Starting in winter and early spring, many preschools and day cares start to get inundated with calls from anxious parents. It’s the season where many of these facilities start tours and a waiting list of names for the fall school year enrollment … and in some areas, spots fill up quick. Before signing your child up though, Jennifer Katzenstein, Ph.D., who is the director of psychology and neuropsychology at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, offers some tips and top questions you should ask preschool and day care providers before enrolling your child.
- What credentials and training do your instructors have? It’s important to ask not only about background checks on instructors but also their training when it comes to children, health precautions and emergency situations (i.e. CPR training). If it’s important to have your child in more of an academic setting, you might want to ask about the teachers’ background and certifications in early childhood education and what types of curriculum training the instructors have.
- What are the fees? Depending on the type of child care you’re seeking and whether you want your child to go to school for a half or full day/week, prices can range. It’s important to ask what the daily, weekly or monthly fee is, as well as any other “hidden costs.” This could be anything from registration fees, supply fees, fees for early dropoff or late pickup or care or holidays.
- What do I need to bring/supply? In addition to some of the “hidden fees,” you will also want to ask what your family might be responsible for providing, whether it’s just for your child or the entire classroom. In addition to personal things, a change of clothes, snacks and a water bottle for your child, some schools now ask families to help with school supplies or snacks for the class. Ask early and get a list so your family gets the whole picture of what this might cost even beyond the regular fees mentioned. Teachers and school personnel have great insight on what works well for their school when it comes to lunchboxes, backpacks and naptime bedding.
- What is the teacher to student ratio? You will want to make sure that there are enough instructors to handle the number of children in the classroom. Although Florida has regulations for numbers of students for each teacher, ideally you would like a low child to teacher ratio. If your child has special needs or allergies, that’s something you will want to discuss with the school and ensure they can meet your child’s needs. It helps to bring a list of helpful accommodations and ensure the school is able to meet your child’s needs.
- How often are toys and supplies cleaned? Ideally, staff should be cleaning toys and school supplies with a disinfecting agent on a regular basis to cut down on germs. When you take a tour, try to eyeball what the toys and equipment look like and don’t be afraid to ask how, and how often things are cleaned.
- What is your sick policy for children? As soon as your child heads to day care or preschool, the chances increase that they are going to pick up some sort of cold or virus just by being around other kids for long periods of the day. Depending on how ill your child is, some day cares and preschools may ask you to keep your child at home until he or she is well or until a doctor clears a return to school. This may also be a point to ask if, and what, vaccines are required not only for children, but instructors as well.
- What safety measures do you have in place? If you’re touring a school or day care, take note of how easy or hard it is to access the building. Is there always someone at the front desk monitoring visitors? Is there a special code to access the areas where children are? Who is allowed in and when? It’s also a good idea to ask about what child-proofing mechanisms they might have in place as well – such as locks on cabinets with cleaning equipment or how scissors are stored.
- Does my child need to be potty-trained? If your toddler is entering school and hasn’t mastered his or her potty skills, day care and preschool workers can be a great resource … if they are willing. Even if your child is potty-trained, this is an important question since a new environment could affect potty skills. You may also want to ask what you may be required to supply in case your child has an accident at school. If your child isn’t potty-trained yet, check out the location of the bathrooms in the classroom, and ask about how often teachers take children to the bathroom, and what potty training by staff, as well as access to the bathroom, looks like during the day.
- What is an average day like? As you’re touring a facility, you may get some insight into what types of activities children are doing at the day care or preschool. Depending on what’s important to your family and the age of your child, you may want to ask if there is an educational curriculum and what the daily structure is like. Is there more free play and learning on their own or will your child need to learn how to sit still for longer periods of time for activities? Is there access to screens/electronics, and how often are these used? As a parent, you’ll know which environment might be best depending on your child’s development and behavior. Don’t forget to ask about snack and lunch times and whether you will need to provide food or not. Dropoff and pickup procedures are also good to bring up as well as how much transition your child will have among multiple teachers.
- How do you communicate with parents? Whether it’s good or bad news, or just a simple update of your child’s day, it is crucial to have good communication with your day care or preschool provider. Ask providers if they provide daily or weekly progress reports, and how the information is delivered. Technology has come so far, there are even apps and cameras in classrooms today. Find out the methods and frequency of these communications and discuss what works best for your family.
The best advice Johns Hopkins All Children’s experts can offer is to start your search early and ask many questions. Your child’s development and social behaviors are crucial as he or she heads into kindergarten so selecting the right day care or preschool for your family is a big decision that takes time and consideration. These early years are also incredibly important to set the stage for cognitive, social and emotional development, and choosing the right caregivers is an important step to reduce parent stress and ensure a healthy learning environment.
Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/parenting for more tips on safe sleep, breastfeeding and other questions about babies and toddler health.