This year, as the summer days slowly passed us by and the girls became more and more active and social, Hershey and I realized that keeping Jane and Emma in the house with a nanny or our moms all week long would be detrimental to them. Letting our nanny go was a difficult decision, but it was definitely better for the girls (and our pockets!).
The task of choosing a day care for Jane and Emma was daunting, and I'm asked all of the time now which center the girls go to and how we chose the place that we did. So I figure that there are a lot of other mamas out there with the same task in front of them, fretting over horror stories of day care centers and trying to figure out WHERE THE HECK DO I EVEN BEGIN!? Here's how we tackled the job.
1. We went by word-of-mouth. We talked to people and took recommendations and called everyone who we were referred to. If someone likes a place enough to refer them to you, chances are good they are doing something RIGHT.
2. We narrowed down our choices based on location and levels of care, and then we set up 4 interviews - one in-home care, one day care attached to a church, one early learning center, and one Montessori school.
3. Because of the way that our summer was going, we wanted to make our decision before leaving to go on vacation, so we did all 4 tours in one week (one per day), and we took the girls with us to get their reactions. Most of the appointments were done about an hour before lunch, so that the girls weren't hungry or tired when we went.
4. I created a list of questions that I really wanted answered. Some of those questions were things like:
- Do you have insurance?
- Do you provide breakfast? Lunch? Snacks?
- How do you handle nap time?
- What do you do if the kids won't sleep during nap time?
- How do you handle discipline?
- What are your hours?
- What would we need to supply?
- What is the teacher/child ratio?
- Do you accept payment on the books or off?
- Do you work with a curriculum?
- Will you allow us to have summers off and still hold our childrens' spots?
- Do we pay for every day of every week, even if the children are sick or we are home or have vacation time?
- Will Jane and Emma be in the same room?
- Will the same people be caring for the girls daily?
- What is your teacher turnover rate?
- What are the age groupings? If there are classes, how long will the girls stay in each class?
- What do the kids do on rainy days?
- Is there a playground?
- What is your TV policy?
This seems like an exhaustive list, but I created a spreadsheet and it REALLY helped me be able to break it all down and compare everything.
5. When we went to the appointments, we watched how the staff interacted with Jane and Emma, how the children were interacting with each other, and how Jane and Emma reacted in each place. We took careful note of the surroundings, and the toys that were available. If the girls were timid, it was a red flag for us. They are pretty shy at the beginning of any meeting, but the places that they felt most comfortable ended up being our top contenders.
6. We further narrowed it down by thinking about what was most important to us. Our children are EXTREMELY active, and very intelligent. So social interaction and intellectual stimulation were top on our list of priorities. The next most important point was proximity. I could not reconcile with being 35 minutes away from my children in case something happened (which, with kids, almost always inevitably does). We also wanted them to be in a place where they could spend a few years, really get to know the staff and the other kids, and feel comfortable there. It is so incredibly difficult to leave a crying baby, so we wanted to choose a place that was a "long-run" kind of place.
Ultimately we ended up going with the early learning center. We were impressed with their curriculum, we know that Jane and Emma will be there all of the way until they enter the public education system in our town (we actually chose our town based on the great school systems, as well as the fact that we are as country as it gets for the county in which we live!), I don't have to pack breakfasts, lunches, and snacks every day, and they are only a quick 10 minute ride from work. We couldn't be happier with the staff, and the activities that the girls get to do are AMAZING! They come home with artwork almost weekly, and in November, they are participating in food drives, make-a-wish drives, and they are going to be creating artwork for elderly and sick people. The staff is supportive, understanding, and filled with mommies who get what it means to BE A MOMMY. The director of the center even has a set of her own twins, so she totally gets me. I really couldn't ask for anything more.
I am not going to lie to you, the first few weeks have been really difficult. The girls cried every morning when we dropped them off, and it took them a while to get into a napping routine. They are still home with the Grandma Squad two days a week, so I think that throws them off a bit, too. But the teachers have been so sweet and accommodating, and even though I call EVERY DAY, they always answer the phone, calm my nerves, and assure me that the girls are doing GREAT. Jane and Emma are so happy when we pick them up from school, and they sleep so soundly those nights!
And last week, the crying stopped, and Janey actually said, "BYE BYE!" and turned and ran to play with one of her teachers. And Hershey and I breathed a sigh of relief and high-fived on our way out the door.
I hope that this helps those of you who are getting ready to navigate the scary and often murky child care waters. Try to go with your gut - for us, that's what really worked best. When it's right, everything will just click. And if you EVER get the sense that something is wrong, don't be afraid to pipe up and ask questions. I've been all OVER this Enterovirus D68 stuff. The poor center director has fielded about 23 emails from me asking about their hand washing and toy cleaning procedures, all of which she answered patiently and graciously.
How are you planning to embark on this difficult decision? Are you excited? Nervous? I'd love to hear from you!
Good luck, and happy hump day! xoxo