In a nutshell, my advice as a pediatric OT is to find a program that prioritizes rich sensory and movement experiences, and provides an interactive and nurturing environment. The first year of life is so important and formative that I want you to feel confident and reassured that all caregivers tasked with the joyful responsibility of helping your child grow and learn are optimizing your child's development. Here is how you find that person or program...
First: Identify your values
The obvious first step in finding that dream daycare is you nailing down what your values are in a childcare program. Ask yourselves things like: How much adult engagement do I want for my child? How do I want caregivers physically handling my child? How much floor time do I want my baby to have? How much free play or outside time is enough for me? What kind of environment do I want for my child? What kind of communication do you need from the daycare? What do you want them teaching your child, if anything? Do you value stellar reviews from other families? A bright and cheerful environment? Licensed and accredited? Identify what is most important to you.
Second: Visit multiple facilities
When you have your list of values, research different options in your area, and then visit them. Heck, visit them multiple times. Make an appointment for a tour, then, show up unannounced. Get an authentic view of what happens there throughout the day.
Third: Observe closely
As you visit various options, make as many observations as you can. Does the environment provide babies freedom to move? Or are the babies all in containers? Are the babies smiling? Is the staff smiling? Are providers happy to see kids as they arrive? Are providers actively interacting and engaging with the babies? How do they pick up, put down, and move the babies? Does it look child-led, and that the best interest of the child comes before what is convenient for the facility? Do they exhibit your values in a caregiver?
Fourth: Ask ALL of the questions
Whether you have 3 or 15, it’s okay to ask all of them. Don't shy away from any. Here is some question-list inspiration: What is the adult-child ratio? How much time is spent outside? How much time is spent on the floor? How much time to babies spend in containers? What is the retention rate of employees? Can I talk to a current family? What are your policies?
As you interact with different programs, take note of the vibe you get. Does the tour feel rote, or does it give off a feeling of genuine love of children?
Fifth: Consider your circumstances
Think about your own family logistics when choosing a daycare. Consider your routine in the morning and getting out of the house. What would be a reasonable driving distance? What would cause stress? What is going to give you a happy child and happy home life? What is the budget?
The bottom line.
This is a big decision. If you were your child over the next two to three years, at which option would you want to spend large amounts of time? This will be your baby's home away from home, so follow that mama or papa bear gut feeling. We want this to be a good fit!
Until next time, air hugs!
Hi! Austen here. Portland based Pediatric OT obsessed with leggings and all things child development. Welcome to my journal! I hope to educate and empower parents and caregivers with science inspired insights, effective strategies, and lots of air hugs.