Checking Out Childcare

"Iíve got to go back to work and need advice on who can keep my one-year-old." How many times have we heard something like this?

After a long and hard heart-wrenching search for a qualified childcare provider, here are some rules Iíd like to pass on to anyone who is doing a similar investigation. And, believe me, investigation is what you will have to do!

Rule #1: Never accept the comments of your friends and relatives as "the last word." Go visit and talk to the childcare provider. Take a good look around. Try to make a couple of unannounced visits. Stop by at different times of the day.

Rule #2: Make sure the provider has had previous experience with one-year-olds. Taking care of toddlers is not an immediate celebration for a gold star award. Depending on your baby -- some donít walk (or even "toddle") -- until 13 to 15 months of age. Some have been cruising around since the tender age of 10 months! But they donít become a true toddler until they hit that 18-month-old mark. This makes a big difference in not only mobility, but also in coordination. Mobility and coordination make a big difference in the childcare providerís expectation, time, and patience.

Rule #3: Find out how many children are legally allowed within this age range for this specific facility. NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) usually has the inside scoop on your particular state and childcare requirements. Call their toll-free number (800-424-2460) and ask for the information you need. They will send you a list of local, accredited childcare facilities, nurseries, and preschools. If the one you like the best is not on their list, donít fret. Go by their guidelines on asking questions and youíll be safe. Many facilities cannot afford to become accredited, but they still meet the most important criteria.

Rule #4: Call your federal and state childcare branches for a local listing of approved sites. Their numbers are usually in the blue section of your phone book.

Rule #5: Ask to have the other parentís phone numbers at the daycare and give them a call. Ask them how old their children are and how long theyíve been there. Ask if theyíve ever seen more than the legal limit with one provider within any given day.

Rule #6: Check out the toys. How often are they cleaned? (Should be daily.) Are they safe and age-appropriate?

Rule #7: Observe the providerís attitude. Is the provider smiling and welcoming your questions? Is she asking you questions and trying to hold or hug your precious little one?

Rule #8: Know the annual schedule. What are the policies on sick days? Does the facility take any holidays off? Is the cost the same on these days?

Rule #9: Know the daily schedule. Is there time for music, art, reading, outside play, and hands on learning?

Rule #10: Know their discipline policy. What type of discipline do they strive for and how often is the undesirable behavior overlooked?

Rule #11: Know the menu. What type of food is offered? What type of snacks?

Rule # 12: Know the sleep schedule. How many nap times are there and when are they taken?