Jennifer A. Crissman, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group
One thing that parents from all walks of life can commiserate over is the struggle to find child care. If you are a new parent, expecting your first child, new to the area, or just considering a change in care, there is a lot to consider when choosing a child care provider. There are several crucial criteria to keep in mind when searching for a daycare or preschool: curriculum, ratings, and your gut.
Some daycares are just that – care for the child during the day. At the daycare, there may be a schedule for naps, feeding, and playtime, but no set curriculum. What differentiates a daycare from a preschool is the curriculum. While it may sound ludicrous, it is important that all children (yes, even infants) have a curriculum. So, when I first heard of this concept, all I could picture was a child who could barely speak taking a pop quiz on shapes, colors and the alphabet. But this is not what curriculum is all about.
The primary purpose of a curriculum is to identify when teachers should be introducing new concepts, tasks, and challenges to your child at certain developmental milestones. For example, if your child is having trouble walking and is frequently stumbling then the curriculum would address your child’s gross motor skills. Teachers can provide the child with uneven surfaces to walk on or navigate to help your child’s balance and coordination develop. A curriculum is just a plan to help your child grow, and as a parent, you should never feel nervous asking a potential provider for a copy of their curriculum.
Parents who have a child already enrolled in a facility are likely familiar with the star rating system in North Carolina. The North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education developed a star rating system for licensed facilities to help parents quickly identify the standards their provider is meeting. The star ratings range from one to five, with five stars being the highest rated licensed facilities. Facilities earn their stars based on their staff education and their program standards. The state also has a website where parents can search for a provider in their county and refine by special requirements. A link to this site is provided at the bottom of this article.
Although the star system is helpful when searching for a new care provider, I will offer a word to the wise. The five star rated programs are highly sought after and often have long waiting lists. Get your name on the lists as early as possible. When trying to enroll my infant, I was competing with women who were twelve weeks pregnant just to get a name on the waiting list. If you know where you want your child to attend eventually and the waiting list is long, getting your name on that list as soon as possible is vital.
Although a childcare provider may have a fancy curriculum and a five-star rating, ultimately the most important consideration is your gut reaction to the care provider. It is important to take a tour of the facility, meet your child’s prospective teachers, and to see how the teachers interact with other kids. Pay attention to how the other children are acting when you visit, if you hear lots of laughing that’s always a good sign. There are facilities with five stars that may not be a good fit for your child and facilities with three stars that are far and away much better at nurturing your child. You alone know your child the best and know what kind of environment will help your child grow and thrive.
Although it can be daunting to find a child care provider, I will leave you with advice that I received when trying to find care for my child. If you are uncomfortable at that facility, odds are your child will be too. Pick a place that aligns with your family’s values, needs, and lifestyle and your kid will be happier and healthier for it.