ensuring that the alternative care setup you arrange for the apple of your eye is safe, secure and conducive to his or her healthy development in all areas. For this there are certain things you need to check for in any potential daycare center that you may choose.
How to Choose the Right Daycare for your Child
1. Ask for Certifications
The National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) policy established in 2013 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in India. According to this, child care centers like daycare centers, creches, nurseries and preschools need to follow certain regulations. These regulations are meant to ensure a sound foundation for early growth and development in young children. You can take a look at the full draft of the policy here, and ask the center you’re considering if their facilities are in line with the policy.
2. Health and Safety
Of course, our first concern when it comes to small children is health and safety. Ask if there is a well stocked first aid kit and that everyone on the staff knows how to use it. There should also be people who know how to do CPR or the Heimlich maneuver, should it be necessary. Find out if the center required children to have basic immunizations. See how aware and sensitive they are regarding food allergies and if your child needs to take regular medication. Feel free to ask them about pest control and how they keep away common pests like flies and mosquitoes.
3. Security Arrangements
In this time and age, you just can’t have too much security, especially around kids. Ask about their plan of action in case of a fire, since babies and toddlers can’t be expected to follow orders. Check how many entrances/exits the center has, and how each one is guarded. Ask about who are allowed upon the campus and what kind of checks or screening they need to pass. Also look for CCTV cameras, both outside the campus as well as inside the rooms. You can also ask to see some footage, so you know they actually work.
4. Child Proofing
When you’re sending a six month old or one year old to daycare, child proofing is an important aspect to consider. Look for low lying cupboards, tables with table cloths, hanging wires, open sockets, sharp corners or open windows. Ask them how they ensure that curious crawlers or toddlers don’t wander off into kitchens or toilets. You can certainly enter all these rooms on the premises, so you can examine them closely too.
Cleanliness is something that cannot be compromised on and needs special checks, especially in a country like India. Young babies’ immunity is just developing and they need to be kept in safe and hygienic surroundings at all times. Don’t hesitate to ask about how often the caretakers are expected to wash their hands and how they maintain the general cleanliness of the place. Are kids encouraged to wash their hands too? What kind of materials are used – you can check if the place has a very ‘chemical’ smell all around. Be sure to see how food and drinking water is handled by the staff.
Every daycare center requires many people for proper functioning, so see if they have enough security guards, maids, cooks, cleaners and teachers to handle all aspects of child care. Ask if the workers are verified by the local police and have background checks done. You can ask the teachers about their educational qualifications too, and their ideas on early education. Make casual small talk with cleaners and other caretakers to get a general vibe of the place. You can also see if the workers sincerely care for young children or just go about the motions mechanically.
Toys aren’t just an afterthought at a daycare center for young kids, they are essential learning tools too. Examine the toys carefully to see if they are in good condition, sturdy and safe for babies. The children need to have access to age appropriate toys that help in encouraging cognitive development as well as fine and gross motor skills. Make sure there is also an adequate supply of books or at least a certain time set aside for story telling. Ask how they sanitize or clean the toys and how often they do it. You can also talk about their ideas on free play or group play for babies and toddlers.
Babies and toddlers don’t stick to a breakfast-lunch-dinner routine when it comes to meals; they can get hungry any time! Ask your daycare center how they manage feeding schedules and their facilities for storing and heating breast milk. If your baby is on formula, ask if they know how to sterilize feeding bottles correctly and mix the formula in the right proportion. If your baby has started solids, talk about food you can pack from home. Toddlers may have a more set routine, so see if it fits in with the one he’s following at home.
Babies sleep through a good part of the day, so you need to see what the center’s sleeping arrangements are. Do they have large cribs to hold multiple babies or are many of them on the floor? How do they manage when a baby can’t sleep due to colic or teething? What about adamant toddlers who refuse to nap? Also check the temperature of the place with regards to the weather – do they have an air conditioner for summer and a heater for winter?
Babies are incredibly unpredictable, and they might not always let you be on time. Your center needs to be flexible about timings, especially if your job timings are irregular. You should have the freedom to come and nurse your baby if you have an hour or two off. Just ensure that the flexibility is only with you and your spouse, and doesn’t extend to relaxing safety rules.
An honest two way communication stream is essential for parents to have peace of mind when their children are at daycare. Some daycare centers upload kids’ photos into private groups on social media so parents can see what their munchkins are doing. You should be free to call any time or walk in any time of the day. Such an open door policy shows that the center is perfectly transparent in all its dealings. You should also be comfortable to give specific instructions as and when required.
12. Potty Training
This is one topic you cannot afford to miss! Every daycare center has different policies when it comes to potty training, so be very clear about what your center’s policy is. Some centers even send back soiled diapers because they don’t have a disposal facility! Some centers encourage cloth diapers, while others require kids over 18 months to be potty trained. If you have started potty training your little one, you need to know if the center will support your efforts to continue the training process.
Even after you’ve done your own exploration and detective work, don’t sit idle. Research online and read reviews, or better still, talk to parents who have their kids in the center. There’s nothing like first hand information to help you make your decision! You can also take your baby and see how she feels about the general atmosphere of the place, and don’t forget to listen to your instincts too. After all, all we want is for our little ones to be happy, safe and healthy, till they’re back in our warm embrace!