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Choosing the right daycare

For most working moms I know the road to choosing a daycare and entrusting their child to the care of someone they hardly know is completely terrifying. There are so many questions to ask, so many things to look for and that all important gut-feeling. The whole process is heart wrenching. The process of choosing a daycare was kind of a blur for me. Originally Andrew was going to watch her for 2 months until the end of the school year and then we would figure out our next steps over the summer. Somewhere along the way a new path was created for us. By the time I knew I would need a daycare provider Annabelle was already a few weeks old and I was in a complete new mom haze and utter exhaustion.

My sister in law came to visit for a few days to help me figure out motherhood and we took a look at some daycares. We didn’t like any. Eventually I was pointed in the direction of a home based, state licened daycare provider and when I met her I knew it was perfect. She was great with Annabelle, it was run by her and her daughter and it was in a home which I loved. I had visions of Annabelle being there until kindergarten and forming a great bond with the mother and daughter team. They were so accomodating and helpful and quick to offer suggestions and advice and quick to answer my constant overbearing mom text messages. It was so convenient and perfect. Until things happened.

As time went on there was less of a mother daughter team and more college kids working there. There were days I’d pick her up and there were only college kids there. And days I’d pick her up at a random time and there was only 1 person there. And when I would pick her up early her daily schedule note would be filled out, listing exacting times diaper changes were made, when snacks were eaten and how long she slept. The problem is that the days I would pick her up early at around 3pm without advance warning, the note would say she slept until 3:15 and that she ate a snack at 3:30 and her diaper was changed at 4. That really pissed me off. As Annabelle got older I wanted her to spend more time outside, and sadly they have no grass, just a pool which is not maintained and pretty disgusting. As she started walking I was not thrilled with how many times I’d pick her up and find her in a bouncy chair, a high chair, strapped into a little seat. Neither was I thrilled when I was told I need to stop breastfeeding because she isn’t able to self soothe and that I need to let her cry it out and not pick her up when she cries. A thousand other tiny things happened, but you know how it is, once you don’t trust someone all the little things that you might have let slide in the past begin to wear on you. And for $260 per week this is some serious BS.

During spring break I was 110% sure that I’d be switching . I figured I’d let Annabelle stay there until the end of the school year, then she’d be home with me over the summer and be able to transition in slowly someplace new. I’d already put a down payment on her new school and they put me on their mailing list. Then we had a tornado scare and in the 1.5 hours it took me to finally get in touch with someone at daycare to figure out what in the heck they were doing for it I’d already gotten 3 emails from Annabelles new school informing me of all the precautions they were taking. To say I was pissed when I picked her up is a complete understatement. And then, one Friday after a week of asking me to send medicine for Annabelles teething I was informed that she is so fussy at school and that her teeth hurt so much that she needs tylenol because it’s hurting her development and she doesn’t know enough words and she hasn’t learned any fingerplays. Annabelle has not been back.

After a week at her new school all of our bedtime battles were gone since she was no longer sleeping for 3 hours late in the day. I used to literally have to drive her around and idle in the car to get her to nap on the weekends and since that first weekend she has been napping in her crib, no problems AT ALL! (She sleeps on a mat on the floor at school which I find pretty amazing). There is nothing she can be strapped into, no high chairs, no bouncy chairs, she roams around as she pleases and sits in a chair at a table to eat her lunch and snacks. At home Annabelle started picking up books and ‘reading’ them to me, her vocabulary exploded and not once have they ever said that she is too fussy and needs medicine or even mentioned any ‘teething pain’.

During my second daycare search I did a better job. I was well rested since Annabelle was now sleeping through the night and I had good advice. Long before having switched daycares I consulted with a long time family friend who happens to be the work/life consultant at Harvard. When I mentioned some of the things that I was unhappy with she suggested I think about switching and gave me some advice. She advised I look for a place with college educated employees, a low turn over rate, a place where you are free to come whenever you want and can watch your childs room (which her last place didn’t) and she suggested looking at accreditaed (I don’t mean state licensed) daycares (since they are hard to come by it means that they work really hard to maintain their stanards and have taken a while to build their reputation).

It took Annabelle about 3 days to adjust. By the end of the first week she was walking to her cubby to put her shoes away and waving bye bye when she got to her classroom. By the end of the second week she would do a happy feet dance when she got to her classroom and now, 5 weeks later, she runs into her classroom and wont even look back to say goodbye. I was so worried about her having a hard time transitioning that I kept her someplace I wasn’t happy with for too long. If only I could go back in time… and I didn’t even get a whole 2 week refund after having pre-paid for 6 weeks.

The moral of the story? Learn from my mistakes. Don’t sign up for a daycare that won’t let you come and spend at least an hour with them in the middle of the day. What are they doing in there that they don’t want you seeing?Think about outdoor space if that’s something that’s important to you and how often and for how long they go outside. Don’t forget emergency procedures. How do they prepare, where do they shelter, do they have monthly drills? Emergencies don’t happen every day but I promise you that if something does happen and you don’t know what is going on with your child you will need to be restrained to not drop everything you’re doing to run to get them. Find out what the policy is for dispensing medication or home remedies. What is the daily schedule like? Are there any extracuricular activities, what are they? (Throwing in a few mispronounced Spanish words does not count as a Spanish lesson, neither does watching Dora the Explorer when you have a no TV policy. I am a fluent Spanish speaker, you can not fool me). How often do they read books? Do kids have access to toys and books or do they only have access to one thing at a time? What about snacks? If they’re provided, what are they? Goldfish and knock off cheerios are absolutley not healthy snacks that should be eaten every single day. Especially if you claim to agree that they are not healthy choices. GGGGRRRRRR

This post turned out to be a lot longer than I anticipated. I hope there was some useful info in it besides my rant and deep regrets for not having switched sooner. If you have a few daycares you are thinking about you should be able to drop in whenever you want, unannounced, to see what’s going on. You should not need a special appointment to take a peek into what’s going on in your childs world. Did I miss anything? What else did you look at when choosing a daycare?


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