Signing your child up for daycare is one of the first important tasks you will do for your child as part of life outside of the home. Studies show that putting your child into a high-quality daycare early will provide social and academic benefits well into their high school years. This is a decision you do not want to take lightly.
If you are signing your child up for daycare in Chicago, you will want to consider several factors. By taking a holistic approach to your daycare decision, you should be able to find one that is the perfect fit for you and your family. Here are five tips for signing a child up for daycare in Chicago.
1. Start looking early
If you wonder when is the best time to start looking for an appropriate daycare for your child, the short response is: it is never too early. Often, it makes sense to sign your child up for daycare even before birth. It isn’t necessarily essential that you sign your child up while still in the womb, especially if you are planning on sending them a little later in life, but it often doesn’t hurt.
Chicago is a very big city and, even with many daycare options, there are also many other kids who need daycare. Some of the best daycare centers may have waiting lists you need to navigate before you are accepted. This is especially true for very young children because the ratio of babies to daycare staff has to be very small.
Don’t get too nervous if you are about to have a baby or have just had one. Plenty of great daycare centers will accept children a few months, weeks, or even days from now. If you can though, try not to wait until the last minute. The earlier you start looking, the more choices you will have.
2. Location, location, location
Yes, daycare is about keeping your child happy, healthy and safe. It is also about you and your entire family. So picking a daycare in a convenient location is critical. Before signing up for a daycare, you should have an entire average week planned. What time will you be dropping off your child? Who will do that? When and by whom will they be picked up? Answering these questions is key to picking the ideal location.
You want to make sure the location makes sense in relation to your home, your work, and the home and work of anyone else who may be involved in drop-off or pickup. You may think now that signing your child up for great daycare in an inconvenient location is no big deal but after a few weeks, months, or even years, it will wear on you.
This isn’t to say that you should settle for a mediocre daycare down the street rather than signup with a better one that will add an extra 10 minutes to your commute. Just make sure you really think about how the location will affect your family’s day so you can make the right choice.
3. Get a feel for the learning/play ratio
There isn’t a single right answer to what the balance of learning to play should be at daycare. Much of that should be based on your personal feelings and desires. However, what you do need to make sure of is that you are comfortable with whatever the balance is.
You want your child to have both teacher-led instruction and free play in daycare as they get older. Some daycare centers favor one of these pillars more than the other while others balance them fairly evenly. Make sure you understand what the balance is and that you are comfortable with it before you sign up.
4. Ask questions before signing up
You should ask many questions before you sign up for a daycare. One reason you want to do this is to make sure you get a comprehensive understanding of what the daycare is all about and how they operate. There can never be too many questions when it involves your child’s health, safety, and development.
The other reason you want to ask a lot of questions is to see how the daycare staff respond. If they have clear, well thought out and transparent answers to your questions, you are probably in good hands. If they are evasive or don’t seem to have a policy that dictates the answers, you should be wary. Questions you should ask can pertain to such factors as:
- Child to teacher ratio
- Teacher education requirements
- Lunch and snack nutrition
- Sign in and out procedures
- Before care and aftercare costs
- Days per week minimums
- Licensing and accreditation
5. Learn the different types of payment options providers may offer
Childcare costs money, often a lot of money. You need to determine upfront how much money and how you are allowed to pay for services. What forms of payment does the daycare accept? Daycares should accept most standard forms of payment. If a daycare for some reason only accepts cash, be wary because that may mean they are not accredited by the state.
Also, you want to know how often your bill will be due and if there are any discounts. Many daycare centers bill month-to-month; others may charge by the semester or even demand the whole year at once. If you have more than one child in daycare, you may get a discount so you want to ask about that, too.
Signing your child up for daycare is an important process and one that should be very thoroughly researched. It doesn’t have to be a difficult process. Plan how you want to attack the situation, keep the tips above in mind, and do a good job researching all the daycares near you to determine if they fit your criteria. If you do this, you will find the daycare that is right for your family.
Sandra Chiu works as Director at LadyBug & Friends Daycare and Preschool.