Every day care center and
nursery school is different, and parents have to search carefully to
find a good place for their child. Schools might claim (as
Montessori, Waldorf, co-op, and religious schools do) that their
programs are based on familiar philosophies, but parents have to see
how the philosophies are actually implemented. The personalities of
staff members, the physical layouts, and the day-to-day programs are
what determine a school or center’s quality. The only way for
parents to make an informed choice is to observe a number of
Parents who want a program that meets three mornings a week and
parents searching for a day care center open twelve hours a day will
be looking for the same qualities. All parents want caring staff
members, a pleasant facility, and a flexible program that will meet
their child’s needs for the one to four years she will attend. The
difference for parents looking at full-time day care is that their
child will spend most of her waking hours at the center they choose.
Therefore, the selection of a quality day care program is essential.
As you look for child care facilities, narrow your choices to
centers that are easy to get to. If you’re considering nursery
schools, you’ll probably want one close to home, while you might
find a day care center more convenient if it’s close to your work.
Narrow your choices further by asking friends, neighbors, and
coworkers for recommendations. Then visit at least two or three
programs before making a decision.
When you go to a center or school, think about the physical space.
Are the rooms inviting, clean, and safe? Is there ample room to play
inside and is there play equipment outside? Are there places in the
classroom where your child can play quietly? Are there a variety of
toys and materials within easy reach? ‘Where will your child take
naps, and where can she go if she doesn’t nap? Does the overall
environment seem exciting?
Watch the teachers and aides carefully, since they set the tone for
the program. Do they seem to enjoy their jobs and relate well to
each other? Do you like the way they interact with the children?
Good teachers will be warm, understanding, and respectful of
children. Do they seem reassuring and flexible enough to let a child
follow her own interests? Are you comfortable with the way they set
limits and carry out discipline in the classroom?
Try to imagine your child in the programs you observe. How would she
react? Are the teachers’ expectations appropriate for her? Would the
schedule allow her flexibility? What if she wanted to continue with
one activity when the teachers had scheduled a switch to another—
would she be allowed quietly to finish what she was doing?
See if the teachers pay enough attention to the children in the
room. One parent saw a teacher who was so involved with a small
group working on the day’s curriculum project that she ignored the
rest of the class. When the teacher finally became aware of an
argument in the block corner, she was too late to help a child whose
building had been destroyed.
Consider how many teachers there are at the center or school, and
the makeup of the groups. Young children need a lot of attention and
comfort. Older children need fewer adults, but the teacher-child
ratio in all cases should seem satisfactory to you and meet local
licensing standards. Are there mixed age groups in a single
classroom, or are children placed with others the same age? You may
prefer one arrangement over another.
Pay particular attention to the school or center’s program. Too many
are highly structured and goal-oriented, arranged with parents’ and
not children’s needs in mind. Many teachers say, “Parents want
academics. Parents expect projects.” But when academics are
over-emphasized, children lose opportunities to play, experiment
with different materials, and come up with discoveries and their own
answers to problems. In an effective program, children have plenty
of time to explore on their own and teachers value active play and
Look at the children’s artwork. Most nursery schools and centers
have children do one or two art projects a day. Is the work
displayed at a child’s eye level? Are all the projects precut by the
teacher? Do all the finished projects look alike, or are they truly
products of the children’s effort and creativity?
Finally, see if the activities are appropriate for the children. One
group of two-year-olds was expected to dye Easter eggs in school,
but the children were clearly incapable of following the necessary
steps. Rather than drop the activity, the teachers did all the
Teachers should build on children’s interests and abilities, not
give them tasks they can’t perform. Look for a program that stresses
exploration and discovery and teachers who will follow up on your
child’s own interests and abilities.