How to Choose Your Next Daycare in Chicago
Daycare is the perfect childcare choice for many busy families, allowing them to drop off their little ones during the day for learning, supervision, and general care. And if you’re here, the chances are you already know that. What many Chicago parents might not be aware of, however, is the dizzying range of daycare choices available today in and around the Windy City.
Selecting a daycare center for your child is one of the most important decisions you’ll make as a new parent who needs to return to work at the end of your parental leave. You want to double-check that the daycare facility you opt for is the highest quality childcare provider.
Whether you’re looking for a traditional daycare, in-home daycare, or family-based childcare center, it’s crucial to find one that suits your budget, caregiving style, and the needs of your family and little one. With so many daycare options in Chicago, how do you even begin to choose?
We provide this checklist —with handy tips and hacks —to help you narrow down your search for the best Chicago daycare for your child.
Tips for Getting Started with Your Search
– Scout Out the Location
While quality, reliability, and cost are some of the top decision factors, you should also think about convenience, as it can take a lot of hassle out of your daily routine. Try to start looking for daycare by scoping out some potential centers in your neighborhood, school district, close to work, or in an area easy for you to get to!
– Get Recommendations
If there’s one secret to parenting, it’s this: recommendations from people who have been there. They can give you added confidence in the choice you’re making. See if your family, friends, or other parents you trust can recommend a few daycares they’ve had a very good experience with.
Note, however, no two families are exactly alike, so you might find that some recommendations aren’t the best fit for your family. Don’t worry; these recommendations will make for a good start when creating your list of possible candidates.
Before you consider any daycare center they recommend, make sure it’s a state-licensed and an accredited facility that provides a clean, secure, and safe environment.
– Browse State Licensed and Accredited Daycare Facilities
The first place to check for high-quality daycare sites is the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) website. NAEYC-accredited daycare centers are regarded as the cream of the crop, as they are required to meet stringent standards and accreditation rules. They must also go through a rigorous vetting process, seeing to it that only the best centers receive their stamp of approval.
If you’re seeking home-based care for your child, you can use the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFFCC) search tool to find providers accredited by the association in Chicago. Like NAEYC, the NAFFC requires all affiliated facilities to meet the highest standards for child care.
You can also head over to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) websites to search for state-licensed daycare facilities in your specific area. In addition to that, NACCRRA provides a great deal of useful information, including daycare fact sheets and inspection reports.
Features and Quality Considerations
You must do your homework before, during, and even after physically checking out the daycare centers on your radar or candidate list. Even if your potential center is right across the street from your home, research and due diligence can be a surprisingly effective eye-opener.
Here are some considerations to keep in mind during your research:
– Caregiver-to-Child Ratio
Inquire about the staff-to-child ratio (or teacher-to-child ratio for older kids) at the daycare center. Is this ratio fixed or dynamic? Ideally, there should be at least one staff member per 4-6 older toddlers. For younger toddlers and infants (generally babies up to 12 months old), the ideal ratio should be one caregiver per 3-4 tots.
The perfect ratio for preschoolers is 6-9 kids per caregiver. These ratios are important because they ensure your little one will get the 1-on-1 care and attention they need for emotional, cognitive, and social development. Moreover, low ratios of children to providers ensure someone is always supervising the kids, including during playtime, mealtimes, and even during naptime.
– Staff with Proper Training and Education
Surrounding your child with brilliant, creative, and caring caregivers can work wonders on their social and emotional development. But that isn’t enough; the caregivers, administrators, and teachers must also have proper training and education, preferably in early childhood-related coursework.
Recent research from Rutgers University revealed that teachers with a 4-year degree facilitate more efficient cognitive, emotional, and social development in younger children. In addition, a great daycare center ensures that their staff receives ongoing professional education and training to ensure the site meets state standards for continuing education.
– How Safe and Clean is the Center?
Ask about the center’s safety and health procedures and policies — most notably, its sick policy that specifies when parents are required to keep their children at home due to sickness. A great facility must hit all the vital safety and health protocols, such as immunization, diaper changing, hand washing, CPR, food allergies, classroom safety, and pick-up policy – just to quote a few examples.
Other things to look for include the presence of a CPR-certified caregiver on-site at all times, as well as proper evacuation protocols.
– Caregiving Style
This is one area that most parents ignore until they run into trouble with the daycare center. Because the childcare takes place mostly during the day and in your absence, you must ensure that you’re on the same page in caregiving styles. This especially applies to the center’s discipline techniques and parenting styles, which must be in line with yours.
– Activities, Programs, and Curriculum
If you’re planning to enroll your child in a traditional daycare facility, you’ll want to take a second look at its curriculum and activities roster. The center should provide your little one with learning, growth, and exploration opportunities, along with unstructured and structured play times.
Be sure to ask the daycare provider what programs, activities, and tools they have at the center to support your child’s physical, cognitive, and social development. Your child should be able to participate in activities that they can learn and grow from.
– Mealtime: What Will Your Child Eat?
Most daycare centers feed children meals prepared on-site. Others, however, tell parents to bring packed food, drinks, and snacks for their children every day. The USDA requires all licensed childcare facilities to stick to nutritional standards which stipulate feeding children well-balanced, healthy snacks and meals during the day.
In addition, the provider must display all menus in a public place that’s clearly visible. During your visit to the facility, ask what they usually serve as snacks and lunch. Make sure to ask about specific food allergies that apply to your child.
Getting Down to Brass Tacks
– Be Ready for the Waiting List
Most of the crème de la crème of daycare centers in Chicago have waiting lists, particularly those accredited by NAEYC. If something is good enough, it’s worth waiting for, right? Check if the right center can put you on their waiting list. Some of the waiting lists can be long, which is why it pays to start your search well ahead of time.
– What are the Center’s Working Hours?
Although operating hours can vary from center to center, Chicago daycares usually run between 7 am and 6:00 pm. You should factor in the time it takes you to travel from work to pick up your child.
– Does the Center Offer Flexible or Part-Time Care?
As a Chicago parent, there’s a good chance you’re seeking full daycare for your child. But some days you may need care only part-time, such as a few hours each day or a few days in a week. You may only need after-school care for your older children.
If that’s the case, it pays to find a good daycare in Chicago that offers flexible or part-time care.
– How Much Does the Daycare Cost?
Daycares tend to be higher in cities, so expect to pay up to $47 per where did this figure come from? Infant care costs much more; older childcare less day for full-time childcare at the daycare center. Still, it’s paramount to understand the upfront costs that you’ll be paying. Some Chicago daycare centers have discounted rates for multi-child families and employees of certain companies. It’s always worthwhile to inquire about these discounts.
The Bottom Line
Choosing a daycare center for your child is one decision that you shouldn’t take lightly. While research can unearth much about a particular center, it’s always wise to trust your gut reaction. If something seems off about the facility, it’s best to go with your instinct. Also, it doesn’t hurt to stop by unannounced to see and experience what’s happening at the center first-hand.
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