Here is a checklist that my friend, who is a daycare/preschool teacher, put together for me when touring a daycare. It really helped me be able to ask questions, when I otherwise felt like I had no clue what to ask or even look for having never interviewed a daycare. In the end of it, I would follow your gut in terms of how you feel about a place, as it needs to feel like a place that you will want to leave your child - working needs to be non-stress and fun and having your child at a place you don't like can be tough.
My advice for anyone in Seattle, is to look early in pregnancy. Daycare is like the real estate market; there are not many infant spots, and if it's a hot spot they go fast. Since wait-lists can be a year or more long, you need to get on top of it sooner rather than later. Even if you are unsure your daycare plans, hedge your bets and place a deposit. Deposits are anywhere from $50 to $150.
I cannot stress enough that the checklist is a good starting place, but always listen to your heart. You know what is best for your child and don't accept anything less. I had my child in a daycare that I did not care for, for all of two days before she was moved. In my situation, we had been on the wait-list for our number one choice for six months and thought we would get in by the time we needed care, but it did not turn out that way, so come August we were scrambling to find care. We secured care for January and found a last resort for immediate care, since it had no wait-list, but as I concluded it had no wait-list for a reason. We were lucky our January daycare opened up a spot earlier than expected. Timing is also something to consider because things fill-up during the normal school months of May and September, looking on off times will give you the chance to already be on the list for consideration. Spots open up when children transition or families move their children to another daycare, and the later is unpredictable and beneficial to those on a wait-list.
Things to look for in a child care
Entrance: is it warm and welcoming
◦ Are there bulletin boards for parent communication, sharing, things to do in town?
◦ Is there car seat or stroller storage?
◦ Can parents hang out and chat with each other in the lobby?
◦ Are there toys for kids to play there at drop off and pick up?
◦ What is the security upon entering? Also, what is it like in the rooms?
◦ Does each class had their own room
◦ Do the rooms connect to each other? Via a half wall, window, shared counter space, half door...
◦ Windows are cool, they can see each other from other rooms
◦ Other shared spaces, not so cool, the rooms can get to loud and it is very confusing when you hear noise from another class that you cannot see.
▪ Is there a separate younger/older space?
▪ Do they look fun? Would you want to play there? :)
Staff to Child Ratios
◦ Very Important, the more teachers per room, the better.
◦ Infants should be no more than 3 kids per staff member. From experience, I never had more than 3 kids to myself.
◦ What are the staff schedules like? How many teachers in the room at opening? Closing? Throughout the day? Are they ever alone? If so, with how many children?
▪ I personally think it is always best for there to be 2 people in the room at open and close. That way if one adult is talking to parents, you know that the other one is with the children.
The Infant Room:
◦ Is it warm and friendly?
◦ Can you come in, sit down with your child, chat with the teacher, play a little then say goodbye? Can you come in one day at drop off or pick up to observe?
◦ Is the staff sitting on the floor with the kids? How long have they been there? Do they get along? Worked together a while? Who fills in when someone is out?
◦ Is there a parent communication board?
▪ How do they communicate? Email, journals, one on one chats? Daily? Weekly?
◦ Are there adult chairs? Rocking Chairs?
▪ If you want to come in to nurse, where can you sit? Is it private? Are you just in the room? (In the room is fine, but you will want a comfy spot to sit)
◦ Are there kid chairs? Bouncy seats are fine for feeding, but not for sitting in all day.
◦ No bumbo seats! So stupid and dangerous, not sure why they were ever invented
◦Do you see:
▪ Clean Rugs or play mats?
▪ Areas defined? Ex: books, blocks, soft toys, climbing area...
▪ Climbing structure? Do they add one as the year goes on?
▪ Soft toys?
◦ Are there things on the wall? Are they at kid level or is the child looking up to see them?
◦ Art? Is it actually messy, I had fun child art or an adult put my hand on the paper so it looks perfect kind of art?
◦ Where does the child sleep? Is it far from the rest of the room? Do they use nap music?
◦ Schedule: Do they get to sleep whenever or do they encourage the same time?
◦ Walks: What does the buggy look like? How often to they go?
◦ Food: You provide? What do they provide?
◦ Diapers: You provide or them? If you do not use their brand, do you get credit?
◦ What is the daily schedule? Is it flexible?
◦ How do the children transition in and out of the room?
▪ Is it by year, every one starts and September and moves to the toddler room together or so they transition one by one according to age?
*All in all, you will know when you found the right place. You will fell comfortable as soon as you walk in and you will get more excited and comfortable the longer the tour lasts. The center does not have to be NAEYC accredited, it can be fabulous without it.