Family Life Extension Specialist
Human Development and Family Studies
Iowa State University
WHAT IS GOOD DAY CARE (OR CHILD CARE)?
Good child care requires three important things: a caregiver who provides your child with care and guidance and who works with you and your family to make sure that your child grows and learns in the best way possible; a
setting that keeps your child safe and healthy; activities that are suited to your child's stage of growth and that help the child develop mentally, physically, socially, and emotionally.
Consider these questions as you choose child care:
What type of caregiver would be best?
A good caregiver should be well-trained, and warm and loving toward children. Whether your child is an infant, toddler, preschooler, or school-ager, the caregiver should encourage the child's interests and stimulate the child to explore and discover new things.
When you interview caregivers, you'll want to find out about their training and experience and their attitude toward child rearing, guidance, and discipline.
Is the setting suitable?
Whether you use in-home care, family child care, or center care, the facilities should be safe and healthy. The equipment – games, toys, and furniture – should be in good repair and appropriate for your child. The number of children in your child's group should be small enough to allow your child to receive individual attention.
What will the cost of care be?
Child care costs can vary widely, depending on the type of care you use, the days and hours you need care, the part of the country you live in, and other factors. You should investigate the costs of different kinds of child care available, including the costs of transportation for your child to and from the child care setting. You'll also want to find out if your family qualifies for local, state, or federal financial assistance that will help pay for care of your child.
The checklist for parents in this article will help you decide what kind of child care arrangement will provide your child with good quality care in a suitable setting – at a cost that you can afford.
TYPES OF CHILD CARE
Any kind of child care can be good for your child if the care provides the warmth, supervision, and individual attention your child needs. In fact, you may want to use more than one kind of care for your children – for
example, in-home care for your infant and center-based care for your preschooler.
An in-home caregiver is someone who comes to, or lives in, your home. The caregiver can be a relative or a friend or can also be someone you pay to come to your home. If you have three or more children needing care, in-home care may be less expensive than other kinds of care. It can also save you from the worry of getting several children, all with different schedules, to and from a child care arrangement outside your home.
You may also want to use in-home care if your child needs special care because of a physical, mental, or emotional problem; if you need care for an infant or toddler, or care for a child at night; if you need only after-school care.
You should know, however, that in-home care can be costly, especially if you have only one or two children and are paying someone for full-time care.
Family child care
This kind of child care is provided in the home of the caregiver, who is often a mother with children of her own. You may find a relative, friend, or neighbor who is willing to care for your child in this way. Or you may find a family child care home run by someone you do not already know. Usually, just a few children are cared for at any one time.
Family child care can be a good arrangement if you are a single parent raising a child alone; if you live in a rural area where family child care is likely to be the easiest to find; if you have only one or two children needing care; if you have a school-age child or an infant.
Keep in mind that a family child care provider may go out of business or stop caring for children at any time. And because many of these homes are not inspected or licensed by local or state agencies, it will be up to you to make sure that adequate health and safety standards are met.
Child care centers are established settings where children are cared for in a group away from their homes for all or part of the day. There are many different kinds of center-based care, including nursery schools, preschools, and parent cooperatives. Some of these centers are set up primarily to keep children safe and secure. Others are designed to prepare children for their school years. Center-based care is most frequently available in a town or city.
Many child care centers have an organized program of activities to help children learn. Some centers follow more formal plans. Others use a more informal program based on their day-to-day experience working with children.
You may be interested in center-based care if you want to keep your child in the same child care setting for an extended period; if your child needs special care because of a physical or mental handicap or an emotional problem; if you want certain educational or religious activities for your child; if, in addition to care, your child will need medical or dental checkups or psychological or social services
Keep in mind that center-based care may not provide the “home” atmosphere some children like. Your child may not be comfortable in a large group for a major part of each day.
In considering a particular child care center, check out the facilities available, the qualifications of the staff, and the number of children cared for by each caregiver (the “staff/child ratio”).
Talk to the director to make sure the center's program has the approach you like and includes the kinds of activities you want for your child.
A CHECKLIST FOR PARENTS
This checklist is designed to help you decide what things about a child care arrangement are most important to you and your family. It can also help you make sure your child's arrangement offers the things you believe are important.
Arrange to visit the center or home when the children are present. You may also want to visit when you are not expected.
Read through the checklist and circle those items you want the arrangement to provide. Then, when you talk to a possible caregiver or visit a home or center, decide whether the arrangement offers those things. Use the checked-off list to help you make a decision.
Remember, this checklist tries to be as complete as possible. Not everything will apply to your family's situation.
FOR ALL CHILDREN – DOES YOUR CHILD'S CAREGIVER:
___Appear to be warm and friendly?
___Seem calm and gentle?
___Seem to have a sense of humor?
___Seem to be someone with whom you can develop a relaxed, sharing relationship?
___Seem to be someone your child will enjoy being with?
___Seem to feel good about himself or herself and the job?
___Have child-rearing attitudes and methods that are similar to your own?
___Treat each child as a special person?
___Understand what children can and want to do at different stages of growth?
___Have the right materials and equipment on hand to help them learn and grow mentally and physically?
___Patiently help children solve their problems?
___Provide activities that encourage children to think things through?
___Encourage good health habits, such as washing hands before eating?
___Talk to the children and encourage them to express themselves through words and language?
___Encourage children to express themselves in creative ways?
___Have art and music supplies suited to the ages of all children in care?
___Seem to have enough time to look after all the children?
___Help your child to know, accept, and feel good about himself or herself?
___Help your child become independent in ways you approve?
___Help your child learn to get along with and to respect other people, no matter what their backgrounds are?
___Provide a routine and rules the children can understand and follow?
___Accept and respect your family's cultural values?
___Take time to discuss your child with you regularly?
___Have previous experience or training in working with children?
FOR INFANTS FOR TODDLERS (BIRTH TO AGE 3) – DOES YOUR CHILD'S CAREGIVER:
___Seem to enjoy cuddling your baby?
___Care for your baby's physical needs such as feeding and diapering? Wash own hands frequently?
___Spend time holding, playing with, talking to your baby?
___Provide stimulation by pointing out things to look at, touch, and listen to?
___Provide dependable and consistent care so your baby can form an attachment and feel important?
___Cooperate with your efforts to toilet train your toddler?
___”Child-proof” the setting so your toddler can crawl or walk safely and freely?
___Realize that toddlers want to do things for themselves and help your child to learn to feed and dress him- or herself, go to the bathroom, and pick up his or her own toys?
___Help your child learn the language by talking with him or her, naming things, reading aloud, describing what she or he is doing, and responding to your child's words?
FOR PRESCHOOLERS (AGED 3 TO 5 OR 6) – DOES YOUR CHILD'S CAREGIVER:
___Plan many different activities for your child?
___Join in activities himself or herself?
___Set consistent limits that help your child gradually learn to make his or her own choices?
___Recognize the value of play and encourage your child to be creative and use his or her imagination?
___Help your child feel good about himself or herself by being attentive, patient, positive, warm, and accepting?
___Allow your child to do things for himself or herself because she or he understands that children can learn from their mistakes?
___Help your child increase his or her vocabulary by talking with him or her, reading aloud, and answering questions?
FOR SCHOOL-AGE CHILDREN (AGED 6 to 14) – DOES YOUR CHILD'S CAREGIVER:
___Give your child supervision and security but also understand his or her growing need for independence?
___Set reasonable and consistent limits?
___At the same time, allow your child to make choices and gradually take responsibility?
___Understand the conflict and confusion that growing children sometimes feel?
___Help your child follow through on projects, help with homework, and suggest interesting things to do?
___Listen to your child's problems and experiences?
___Respect your child when he or she expresses new ideas, values, or opinions?
___Cooperate with you to set clear limits and expectations about behavior?
___Understand the conflicts and confusion older school-age children feel about sex, identity, and pressure to conform?
___Provide your child with a good adult image to admire and copy?
FOR ALL CHILDREN – DOES THE CHILD CARE HOME OR CENTER HAVE:
___An up-to-date license or registration certificate, if one is required?
___A clean and comfortable look?
___Enough space indoors and out so all the children can move freely and safely?
___Enough caregivers to give attention to all of the children in care?
___Places to store personal belongings?
___Places where children can be alone?
___Enough furniture, play things, and other equipment for all the children in care?
___Equipment that is safe and in good repair?
___Equipment and materials that are suitable for the ages of the children in care?
___Enough room and cots or cribs so the children can take naps?
___Enough clean bathrooms for all the children in care?
___Safety caps on electrical outlets?
___A safe place to store medicines, household cleansers, poisons, matches, sharp instruments, and other dangerous items?
___An alternate exit in case of fire?
___A safety plan posted to follow in emergencies?
___An outdoor play area that is safe, fenced, and free of litter?
___Enough heat, light, and ventilation ?
___Nutritious meals and snacks made with the kinds of food you want your child to eat?
___A separate place to care for sick children where they can be watched?
___A first aid kit?
___Covered radiators and protected heaters?
___Strong screens or bars on windows above the first floor?
FOR INFANTS OR TODDLERS (BIRTH TO AGE 3) – DOES THE CHILD CARE HOME OR CENTER HAVE:
___Safe gates at tops and bottoms of stairs?
___A potty chair or special toilet seat in the bathroom?
___A clean and safe place to change diapers, sanitized after each use?
___Cribs with firm mattresses covered in heavy plastic?
___Separate crib sheets for each baby in care?
FOR PRESCHOOLERS (AGED 3 TO 5 OR 6) – DOES THE CHILD CARE HOME OR CENTER HAVE:
___A stepstool in the bathroom so your preschooler can reach the sink and toilet?
FOR SCHOOL-AGE CHILDREN (AGED 6 TO 14) – DOES THE CHILD CARE HOME OR CENTER HAVE:
___A quiet place to do homework?
___Appropriate games and activities?
FOR ALL CHILDREN – ARE THERE OPPORTUNITIES:
___To play quietly and actively, indoors and out?
___To play alone at times and with friends at other times?
___To follow a schedule that meets young children's need for routine but that is flexible enough to meet the needs of each child?
___To use materials and equipment that help children learn new physical skills and to control and exercise their muscles?
___To learn to get along, to share, and to respect themselves and others?
___To learn about their own and others' cultures through art, music, books, songs, games, and other activities
___To speak both English and their family's native language?
___To watch special programs on television that have been approved by you?
FOR INFANTS AND TODDLERS (BIRTH TO AGE 3) – ARE THERE OPPORTUNITIES:
___To crawl and explore safely?
___To play with objects and toys that help infants to develop their senses of touch, sight, and hearing? (For example, mobiles, mirrors, cradle gyms, crib toys, rattles, things to squeeze and roll, pots and pans, nesting cups, different sized boxes)
___To take part in a variety of activities that are suited to toddlers' short attention spans? (For example, puzzles, cars, books, outdoor play equipment for active play, modeling clay, clocks, boxes, containers, for creative play)
FOR PRESCHOOLERS (AGED 3 TO 5 OR 6) – ARE THERE OPPORTUNITIES:
___To play with many different toys and equipment that enable preschoolers to use their imaginations? (For example, books, musical instruments, costumes)
___To choose their own activities, for at least part of the day?
___To visit nearby places of interest, such as the park, the library, the fire house, a museum?
FOR SCHOOL-AGE CHILDREN (AGED 6 TO 14) – ARE THERE OPPORTUNITIES:
___To practice their skills? (For example, sports, musical instruments, drama activities, craft projects)
___To be with their own friends after school?
___To do homework?
___To use a variety of materials and equipment, including art materials, table games, sports equipment, books, films, and records?
___To use community facilities such as a baseball field, a swimming pool, a recreation center?
FIND OUT ABOUT THE CHILD CARE REGULATIONS IN YOUR AREA
You will find it helpful to know about the child care regulations in your area.
For information on federal child care regulations, write to the Day Care Division, Administration for Children, Youth and Families, Post Office Box 1182, Washington, D.C. 20013.
If you wish more detailed information about child care, copies of *A Parent's Guide to Day Care*, Stock No. 017-091-00231-2, are for sale from: Gryphon House, Inc., 3706 Otis St., PO. Box 217, Mt. Rainier, Maryland