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Preschool and Child Care

Choosing Childcare

The first five years of a child’s life are a time of tremendous physical, emotional, social, and cognitive growth. The experiences a child has during this time can make an impact on their readiness to learn. Here the Education Department offers some tips to guide parents in choosing childcare.

Choosing the right kind of childcare for your baby, toddler or preschooler is important for your child’s safety and well being. It is also important because these early experiences affect how prepared your child is for school. Here are some tips to guide you in choosing childcare:

Think about the kind of care that is best for your child. Some possibilities to consider are (a) a relative; (b) a day-care provider, usually someone who takes care of a small group of children in her own home; (c) a childcare center, which generally offers a curriculum and staff with educational backgrounds in early childhood development; and (d) a caregiver who comes to your home.

Decide which kind of childcare fits your budget. For low-income parents, programs such as the federally funded Head Start are available. (Go to the Head Start (opens in a new window) website for more information.) State-funded child-care programs also are available. Your local librarian can help you find addresses and phone numbers for these programs. In addition, many families are entitled to child-care credits on their income tax forms and some businesses offer their employees low-cost or no-charge childcare.

Check with local agencies for listings of licensed childcare providers. Many communities have resource and referral agencies that can help you to identify the childcare programs that best meet your needs. Again, ask your local librarian to help you locate the addresses and phone numbers for these agencies.

Start looking for childcare early, particularly if you have a special program for your child in mind. Some programs have long waiting lists.

Gather information. Whether you are looking for a day-care provider or for a caregiver to come into your home, interview the person at length and check references carefully. Before you meet with the person, develop a list of questions. If you are considering day-care centers, visit each one — more than once. Don’t rely only on good reports about the center from other people. Centers that work well for other parents may not work well for you. As with any kind of childcare, check the center’s references carefully.

No matter what kind of childcare you are considering, look for care providers who:

  • Are kind and responsive. Good care providers enjoy being with children, are energetic, patient and mature enough to handle crises and conflicts.
  • Have experience working with young children and like them. Find out how long the providers have worked with preschoolers, why they are in the child-care field and whether they provide activities that are appropriate for your child’s age. Observe the providers with other children. Do the children seem happy? How do the providers respond to them?
  • Recognize the individual needs of children. Look for care providers who are considerate of different children’s interests and needs and who can provide your child with enough attention.
  • Have a child-rearing philosophy that is similar to your own. Find out what kind of discipline the providers use and how they handle problems.

Be certain that the childcare facility is clean and safe. Check to see that it is full of equipment and materials that will allow your child to explore and learn, including plenty of books and separate areas of different kinds of activities.

Excerpted from: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Communications and Outreach. (2005). Helping Your Preschool Child. Washington, DC: Author.
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