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Advice for interviewing childcare centers?

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
I want to make sure I make the right choice this time around, so I am looking for advice on interviewing childcare centers.

I am especially interested in the best way to get an idea of how they treat the children, such as their style of discipline and how empathetic, nurturing, and responsive the caregivers will be. Any ideas of what I should look for and what questions to ask? I am thinking that scenario-based questions might be helpful (that is, asking how they would respond when my child does _____ ). Any thoughts on this?

Thanks in advance!
post #2 of 14
Hi Hilary - the childcare search is so hard! It took me months. We just had our very first day of transition (I go back to work next week) and I can say that I am 99.9% sure that I made the right choice.

Anyway, are you only looking at daycare centres (larger with several staff members) or also private smaller in-home type arrangements? I don't have much advice on interviewing bigger centres but have a list of great questions for the mom-at-home type caregivers.
post #3 of 14
How old is your child?

From working at a large day care center for several years, this is what I would ask:

-Ask to see a current menu for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.
-Ask if children wash their hands before eating.
-Ask about drinks between meals and snacks. Can your child drink from the water fountain anytime they are thirsty? (Or a bottle, juice cup, etc.)
-Look in the room your child will stay in. Make sure the room has a sink in it with soap and paper towels for employees to wash their hands.
-If age appropriate, be sure the room has a diaper changing station.

If the room doesn't have a sink or diaper changing area in it, then a staff member will have to leave the room to do those things which means

1) there will be less supervision, a lot can happen in 5 minutes and
2) they will not change diapers or wash hands as often. The place I worked in had a sink in a bathroom attached to the room, but even then bad things would happen when the teacher was out of the room!

-Find out how often the children play outside and for how long, and if they have any other areas they go to in the building regularly. (Gym, cafeteria, movie room, etc.)
-Ask about cold or rainy weather--do they still go out in the winter?
-Check the playground and note if the children have to cross a road or big parking lot, see if the playground is fully fenced and safe looking.
-Find out how they handle conflicts. If your child is a toddler ask about hitting/pushing and biting.
-Ask how often biting is an issue in your child's class. If there is a lot of biting that could be a sign that the children are too crowded or stressed or bored.
-Find out the teacher/child ratio. See if you can pop in at a random time to observe the class (either before your child is there or when they are already enrolled) and count the number of children. Each state has different regulations. My state (KY) says 4 children under 1 per care giver, but the ratio for 2 year olds is 10 per care giver. 10 two year olds is WAY too many for one person, trust me. The teacher/child ratio is very, very important for the happiness and well-being of your child. Obviously the lower the better!
-Ask what age group your child will be with. Is it just one age per class? Do they play with older kids on the playground or in the gym?

Sorry that was kind of long. Hopefully it will give you some things to think about when you make your list of questions!

post #4 of 14
Thread Starter 
JessieBird, yes, I'm interested in in-home situations too; I just haven't come across any that seem like a good match, whereas I have 2 appointments this week to interview with centers. I would welcome input on questions for in-home providers as well. Thank you!

Pepper44, thanks for the question ideas! My DD is 16 months old. It is nice to have a perspective from someone who's been on the other side. I had not thought about a lot of these things. Thanks very much!
post #5 of 14
You have lots of great suggestions here, but as an early childhood teacher I want to add one thing that I think outweighs them all.

Spend time in the center and listen, really listen, to how the adults talk to children. Do they take the time to listen to what the children have to say, do they treat the children with respect, do they value the children's opinions, do they explain things gently and patiently, do they use rich and varied vocabulary so that the children are always learning?

If, and only if, you can find a place where the tone is always gentle and respectful, every minute of every day, you're half way there -- then ask all the other questions, but if you hear 1 adult yelling at a child, or shaming a child, or shushing a child (unless there's a very good reason) walk away and don't look back, even if the food is organic and the playground lovely.
post #6 of 14
I think a few things I found helpful were:

Mostly, being there.I actually just dropped in on our current centre the other day with no notice and when I went into the school there was such a happy buzz and they were finishing lunch and things were still very clean and the kids were helping... it reminded me of the first times I dropped in at that particular centre.

Have you ever had to "expel" a child? Why? (Our Montessori never has; other centres I interviewed at often launched into an explanation about some terrible "match" (read: kid). A few talked about safety and biting which is fine, unless it's your kid biting I guess.)

Because I've read Protecting the Gift I did ask all the questions about "have any of your staff ever hit or abused a child" etc. Although these are more safety questions than discipline ones, I actually learned quite a lot about how the person doing the tour would react to tough questions & issues by paying attention to how they reacted. Anyone who acted like /I/ had a problem by asking the question managed to get off my list really quickly.

I brought my child along. He started getting a bit frustrated and the director redirected him, and then took some pains to explain to me that he was acting out because he was not engaged because we had come into a hallway without anything engaging in it. I really liked how she handled him and me.
post #7 of 14
Hi there - sorry it took so long for me to get back to you with the list I worked from when interviewing in-home type care settings where there is just one or two caregivers. The pps have covered everything on it (along with lots more great advice). For me, once I had confirmed that the caregiver was in line with my values and I was happy with logistical issues like meals, outside time and diapering, the discussions that I found most useful to me were those around what kind of support the caregiver has, whether they know their limitations and what strategies they have in place for looking after their own well being. Of course it is critical that the person be kind, caring, conscientious and that all the basics are covered but I also think that caregivers need to be cared about themselves in order to be at their best for the kids. They need rest, adult contact, and appreciation in order to really follow through on all the promises they make during that initial interview regarding meals and outdoor time, etc. So find out whether they think about that aspect, whether they expect respect for what they do (you'd be amazed by how many don't value their work, this is a red flag for me). I also learned a lot by asking why they chose to be a caregiver, what they like best about it (dig deeper than just "i love kids") and what they find the biggest challenge is for them. You'll soon find out whether this is someone who will be honest with you when things aren't going well.

And just as an aside, I did go visit some larger centres and always found that I got more of a sales pitch than actual info. I learned more from observing the staff and kids (hover to watch for as long as you can) and from references than from the people who gave me the tours. Ask if they would be willing to give you one or two negative references in addition to all the positive ones they will surely offer. They'll be surprised by this but may agree if you phrase it something like, "everyone is different and what didn't work for them may be perfect for us, it just helps me to put everything in perspective to see another side." If the centre won't give you references like that, ask the references that they do give you if they can tell you about a case where a family was displeased and why.

Good luck, it is such a tough decision!
post #8 of 14
Thread Starter 
Wonderful suggestions everyone! Thank you so much!
post #9 of 14
Yes it is very important that the caregivers feel respected and cared for themselves! That was one of the biggest issues at the large center where I worked.

It is frightening how many workers actually hate their job and don't enjoy being around the children. (Of course there are also workers who dearly love the kids too! It can go both ways.)

At one center where I worked, whenever there weren't parents around the workers were always joking, goofing off, cursing, flipping each other off, etc. One of the teachers used dip and carried around a nasty cup to spit into. They also didn't give the children more than a tiny half glass of water, milk, or "juice" (actually kool-aid) to drink with each meal or snack and no drinks were allowed in between eating times because the more the kids drink, the more they pee, so you have to change more diapers. And this was/is a center in a large church that is considered nice. It has a long waiting list. The parents literally had no clue why their children were so thirsty when they picked them up.

There are so many little things like that, it's scary now that I am a parent. It's hard to find out what's *really* going on behind the scenes sometimes.
post #10 of 14
Originally Posted by Pepper44 View Post
It's hard to find out what's *really* going on behind the scenes sometimes.
In addition to popping in at random times, I would also suggest that, when you do go visit, walk around the building looking around. Peek in a classroom window (ours has windows to the outside in each room so you can look into each room). Be prepared to explain to the director why you're doing that though, as if you get "caught" you will surely be asked for an explanation! I always tell my parents (I've worked in the same daycare for just about 2 years) if their child is upset when they leave then go out the front door and walk around to our classroom and peek in. I'm that confident that their child will either be calmed down by then (most children are) or well on their way to calming down. I absolutely don't mind parents "peeking" in on us at any time. I also encourage you to find out when nap time is and peek in right at the start of nap time. Are the children crying? Is it peaceful? Is there soft music playing? Are the adults talking in hushed voices, reassuring any upset children or are they shouting at the kids to stop crying and go to sleep? Right before nap time seems to be the most stressful time, I've noticed.

One more thing I've not seen mentioned... ask if the workers get regular breaks. If not, they may be stressed at times, which isn't good. Ask if there is a plan in place for if a worker is too stressed and needs a break, even if it's not scheduled. Daycares who refuse to even aknowledge that they're workers get stressed and need breaks are NEVER a good fit!
post #11 of 14
In addition to the other things that have been suggested, ask about beginning and end of day routines for the times of day you will drop off and pick up. One preschool we looked at would have my 2 YO changing classrooms 3 times before getting to his "regular" classroom in the AM and twice before pick up in the PM, as the number of kids increased/decreased. They do this so they can have the min. number of staff members on duty at these times. But for the kids it means being hearded to various spaces and handling way too many transitions between caregivers. And honestly, the more caregivers they see each day the higher the possibility that one of them is going to be someone you or they don't click with.

I second listening to tone of voice and children-staff interactions. That tells you a lot. Also try to watch how staff deals with crying children at drop off time. At some point your child will go through separation anxiety stage and that will be your child. I loved that our preschool would hold a crying child until they were calm and ready to pay, but I've seen some places that pretty much ignored crying children.
post #12 of 14
This is great advice. I would ask also about staff turnover. A happy place should be able to hold onto its staff. And, I would ask about the rules for dropping in. I wouldn't be comfortable unless I was allowed to drop by anytime, unannounced.
post #13 of 14
I think the best way to get the feel you are talking about is just to hang out in the rooms for awhile, try to spend more than the couple "show" minutes they might have you hang there so the room starts feeling more like it normally does. Also, just get in a good conversation about anything with the owner/workers. They will often reveal their thoughts on subjects like that a lot more clearly when just doing general chit chat than when you ask direct questions about how they discipline. Not that it is bad to ask those questions, but a lot of folks tend to give you pretty rote responses which I didn't find all that helpful in getting the feel of a place. Get them talking about their kids or why/how they got into childcare and you are likely to get a feel for how they operate. I also liked asking them for their best piece of advice for a new mom (since I will be one very soon), that gave me some interesting insights too.
post #14 of 14
Thread Starter 
Lots of great advice, thanks! Here are a couple of the questions I've asked recently too:
How do you select the caregivers that you hire? How do you (or the caregivers) respond to a child that is crying? Do the teachers move up in age groups with their classes? How frequently do children change rooms/teachers? I also pay close attention to how warm, nurturing, and responsive the caregivers seem to be and how they respond to children's expression of emotions, especially sadness/crying and anger.
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