When I was asked to write a post about finding good before- and after-school childcare, I did what most parents would do: I turned and asked my five-year-old for her advice. (Ok, maybe most parents don’t do that.)
She thought for a moment, and then gave me her reply. “Well,” she said, “the first step is to think slowly. When you need to make a good decision, the best thing to do is to think slowly so that you make the best choice. Then you should use your phone to see what is near you. It should know. Then you should drive around and visit all of the places and see which one is the best for your child. I learned that from “Daddy Daycare” (cu
rrent favorite movie around our house!). Different families need different things. Then you choose. But the most important thing is to think slowly.”
Her advice floored me on that day, and it still does. It really can be that simple.
“Think slowly.”- Give yourself time to evaluate your needs and the types of care you might consider. Don’t rush into a decision. Your child’s care environment is very important. (On the flip side, please remember that kids are resilient. It’s highly unlikely that a less-than-perfect daycare experience will scar them for life.) Consider your budget, the hours you need, and any outlying circumstances that may influence your choice.
“Use your phone to see what is near you. It should know.”- There are many daycare options you might consider. It is important to keep in mind that the appropriate option may change over time based on your changing needs. It is also wise to consider arranging for back-up care, especially if you do not have flexible leave. Snow days, sickness, and vacations can cause unexpected days with no childcare coverage. In the past five years I have used all of the following scenarios to manage care for my two children!
- School-run program - Many schools offer an after-school program run by the school or the district. My town has a program administered by the local parks and recreation department at each public school. This program is cost effective and convenient for students at those schools, as it is on the premises and involves no transportation.
- Care facility - Professional care facilities are well-staffed and are less likely to have issues with coverage due to staff sickness, etc. They often have programmatic elements that are very positive for children, such as activities, homework help, and extra lessons. Check for care facilities associated with local preschools, private schools, or churches. Often care facilities have longer hours than private care providers. Many provide bussing or other transportation to and from local schools.
- In-home daycare - Licensed in-home care providers can be a fantastic option. In-home care offers a smaller setting for a child. Often children can take a bus from their school to an in-home care provider’s home. In our experience, in-home providers are very nurturing, and can give more one-on-one attention. (They also happen to be some of my favorite people!) However, there are a wide variety of practices, personalities, and situations with in-home care. It is always wise to ask for references, check licensing, and ask for a background check. (Most good providers will offer this without being asked.)
- Nanny share - The concept of a nanny share is that two or more families will share a private care provider to watch their children together and split the cost, while the nanny benefits from slightly higher income than if he/she were caring for children from a single family. This option can work well for families who are budget-conscious but would like a little more say over their children’s environment. Nannies can work in your home and can often provide transportation for your children or meet your children at the bus. Nannies may also be able to assist with meal prep and housework, but expect to pay for these services.
- Babysitter/Nanny - Another option to consider is hiring a local parent, retiree, college student, or high school student to provide after-school care for your children. This option works especially well if you only need occasional or part-time assistance with child care. Most colleges and universities have a community job board where you can post your need. You might also try asking people in your community for recommendations.
“Drive around and see what is best for your child”- Visiting your options is essential. When you are touring a facility, there are a few things to keep an eye on. Consider carefully which variety of care will best meet the needs of your child and your family. You may want to tour several different types of care.
- How are staff interacting with the children present?
- How does your child interact with the care provider(s)?
- Is the facility up to standards?
- Do guardians picking up and dropping off children have a relationship with the provider?
- How does the care provider communicate with families?
- And any other essentials that might help you make your decision.
“Then you choose. Remember to think slowly.”
If you find yourself stuck in this process, find a trusted advisor or friend with whom you can talk about it. Or, ask my daughter. She can pretty much solve anything!