9 Red Flags to Watch Out for on Your Daycare Tour
You’re on the hunt for the greatest daycare that ever existed and now that you’ve narrowed down your list to the handful of places you feel best about, it’s time to visit to see if they’re as good as they seem on paper.
When you first step in the door, it may feel overwhelming. Give youself enough time to take it all in. “Spend at least one hour observing the facility, paying careful attention to interactions between adults and children,” says Rachel Robertson, Vice President for Education and Development at Bright Horizons.
Take your time to pay attention and don’t feel rushed. However, make sure you’re striking the right balance between thorough and dawdling: daycare centers are busy, bustling places, and a caregiver taking time out of their day to conduct a tour still has other tasks to handle. You can always email additional questions after the tour is over.
Should you bring your child with you? It depends on your preference — and if your child is actually born. Some daycares have six-month or year-long wait lists, so you may be touring daycares while pregnant. While some experts recommend leaving them at home so you can focus on the task at hand, others think it’s important to see how the staff interacts with your child, as well as your child’s reaction to the environment. Do what makes the most sense for your situation, and know you can always come back for a second visit if you need to.
Some things will be obvious the minute you step in the door but others won’t. Here are red flags to keep in mind as you tour any daycare
Since this visit is such a crucial part of the decision-making process, you’ll probably already have your antennae way up. Be especially wary (maybe, run!) if you notice any of the following:
Too many kids. Does it seem like there aren’t enough adults for all the children in the space? Does it feel a little too Lord of the Flies in there? They could be skirting childcare regulations or be massively understaffed. The laws vary by state from about four children to one caregiver to six children to one caregiver. (To find the legal child care ratios for where you live, Google “legal daycare ratio [insert your state here].”)
It’s unclean or unsafe. Does the overall environment or toys feel shabby or dirty? Maybe the toys aren’t age-appropriate or nothing looks child-proofed. Or you notice that they don’t wipe down surfaces after the children have eaten or don’t wash their hands after diaper changes.
Children seem bored or unhappy. Maybe there’s little to no interaction between the caregivers and kids, or the interaction you do witness doesn’t feel warm or engaging. Or the environment isn’t age-appropriate and the activities or games aren’t stimulating.
Caregivers don’t seem caring. Are they ignoring the kids, leaving children unattended or seem like they’re too harsh in their disciplinary tactics?
High employee turnover. This could be a sign that the caregivers aren’t being treated well or the overall environment isn’t one that encourages good people to stay. If some of the caregivers have been there for more than three years, that’s a great sign.
The daycare isn’t licensed or it’s expired. Well, that’s illegal. To find this out, ask the daycare for their license number and then do a little detective work online. Find the database of licensed childcare facilities for your state on a government website, which varies by state. It’s usually found on the Department of Social Services website or the Office of Children and Family services.
The caregivers/daycare director gives you a bad vibe. Perhaps they skirt answering your questions, don’t seem forthright about the daycare’s policies or procedures, or seem sort of okay but still give you a bad feeling. Trust your gut.
They won’t provide references or won’t let you drop by the daycare unannounced. This could be a sign that they’re hiding something.
The director is difficult to get a hold of, or generally slow in getting back to your emails or phone calls. This could be the beginning of a frustrating relationship, one where you don’t feel prioritized or heard.
Karell Roxas is a writer and editor with a passion for creating informative, innovative, and smart content for women. She received her B.F.A in Writing from Pratt Institute and currently lives in the uncool part of Brooklyn with her husband Dave and adorable son Olli.