The search for a quality early childhood education centre for your child can be endless, terrifying, and exhausting. Depending on where you live, you could have a seemingly infinite amount of options, or you could be in the desert of availability, being forced to take whatever you can get. Then you factor in things like cost, inflexible programs that only allow you to register your child under certain circumstance, or outrageous waitlists, and it can seem impossible to figure out.
Regardless of your situation, and whether you have one centre nearby or 50, there’s a few basic things that you should look for before ever sending your child.
Perhaps the most important aspect of a day care centre or early childhood education centre is safety. Regardless of the kind of education or what kind of toys and gadgets the centre has, the first priority should always and forever be your child’s safety.
When you’re visiting a centre, keep your eyes open for a few basic safety components. First, there should be hand washing stations that are easily accessible for adults and kids. Hand washing should be encouraged often by the adults. First aid kits need to be fully stocked and up to date, and available in every room. There should be a landline telephone that is also within easy reach. You should also be able to spot an evacuation plan that is accurate and memorised by all the staff.
Scope out the cabinets and food areas. Are there locks and child proofing on all the cabinets and cupboards? All food should be put away and locked up at all times, and any medication should also be locked. In fact, it’s best if the food and medication area is well away from any play areas to avoid any possible contact.
Take a look outside at the playground and play areas. Are they fenced in with a solid, safety fence that wraps all the way around the playground with no holes or spaces for children to crawl through? If there is a playground with climbable areas, is there a type of padding underneath that will soften a fall? It is of course to be expected that children will fall and get hurt occasionally, but not only should staff be well prepared for basic first aid, but they should be supervising the play area at all times.
Finally, in addition to making sure the kiddos will stay inside when they’re supposed to, and inside the parameter of the outside play area, you also want to make sure they’re protected from any outsiders. Facilities should be locked from the inside, and visitors should need to be authorised prior to entering.
The adult to child ratio is extremely important when looking at centres. Every child care centre should be equipped with enough adults to satisfy that particular type of centre. The Ministry of Education’s has set guidelines for the ratio depending on the type of centre, and you will want to make sure you know what it should be when visiting a centre. Make sure that you also know how the centre handles breaks and lunches, since the ratio still needs to be upheld even during break times for the employees.
While the reasoning for having a required adult to child ratio is mostly safety related, it’s also important that your child is getting one on one attention throughout the day. This can’t be accomplished unless there are enough people and enough time, so typically a higher adult ratio will be favourable to your child. Centres with more children will make it harder to provide special attention to individual kids.
Health and safety training is an absolute must when it comes to child care providers. Every employee and child care provider must be certified in CPR, and keep up on their certifications at all times. Make sure they have an infant certification as well, if the centre allows infants. In addition, they should be able to easily recognise the symptoms of child abuse, neglect, shaken baby syndrome, and many others. These types of certifications should be posted and viewable when visiting the centre.
A vital part to a quality centre is the kind of learning opportunities they provide for the children. A good education centre should not simply be a day care centre filled with generic babysitters, but one that promotes learning and engaging with the world.
When visiting the centre, ask your guide to show you what kind of learning they build into the day.
Is the centre one that promotes imagination, inside and outside, and has lots of sensory objects to stimulate young minds? Is learning allowed through play often? You can even ask to take a look at lesson plans, if they have them, to see what kinds of things you can expect your child to be learning. Some of the larger centres will have staff that has a degree in education or the like, which can be an asset to your child’s learning and development.
One other important thing to think about is how involved the centre is with the parents and the community. Are they regularly meeting with parents to discuss their child’s well being? Do they hold events often where the parents of the children can come, socialise and see their children play together? These little things add up to be extremely important to you as a parent, and keep you involved every step of the way.
When in doubt, or when choosing between a handful of favourites, never be afraid to go with your gut. Your instincts are stronger and smarter than you think, and so are your child’s. If your child gets on well with the employees of the centre and you feel something positive with it, then that may be the right place for you. Trust yourself, and trust your child, and you’ll find the best quality early childhood centre out there.