Working Mom Diaries: Choosing Childcare

Long time no see! Things have been busy at my house and at my job lately. First of all, big news: Our second (and almost definitely last!) child is arriving in November. My due date is November 15th, but considering that our first arrived at 37 weeks, we are expecting any time during the first half of November. The baby’s sex will be a surprise!

As anyone with more than one child knows, as exciting as it is, it also throws a wrench into your routine. And we were surprised to have another wrench thrown in way before the baby’s arrival: our nanny-share for our older child came to an end due to circumstances in the family we shared with.

We had always planned for P to start daycare in January 2019, but now we were looking at starting in August 2018 on fairly short notice. Luckily, being a hyper-planner Type A, I had already toured every local daycare months ago, and chosen which ones to be waitlisted for. Unfortunately, our top choice didn’t have an opening for P until January 2019 anyway, so it was back to the drawing board.

We considered hiring a nanny, but the cost for a single child was astronomical. After looking everywhere for someone who might be available to work for less than $18/hour, I contacted a small in-home daycare that I had liked when I did my tours. I had kind of written it off because they didn’t take infants, but since P would only be at this daycare before his new sibling needed care, that didn’t matter (we wanted them in the same location). They had room!

So P has been at this little daycare since August 20th, and he seems to be loving it. It isn’t ideal, but it makes a nice transition from his nanny-share to a larger daycare center, and he is happy to arrive and be picked up every day. He will still start at our top choice daycare in January, right after turning two, and will probably remain there until kindergarten unless we move.

Obviously I am no expert, but I thought I’d write a little about my top considerations when looking at daycares, since I think I have visited and thoroughly researched more than fifteen facilities now, both centers and in-homes. These considerations are particular to where I live; for instance, I would be pickier about location if we lived in a larger metro area with more daycare options and/or worse traffic.

  1. Licensing/Violations: You can look up each daycare’s licensing history and their history of inspection violations. I was only interested in licensed and inspected daycares, both centers and in-homes. However, I did not write places off just because they had violations; I made sure to read exactly what the violations were. Some I didn’t care about (ex: the ground beneath a swing set was deemed too firmly packed at one inspection), but others were deal breakers (ex: over-the-counter medications and scissors were left within reach of toddlers at multiple inspections).
  2. Atmosphere: One of the most important things to me was how the daycares felt when I walked in and how I observed the caregivers interact with the kids. At some daycares, I observed mostly happy kids in a relatively calm, clean environment, and at others I observed mostly anxious and upset kids in a pretty chaotic environment that smelled like bleach. I noticed that this often correlated to teacher and kid turnover rates: places with high turnover rates generally felt worse.
  3. Turnover and ratios: I always asked how long caregivers tended to be employed and how long kids tended to stay. We focused on places where caregivers stayed for years and where kids tended to remain until they began kindergarten or even grade school. We also wanted places that met or exceeded the state expectations for ratio of teachers to kids. Some places we looked at had regular violations in this area (ie: not enough caregivers), and we wrote them off. Our first choice exceeded the regulations in every age group.
  4. Price: Obviously a huge consideration. Luckily—and I imagine this is true for most areas—to be competitive daycares need to fall within a pretty close price range. Oddly enough, one of my least favorite places cost way more than the others, and after eliminating that one, price ceased to be a consideration since they were all so similar.
  5. Structure: I definitely wanted a place that followed a consistent daily routine that included set mealtimes, set nap times, and plenty of outdoor time. P is a very routine-oriented kid and we’ve had a lot of success with very rigid wake and sleep times especially. Long-term, I also wanted a place that separated kids into “classes” by age. Right now, P is with a single small group of kids ages 18 months to 4 years, and it’s fine, but not ideal; there are activities he can’t quite participate in yet, for instance. Long-term, he’ll be in a small group of kids almost exactly his age. Our top choice also gives kids the most outdoor time of any daycare we looked at (2 hours per day, weather dependent).
  6. Toilet training: This is kind of a big one! We definitely leaned towards daycares that said they “take the lead” on potty training. Our top choice will take kids to the toilet every thirty minutes when they are ready to train, which is amazing. With another baby on the way, we really wanted maximum potty training support from P’s caregivers. It’s just not going to happen over a weekend at home.
  7. What’s included: Most daycares here include all solid food. Some include baby food. Some include baby formula. Some include wipes. None include diapers. Our top choice includes baby food, baby formula, all toddler and kid food, and wipes. They will also feed your baby packed breastmilk, but since our baby will be combination-fed from the beginning, the inclusion of formula was really appealing. This way we can just send along whatever breastmilk we have, and the teachers will take care of mixing the supplemental formula.
  8. Location: This wasn’t a huge consideration for us since we work in opposite directions; no matter where our daycare is, one of us will have to go a little out of their way to reach it. We ended up finding that the better daycares were all closer to my husband’s work, so I will typically drive out of my way to do drop-off or pick-up. Where we are, this isn’t that bad since we don’t have terrible traffic.
  9. Security and communication: I actually wasn’t too picky about this. I wanted to be able to text someone to check in on P, and that’s about it. We didn’t care about a totally locked-down building or about having cameras everywhere. It was a coincidence that our top choice has key codes, cameras, an app to view them with, and a whole text update system that tells you every detail of your child’s day! I am not sure how much of this system I will opt into; I really don’t want to obsess over it. But it will be helpful to know exactly how much P eats and sleeps each day. We currently get updates when we ask for them, but we don’t always get detailed information.

That’s all I can think of at the moment. Childcare feels like a huge decision. I had a lot of guilt when we decided to place P in an “interim” daycare before January instead of throwing money at a nanny, but he adapted quickly and is perfectly happy and healthy. All of that to say, I think that as long as you provide safe care that you feel confident about, your child will probably be fine.

P will begin his new daycare right after he turns two in January, and the new baby will begin (part-time) a few weeks later in February! We are not going the nanny route at all for this second kid, and I’m actually excited about it. This baby will get lots of socialization and routine much earlier than P did, and if their personalities are at all similar, it will thrive on that structure.

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