During pregnancy remains the most ideal time to start looking for a daycare for your child. The nine months of pregnancy most times seem to drag on forever, especially as you meticulously await the arrival of that little bundle of joy. However, three months of maternity leave will come and go by in a flash. And then, you will have to go back to work, and you do not want to start that search in the sleep-deprived haze that is life with a newborn.

Indeed, a lot of new parents in the United States don’t realize this, but it really is important to start thinking about childcare well before the baby arrives. It is never too early to start looking for the right daycare centre or preschool for your child. However, there are certain times of the year that offer distinct advantages too.

Generally, preschools and daycares start filling up in midsummer for fall enrolment. Fall is usually a very busy time with school starting for older children, and it is when parents naturally think of school and daycare providers. Owing to that, July and August are the most popular times for parents, and among the busiest times for preschools.

Parents can also avoid the rush, and possibly even reduce their costs, by enrolling earlier in the year. For instance, most daycare centres in Florida offer early enrolment opportunities as early as January and February each year. Parents re-enrolling in the same centre can sometimes receive discounts, or lock in current rates for the coming year.

Note that while each centre has its own strategies for fall enrolment, there is a good chance parents get more benefits from enrolling or re-enrolling early. In addition, the reduced stress of dealing with preschool enrolment during the busy season and potentially not being able to get a seat in a popular daycare centre serves as an added advantage too.

How to Choose a Daycare in the United States

Depending on where you live, note that you may need to give yourself a little more time to find a day care. However, it is always very important to start looking at least two months before you plan to go back to work. If you live in a big city you might even want to start checking out your options before your baby arrives. Here are a few steps to take:

  1. Do your Research

Start by seeking recommendations from other parents (at work and among friends) and your paediatrician. If you don’t know other parents, consider asking those you meet in your OB – GYN or pediatrician’s waiting room, the playground or mommy-and-me class. Also note that you can check online resources for childcare referral services or with the state regulatory agency.

  1. Interview Them

It is also imperative that you screen centres and in-home day care providers over the phone. If the centre’s hours are inconvenient or the staff aren’t forthcoming, scratch it off the list of places to visit.

  1. Check The Daycare Out In Person

Also, once you have narrowed down your choices, visit in person and verify if it checks off all the basics. Then trust your gut: If something doesn’t seem right to you, it probably isn’t right for your baby, either.

  1. Check References

You also have to take your time to call former and current clients to find out how happy they and their kids are with their experience. Note that as tempting as it is to rely on the glowing letters of recommendation that providers may supply, don’t. Letters are easily edited (or even forged).

  1. Drop By Unannounced

Right before you make your final choice, consider stopping by unexpectedly on another day to get a truer picture of what the group daycare centre is like when the staff hasn’t been prepped. If the centre doesn’t allow unscheduled visits of any kind, you may want to cross it off your list.

  1. Request for their Accreditation

Note that for group daycare centres, those accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) meet even higher standards, including a good ratio of adults to babies; low turnover in caregivers; and a philosophy that promotes the health, safety and development of kids in its care. For in-home day care, if it is accredited by the National Association for Family Child Care, the provider has met higher standards.

What to Search for When You Visit a Daycare

After you must have screened your daycare options, schedule a visit to the centres. Always make sure you see the following features before you enroll your baby:

  1. Happy Children and Staff

As a parent you want to see alert, content, clean babies in spacious rooms, with a quiet area where they can nap in separate cribs (and according to their own schedules). Generally, caregivers are expected to be energetic, patient and very interested in the kids. Consider visiting toward the end of the day to get a more accurate picture of what the centre is like than you would first thing in the morning.

  1. A Stimulating Environment

Also take your time to look for lots of verbal and physical interaction between kids and caregivers. Do staff get down on the floor and interact with kids? Are the kids engaged (and not zoned out, looking off into the distance)? Also search for age-appropriate toys that are in good shape. And ask for a rundown of the daily activities, which should include lots of singing, talking, reading and dancing as well as on-the-floor playtime activities.

  1. Safety Measures

You should also make sure that the day care provides a safe environment for kids by taking the same safety precautions you do at home. There should be:

  • No choking hazards, including small toys or playthings that can break apart into small pieces
  • No pillows or fluffy bedding in cribs; babies should be put to sleep on their backs
  • Gates on open stairways
  • Window guards on upstairs windows
  • Spic – and – span kitchen and bathroom and (ideally) an enclosed outdoor space for play
  • Clear floors (i.e., not littered with toys)
  • Smoke detectors, clearly marked exits and fire extinguishers
  1. Separation of Age Groups

Normally, babies under 12 months should not be mingling with toddlers and older children — bigger tots can be pretty rambunctious and haven’t yet mastered being gentle with infants.

  1. Locked Doors

Your little baby is not allowed to come and go as she pleases at home, so she should not be able to freely roam (or leave!) the day care centre either. Adult visitors should also be closely monitored so only staff and authorized grown-ups who are there to pick up and drop off can enter.

  1. A Clean and Healthy Setting

Note that a well- run group day care centre spells out its health and sanitation rules on a sign, and then follows them:

  • Caregivers wash hands after each diaper change
  • The diapering and food prep areas are kept separate and scrubbed after each use
  • Feeding utensils are washed in a dishwasher or are disposable
  • Bottles are prepared under sanitary conditions
  • Teething rings, pacifiers and washcloths should not be shared
  • Toys are rinsed off with a sanitizing solution, and/ or each child gets a separate box
  • All children and adults wash hands when entering the classroom