The first thing I looked at was how comfortable my little guy felt. I wanted something that would be somewhat familiar to him, I know this is not the norm but for us it worked out. I began attending MOPS in January and my little guy did great in the child care (which took place at a preschool). He didn't cry at all and would stay for the entire 2 hours with no problem, so I knew he felt comfortable in this environment. I started researching centers with the school where MOPS took place at the top. There were some great recommendations from friends, the internet and phone calls made it very easy to research the information needed.
Here are my tips for looking for a good place for your little person.
1. The Feel
Don't underestimate your gut feeling or how your little one reacts when visiting the classroom. You want to feel welcomed, you want to pay close attention to the interaction between teachers and children. Are they getting at eye level to speak with the children, are the caregivers listening and aware of the children and what's happening in the classroom? These are all important things to look for.
Does the classroom have a set schedule that they follow? A schedule is very important for children especially in a large group environment. Schedules allow children to know what's coming next and often results in lower behavioral issues. This one is easy to check, when you visit look for the schedule to be posted on the wall somewhere, check your watch or the clock on the wall and see if the classroom is following their schedule. Most of the time they should be right on track, give or take a few minutes. When looking at the schedule some important things to make sure are a part of the schedule are physical activities (outside play or other physical activities), small group activities, large group activities such as circle time, opportunity to explore and play (usually in centers), and personal care such as snacks, diaper changes, brushing teeth, washing hands, etc.
3. Lay Out
Get a feel for the classroom, is it sectioned into centers or smaller learning areas such as blocks, music, library etc.? You don't want to see too much open space as this usually leads to running and more freedom to engage in aggressive or difficult behavior. Are teachers able to view kids from any area of the room?
4. Ratio of adults to kids
Various states and levels of certification have different ratios. The smaller the ratio the better especially when dealing with kids 3 and under. An ideal ratio for 2 year olds is 1:4 (1 adult to every 4 children). This is an easy question to ask. You can also ask how many children are usually in the classroom and how many staff.
5. Consistency of caregiver
Another thing to ask is if the teachers are there permanently or will your child have different caregivers. In this case it is ideal for your child to consistently see the same people in the classroom as much as possible. Occasionally one teacher may be a floater and will go to help the classroom with more kids or the classroom with the loudest kids. You really want at least one caregiver to be in that classroom on a permanent basis. This helps your little person to develop a relationship and trust with the caregivers.
Each center has a philosophy or statement of how they teach. Make sure you agree with the statement of the center. Some are based on religion, certain learning skills etc.
Make sure you are aware of policies especially on how teachers discipline. Also look for visiting policies, ideally you'd like a center where you can occasionally drop in to observe or check in on your little one. Another important policy to pay close attention to is their sick policy. When should you or shouldn't you take your little one.
8. Learning / Curriculum
The classroom should follow some sort of curriculum. Make sure it covers the whole child not just focused on one area of development. Ideally an early childhood classroom uses play to teach skills, they follow the child's leads and interest and capture those learning moments during those times and activities. For example if a child is interested in cars the teachers can use cars to sort by color, count, pain with, play matching games etc.
Each child has different needs and it's so important to have teachers who are in tune with each child and how they learn best. As a parent it's important to communicate any concerns or changes that happening in the home so teachers are aware of what children are going through and can take that into account in the classroom. For example if a child is going to be a big brother or sister teachers can incorporate books and activities to help prepare the child for this change. The teacher and parent should work as a team in helping the child learn and grow.
Here are some other great resources for you as you look for the ideal classroom for your child.
NAEYC (National Association of the Education of Young Children) is an excellent resource for parents. You can search on their site for NAEYC accredited centers in your area. Below is a link regarding questions to ask teachers when looking for a center for your child.
Child care Aware is another great resource for searching for your local child care resource and referral agency. You can call your local office and they are happy to help you find a center with your needs and location in mind.
Hopefully these suggestions and resources will lead you to an early childhood center that will help your child feel right at home as he or she learns and grows.