Questions to ask a Group Child Care Center

So, you’re pregnant. After you’re done accepting all the unsolicited advice (just kidding, it never ends), you start to think about who will watch baby when you go back to work, if you need to/want to go back.

By the way, wanting to go back to work is a thing, and that’s okay.

You have a few options. If you’re lucky enough to have family around and willing to help, you probably won’t end up with child care bills the size of your mortgage. You can also hire a nanny, or if you’re looking for child care, you can choose home child care or group child care.

This post will walk you through the process of finding a group child care center that works for you.

Time out for a sec – why should you listen to me? I was an assistant principal for a preschool/child care center for almost 5 years. I did tours of our school daily and was asked ALL THE QUESTIONS. Some people say “there is no such thing as a ridiculous question,” and trust me, sometimes there is. But I’m going to tell you what you should be asking! Also, at the end of this post, I have created a printable for you to take with you if need be. You can print it off and there’s a spot to write down the answers you receive.

  • Do you currently have space or do you have a waiting list? How do I get on that list? Personally, I think this is the most important question to ask! Don’t let the answer scare you away, either. If their answer is yes, time to find out how long. And just because they tell you their next spot isn’t available until 3 weeks after you need to start doesn’t mean it’s not right for you. Someone ahead of you may decide between now and then that they don’t want to go back to work, or they got a new job and the location doesn’t work anymore, or grandma decided she wanted to watch the baby. There are so many things that can change. We have also had people go with another school because they weren’t full, so they thought their baby would get more attention there. Not always the case. Sometimes there is a reason why they aren’t full. Don’t pick a school just because the timing is right.
  • What is your sick policy? This question is important for a few reasons – you want to know what precautions they take to avoid everyone else getting sick. When do they allow the child back in? What do they do if a child shows up sick? Do they wait to see if they get better before calling? Do they not let the parent leave the building without the child? Do they call parents if the child just “seems” sick or if there is an actual fever? If you have a demanding job, it might be difficult for you to leave work so you don’t necessarily want to be called for everything. Or, you have a super flexible job and you do want to be called. Most child care centers require a doctor’s note to return and the child needs to be fever free (anything above 100F is considered a fever in most places) for 24 hours without meds to return.
  • What is your policy on payment if the child is sick for an extended period of time? A lot of schools don’t have this in writing but can be flexible if your child misses 5 or more days consecutively, but this is entirely up to the school, especially if it’s not specified in the contract.
  • How do you handle discipline? You don’t want a school that will disenroll your child for biting as a toddler because this behavior is age appropriate. It’s unpleasant for sure, but it is completely age appropriate. Will they work with you to try to rid your child of inappropriate behaviors? (IE, biting at 3 years and up, hitting, etc.)
  • What is your vacation policy? I worked at one school where you had to pay half of your tuition when you were on vacation, and another where each year you get a free week if you’re gone from Monday – Friday and your weeks did not roll over to the next year. So if you don’t use it, you lose out on it.
  • Do you have yearly price increases? What percentage, typically? Most schools do, and we would have a lot of parents who said they had no idea!
  • Do you provide diapers, wipes, formula? You may also ask if they will do cloth diapers for you and how they handle sending home the dirty ones.
  • As an infant, do you follow the parents’ schedule or your own? Some child care centers will adjust baby’s schedule to accommodate the hustle and bustle of the school and some will follow yours.
  • Do infants get outside time? Some group cares will take the infants out for a stroller ride, allow them to sit and get some fresh air, maybe read a book outside. Outside time is important for babies.
  • When you move children up to the next class, do they all move together or with their birthdays? This is important because if they move children based on their birthdays, then how do they adjust to the current curriculum that is happening in the new room? Children should be moved together to cater to their curriculum and current abilities.
  • How do you handle late pick ups? Most schools have a certain amount they charge, per minute usually, for late pick ups.
  • How do you track infants’ milestones? Infant rooms should have a curriculum they follow. To some, this may sound silly. But trust me, in between all that crying, napping and bottle feeding, learning is so important!
  • When children are older, how do your teachers handle rough drop offs? Starting your child as an infant is a great start to avoid rough drop offs. They’re more common with kids that start after 18 months. However, they can still come when kids are old enough to test their boundaries. Find out how they would handle a kiddo who is having a rough drop off and ask why they do those things to help you understand.
  • Can I call to check in on my baby? When are the best and worst times to call? Running an infant room is tough work. You want to make sure they are okay with you calling, or if it easier for the teacher to call  you when they have a few minutes of downtime. You don’t want to call in the middle of 5 babies all needing a bottle at once!
  • What days are you closed? Child care centers are generally closed for major holidays, but some random ones can sneak in there for teacher improvement days so you’ll want to know if you need to make special arrangements for those days. Don’t let them sneak up on you!

Some tips for you when visiting schools….

  • Ask to see more classrooms, not just the infant room. You want a school where you feel comfortable until Kindergarten. Don’t be afraid to take a peek at what older children are doing!
  • Read the contract. Don’t just sign it and hand it over when filling out your paperwork. It’s a lot of reading, but make sure you are reading it right! Every school has different rules and you want to make sure you understand them.
  • Ask for a daily sheet (if they have them) or an example of how you will know how your child’s day went. A lot of schools now have apps where you can read about their day on your phone. Ask to see an example of that so you know how you will be filled in about their day.
  • Ask for references, specifically people who have been there a long time. They have been through lots of rooms, teachers, and kids.
  • Decide if you want a center near your house or near your work. If it’s near your work, it’s easier to get to if something should happen or your child is sick. If it’s near your house, your child will have less time in the car.

I hope this is helpful, and if you have anything to add, please leave it in the comments section below! Here is your printable I promised 😉

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