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Choosing a Baby Daycare Center – 10 Questions to Ask





IMG_3931.JPGEven though our baby was only born in early spring, it appears that we are behind in the game to get into a good day care center. To me, it sounds early to apply for day care centers, but we have friends who put their names in top daycare wait lists while they were still pregnant!

We are just now getting on the ball in doing some research, but we are still newbies. After maternity leave, the plan is to have the grandparents take care of the baby for a year. After that, we plan to put our little one in daycare at the age of 2 until school starts at the age of 5.

After doing a bit of phoning around, it seems that around here, daycare for a 2+ year old costs at least $35/day, $700/month or $8400/year. When I first heard the costs of daycare, I almost had a coronary. The bright side is that up to $7,000/year of daycare costs can be claimed under the lower income spouse. This, for us, should equate to getting a $2,800 tax return thus bring the net cost of daycare to be around $5,600/year .

Back to the topic at hand, how do you choose a good baby daycare? Here are some of the questions that we thought of to ask the daycare companies:

  1. Cost – For us, generally speaking, the cost of daycare was very competitive across the city with the largest variation being $100/month. Personally though, cost isn’t on the top of the criteria in choosing a daycare.
  2. Credentials – What child education/caregiver credentials does the daycare have? Are the staff trained professionals, or off the street minimum wage workers?
  3. Hours – This is a big one for us as the daycare needs to open early enough so that we can drop them off before work (before 8am), and open late enough so that we can pick them up after work (after 5pm).
  4. Turnover – What kind of staff turnover does the daycare have? We prefer a daycare with low turnover as it would be less confusing for the child.
  5. Full time or Part Time – It seems that some daycares offer full time, part time, or a combination of the two. Make sure that the daycare that you are considering offers what you need.
  6. Employee/Child ratio – This is an important criteria for us as we want to make sure that there is a high care giver/child ratio. The typical around here is 1 caregiver per 5 children.
  7. Procedures when child is sick – What is the procedure when a child gets sick or if there’s an accident? When do they determine that it’s time to phone the parents? Is there a doctor nearby?
  8. Discipline rules – What if the child misbehaves? What are their methods of discipline?
  9. Educational and other programs/activities – What activities are planned for the children throughout the day? Are there educational elements to the day? There were some daycares around here that offered an introduction to French which was a bonus for us.
  10. Food – This is another biggie. What food do they offer throughout the day? When do they offer their meals and snacks? There was one daycare that we phoned that stood out in this regard. They offered a snack for the child when he/she arrived in the morning because some parents are so rushed to get out the door, that breakfast can be skimped on. Then they offered a substantial lunch which follows the Canada food guide, followed by a snack in mid afternoon.

For those who have gone through this already, what are some important points in choosing a daycare for a 2 year old?

photo credit: Shaggy Paul





22 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. 1. LL

    I have a 2 1/2 year old and she goes to a daycare run by a woman in our neighbourhood. It’s a little less structured than some daycares but she does a very good job and the kids love it. We will be looking to put her in a more structure daycare over the next 6 months or so. Your list is good. A few other items I would add…

    - what are the schedules around holidays? Do you have to pay even if you take the child on vacation, etc.?
    - if you are late, do they charge a fee?
    - what are they daily routines around naps, etc. and how would that fit in with your child’s routine?
    - is the child supposed to be potty trained at 2? How do they deal with that?
    - how often do they close per year due to snowstorms or other issues?
    - one other minor thing is whether the child can bring any of their own toys or “loveys”. My daughter has a “lovey” that she won’t go without and she likes to bring some of her other dolls, etc. on numerous days. It’s a struggle to take them away from a 2+ year old.

    That’s about I can find for now. What I find the hardest is dealing with the kids when they are sick and need to be home or non-statuatory holidays when you have to work but the child needs to be home.

  2. 2. Chuck

    You may also want to consider daycare after the age of 5 for before and after school care. There’s also PLASP, but theres long waiting lists for PLASP at our school.

    Also seeing the center and how its organized help.

    Our son is in a home environment so when we met beyond the list of questions you had above we also wanted to see:

    - how does the provider interact with the child in the initial meetings?
    - where will the child will be sleeping?
    - how old are the other kids there? (ie is there someone old enough for your kid to interact with.)
    - LLs question about vacations is key. Plus do you have to pay when the provider takes time off in a home situation is also a point of contention.

    O

  3. Great tips guys, thanks. If you don’t mind me asking, how much does daycare cost in your area?

  4. 4. Jubilee

    You should be welcome to visit the daycare with your child before you make a decision. I would recommend spending a morning or afternoon observing how the facility is run and how your child interacts with the staff and other children.

    If the owner/manager declines or gives the impression that it’s an unusual request, scratch that facility off your list.

  5. 5. LL

    FT, we pay $30 per day. That’s about the norm around here.

  6. Jubilee makes an execellent point. My wife runs a daycare in the house and she insists on meeting with both the child and parents before even considering to look after the child. It’s good to see if your child will get along with the other kids or if the enviroment is something they will like.

    Also being on the other side of the fence I will tell you this. Being late without letting your daycare know in advance is the one thing all daycares hate with a passion. Avoid doing it and you will usually avoid the large late fees which can be up to $1/minute.

  7. 7. Chuck

    For our kids in Mississauga

    2 year old pays $125/wk in a home environment with no tax receipts. If we want receipts its $150/wk

    6 yr old in a daycare beside her school is $95/wk. If they were to bus her to her old school there’d be an additional $25/wk bussing fee.

  8. Proximity: you could choose care close to home, or close to work. Each has its pros and cons. Closer to work is nice to be able to visit your child at lunch and for pick-up/drop off (depending on your commute). Closer to home is nice if you’re telecommuting or if both parents take turns dropping off/picking up and do not work in the same area.

    I’d also look at group size: regardless of caregives/child ratio, some children work better in small groups, while others do not mind larger groups.

    TV policy. Remember the movie “Pursuit of happyness” ? Make sure the day care doesn’t sit your child in front of Love Boat all day — unless that’s what you want. Our 3 year old watches no TV but about 2 hours of DVDs per week.

    Security: make sure you understand their policy for picking up your child. Only the parents should be able to retrieve your child. Or perhaps a pre-assigned emergency contact in case the parents cannot make the pick-up time. Policies vary I believe.

    Backup staff: depending on whether the facility is a run-from-home child care or a professional facility, you want to make sure you know who takes over the care when the primary caregiver is out sick. In other words, you want to know what other adults may have access to your child.

    Some places may also allow arrangements for nights and/or weekends — that may come in handy if you do not have a baby sitter around.

    Preschool starts as early as 3 year old. So your day care for a 2-year old may only be for a year.

    In our area day care is between 900-1000 per month. This is more (well, close) than my wife’s salary as a teacher, so we decided to have my wife stay at home. This becomes especially economical when you have a second child. Also, this proved to greatly enhance our quality of life, since many chores are done by my wife during the day, leaving more family time at night and on the weekends. Our 3 year old is now in pre-school two mornings per week for around $200 per month.

  9. 9. Dadtopics

    First, I would like to say that I discovered your blog a couple of weeks ago and I truly enjoy reading it. I remember when my wife and I were looking for daycares for my first son, and it was somewhat stressful. We started early (before he was born), and we weren’t sure until the last month of my wife’s maternity leave (12 months here in Quebec) where he was going to attend. In the end we got in at the daycare at her work which was our first choice, but we must have put ou names on 50 lists. We used referrals and our “gut” feelings a lot of the time. I think that it is no coincidence that our first choice was also the one that was the best funded (subsidies by her employer). By the way, it is $7/day where I live.

  10. 10. LL

    You gotta love subsidized daycare in Quebec :) Oh how nice it would be to only pay $7 per day.

  11. 11. Zac

    Gotta find out about reputation. Find someone who has used daycare in the area and ask about their experiences. Go to the school you are considering near opening or closing time and ask some of the parents if you may contact them.

  12. FT, it looks like you’ve got most of the big objective points covered off, but don’t forget the most important factor- the purely subjective “feel”. Do you trust the people working there? Does it “feel” safe, clean, and caring? This will vary between parents- I have friends who love a certain daycare and those who have very opposite opinions.

    It probably doesn’t apply to formalized daycares, but be quite wary of home-based childcare where you can get a discount for paying in cash or not getting receipts for tax purposes. We all know why this is done, and I can’t help but think that someone willing to be dishonest in reporting their income at tax time will also be dishonest when it comes to other things, and that’s not the kind of environment where I would feel comfortable leaving my child.

  13. 13. Novice

    Daycare in Toronto is not only incredibly expensive, but difficult to find. Our 1 year old costs $1,625 a month for daycare. We love the daycare but that’s very expensive. When he turns 18 months it “drops” down to $1365. This is at the higher end of the scale, but even the lower ones we looked at were around $1300. It is a good daycare and close to both me and my wife’s work at least. @ #8 – your wife being a teacher probably wouldn’t be affected by this, but I have had people say that my wife or I should stay home until he’s old enough to go to school, but I think the career opportunity cost in a private enterprise is huge if you’re out of the game for 5 – 6 years.

  14. Very good lists of checkmarks and with a few from the comments could be a good evaluation form for a daycare. I just feel lucky this time living in Quebec and paying only $7 a day.
    Although a lot of people say it is difficult to find a daycare here (MTL) we never really had a problem …after some search of course …

    The biggest issue normally is the closing hour …

  15. 15. SUe

    I read your post about daycare. Another topic you’ll want to discuss is how potty training will be handled. When/how it will be approached.

    You’ll want to make sure that you’re comfortable dealing with the people who take care of your child. Being able to discuss behaviour and health concerns openly is important.

    You’ll also want to make sure they can deal with allergies, if there are other children with allergies, and to make sure that if a health issue does come up for you that they are able to deal with it for you. Ideally you want to know that your childcare provider is willing to provide a safe environment for your child, even if that means implementing some new rules.

  16. 16. Sarlock

    We’re paying $750/mo for our daycare. It’s more like a preschool than a daycare, about 25 kids ranging from 13 mos to 5 years old (split in to two rooms by age groups) and is a non-profit organization located in a hospital with access to a gymnasium, pool and two large, enclosed parks. I’m on the the Board of Directors, so I have a firm hand in how the daycare is run.

    For anyone looking, a non-profit daycare may be an excellent choice, especially if you have the time/energy to be a member of the board and help guide the direction the daycare takes and the staff it hires. Ultimately, though, being confident that the daycare staff will treat your child right is the most important decision. These people will be spending more time with your child per day than you do, so picking top notch workers is a priority. Cost is only a secondary consideration.

    Ensure that the daycare has a policy and procedures manual and that they follow it. Any person can run a daycare and be mostly successful doing it, but when the stuff hits the fan and an emergency happens, you want to know that they will approach the issue professionally and in an organized manner.

  17. 17. Lisa

    I’m also in Toronto (but from St. John’s and am completely envious of your set up with both grandparents nearby) and we pay $700 a month for part-time daycare at someone’s home (Tue-Thurs). We were paying about $1000 per month for full time. There are only 5 kids and two adults most of the day. Part-time will work for us soon since I will be on mat leave again in Nov.

    The disadvantage to home daycares is that they can change (i.e. go to part-time) on a whim and they don’t necessarily offer the structure of a large daycare. However, if you can find a good one, I certainly think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Our daycare provider is very loving, cooks great food (hides veggies for one little boy using recipes from Jerry Seinfield’s wife’s recipe book), gives the kids goat’s milk (one little one is allergic) and is on top of all the latest in baby stuff – such as plastic sippy cups with no bad toxins.

    And – generally home daycares cost a lot less than the ones. Plus – added advantage for us in Toronto – they don’t have the dreaded wait list. I actually fired our nanny and found this daycare spot in a week – unheard of in Toronto.

    Something you didn’t mention re your wife going back to work is the fact that perhaps she actually wants to! I work, have a career and I am not interested in staying home to do chores all day and look after my daughter. It is EXHAUSTING. Working, quite frankly, is easier! if Mommy is happy, baby is happy.

    But I am confident that she loves daycare – is very sociaable – and even if I was at home, I would have to take her out because she wants to be around other children and to see new things. As far as my career goes, for sure, working in the private sector – your career slows down. I should have been promoted but haven’t been because I was off on mat leave for a year. For someone ambitious, it is very tough. But I have come to terms with it. My daughter is the most important in my life and I don’t care as much about work as I used to. People with children are understanding and you just have to hold your own.

  18. 18. Panda3

    I think you or your wife should also consider not going back to work, and even be smart about your spending, using for example grocery game.com. to save money on groceries. There is really no need for both parents to work, why even have children if you don’t want to be around them. Lisa, the previous poster is the ultimate selfish mom it’s sickening ‘staying home to do chores all day and look after my daughter. It is EXHAUSTING. Working, quite frankly, is easier!” ummm okay Lisa, it’s too hard to do that let me pay a stranger?? OMG hope this is a joke website. I am a women who would love to have a baby, my husband and I are trying. I am the breadwinner making over 6 figues as a stock trader but you can believe i’m not ever going to use day care. Now, we may make the decision for my husband to stay at home but we would never put them in a day care where they could possibly get ill or molested.

  19. 19. Novice

    Panda3, I think your position is just way out there. Not everyone makes 6 figures (I can assume that your husband makes at least equivalent money) and not everyone wants to be a stay at home mom. There is nothing wrong with staying at home, but there’s also nothing wrong in having a career either. Children need to see that it’s important to earn a living, and I think your positiion is way out there. As well to suggest that you can protect your children from molestation by not putting them into daycare ignores the fact that many more children are molested by family members than strangers.

  20. I love all of the helpful suggestions listed here. I have found location to be the biggest factor in our daycare decision. Having my daughter in a center downtown, rather than in our neighborhood, is definitely more expensive, but so worth it! She commutes into the office each day with me and my husband and so we get at least another hour each day with her. Also, they take lovely field trips almost every day in the city: art musuem, parks, downtown window shopping. And, the best bonus, I am close enough to pop in and say Hi, or help out in the center as my schedule allows.

  21. 21. Miranda

    Lisa in Toronto, would you mind letting me know where your daycare is in the city? I’m 6 months pregnant now and am starting the daycare search, based on the information I’ve received from parents who had trouble finding a spot. Your daycare sounds excellent!

  22. 22. Novice

    Miranda – also call the city to see if you qualify for a daycare cost subsidy, it’s a 6 mos waiting list.

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