25 Questions To Ask When Choosing a Daycare

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It can seem like an impossible task, choosing a daycare to care for your precious little one. There are so many “what ifs” that flash through your mind. However, by being well-informed about your choices of daycare, you can ease that worry tremendously. Read on for the top 20 questions used by parents when choosing a daycare.

#1 – What is your sick policy?

This is a very important question because we all know that at one time or another, our child will catch a cold or flu and need to stay home. At a larger daycare center, they would likely have fairly set policies regarding this, whereas at a home daycare, sometimes there is a bit more flexibility. Whichever type of daycare you are choosing, finding out their sick policy is an important step.

#2 – What is the caregiver to child ratio?

Some daycare centers have specific childcare rooms based on the children’s ages, such as an infant room for babies 0-1 year of age, then a toddler room for children 1-3, a preschool room for children 4-6, and finally a school-age room for those kids who are attending regular school. In those particular centers, there would be a different ratio of caregiver to child depending on your child’s age. If your baby is in the infant room, they would have a lower ratio, such as 1 trained adult for 3-4 children. More information about these ratios can be found on the ChildCare.gov website. 

In a home daycare situation, the ratio is slightly different, because it is often only one person caring for all of the children. Each state has different policies surrounding home daycares, but this website can provide some general information. 

#3 – How do you approach discipline?

This is a very important question to ask, and it can sometimes be a difficult or awkward conversation, but it needs to be addressed. You want to know their approach to discipline or any behavioral problems that may occur. These are children we’re talking about, it’s their job to test boundaries and act up at times, so we need to know we are leaving our kids with someone who understands that and helps them to work through difficult moments in a way that aligns with your parenting approach.

When we first started our little guy at a home daycare, we were first-time parents, and a lot of the questions listed here were ones that we just hadn’t thought of. Discipline was unfortunately one of them. The home daycare seemed perfect, the lady was lovely at first, however our son had a hard time settling there and cried a lot the first couple of days. He also got very attached to his Bicky (baby blanket) and would cry when it was not in sight. At only 13 months old, I didn’t see this as particularly abnormal behaviour, he was simply adjusting to his new routine. However, this daycare provider found it very frustrating, would not comfort him, wanted the Bicky to be left at home, and said if he wasn’t settled by Friday (in 2 days time), then he couldn’t return. Needless to say, our parenting style did not align at all with her discipline approach, and he never returned. 

#4 – What types of meals and snacks do you serve?

Just like all parents have different opinions about what to feed their children, so too do different daycares. If you are looking at larger childcare centres, especially ones that are licensed, they are mandated to follow the food and drink guidelines provided by the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). This is good because you are ensured that your child will be fed healthy food with a variety of healthy options. 

In a home daycare setting, this will be an important subject to discuss with the caregiver, to make sure they are able to provide the right types of food for your child. The home daycare provider that we chose for our second child was upfront about what she served, and it was a nice balance of healthy fruits and veg with kid-friendly options like chicken strips or sandwiches. It was 100% completely healthy all day every day, but it was a good balance, and I was happy with that. If you are very particular about what your child eats and the daycare does not serve that type of food, you can always inquire about sending your own food from home.

#5 – Are you licensed?

Most times, home daycare will not be licensed, although some are. Check your state’s requirements for home daycares before you begin your search, if licensing is important. For us, the unlicensed home daycare turned out to be amazing, whereas the licensed one was a dismal failure. Licensing doesn’t always make or break a daycare. There are other things that we felt were more important when choosing a home daycare – cleanliness, experience of the provider, her approach to discipline and comfort, and our child’s connection with them.

Larger daycare centers, especially those funded through the state, will again require stricter adherence to licensing requirements for that state. All states have requirements for licensed centers, but not all centers are licensed. With larger organizations like this, we tend to feel that licensing would be an important requirement in order to ensure standards are kept up for the children.

#6 – Do you offer full-time and part-time enrollment? 

It is nice to know what your enrollment options are when choosing a daycare, because your work schedules may allow you to choose how many days you send your child to daycare or how many hours they spend there each day. Or, perhaps for part of the year, you’re at home and do not require daycare. If you know this could be the case for you and your family, then you will want to know what their policy is for this type of thing. Some daycares require you to commit to a certain number of days, such as 5 full days Monday to Friday. Others will allow you to sign up for either a few full days throughout the week, or half days each day of the week.

#7 – What are your cleaning/sanitizing practices?

Considering the world has been in the throes of a global pandemic for the past year and a half, it is more important than ever that you inquire about the cleaning and sanitation practices at any daycare. In larger centers especially, where there is an increase in the number of people coming and going each day, you will want to know how they clean and sanitize throughout the day, as well as their deep cleaning practices once the center is closed each day. How do they clean the toys throughout the day? What if a child chews on a toy? Every state would have specific policies regarding how to clean the facilities, such as this guide from Wisconin Department of Children and Families.

These questions are just as important at smaller home daycares, if not more so, because they are not as strictly monitored by outside agencies as larger daycares. Upon visiting the home for the first time, you should get a fairly good sense of their overall approach to cleanliness, and you will know if they will be on top of keeping things clean and sanitized. Along with asking about their specific cleaning practices, also use your powers of observation to check the home out for yourself.

#8 – What is your daily schedule like?

It is nice to know what your busy little bee will be up to during the day, and it is important that you are aware of what the daily schedule looks like. Do they incorporate any early preschool activities to help children explore and learn and build their emerging skills? Do they teach preschoolers to read? Do they offer opportunities for music, art, and imaginary play? All of these things will help you to know what your child’s day will be like and what they will be getting exposed to as they grow and learn.

Another part of the daily schedule that you could inquire about is whether or not they ever take the children on field trips. This can cause some parents worry, as they wonder how the supervision will work, how they will be transported, and how they will ensure the children’s safety. But, field trips are a wonderful way to get the kids out into the community and exploring new things. The home daycare we chose for our second child brought the little group of toddlers to a bookstore every week for storytime and play afterwards. She enrolled all of them in preschool cooking classes when they were old enough, and it was never summertime without a visit to the local splash pad!

#9 – What qualifications do you and your staff have?

If you are looking at a larger daycare center, the staff are usually required to have certain training, such as a college degree for directors, and a high school diploma and some college training for teachers. It varies by state, so you would want to inquire about the qualifications mandated in your state.

In a home daycare, there is rarely much requirement for training or education, but this may be something that some daycare providers can offer. If they don’t have specific training, perhaps they have a significant number of years working as a home daycare provider, which is often just as important as educational training. Find out what experience and qualifications the staff have at the daycare, and make sure you are comfortable with that.

#10 – Are you and your employees trained in First Aid/CPR?

This is an absolute must in our books, and it’s pretty standard in most daycare settings now. The staff need to be trained in First Aid/CPR, and it is beneficial for them to also be trained in how to treat severe anaphylactic allergic reactions and other medical emergencies. Some large daycare centers also have such devices as an AED (Automatic External Defibrillator), although these are more commonly found in schools. If it is something your daycare center has, then you want to know that the staff is trained on how to use it.

You will also want to ask how often the staff is recertified in First Aid and CPR, because this type of training is often being updated, and as such the certification is only typically valid for two years. Are their certifications up to date? This is something you want to ask.

#11 – Can my child bring food from home, or can you accommodate dietary restrictions/requirements?

If your child has certain dietary requirements that need to be adhered to, or if you are particular about what foods your child eats, then you will want to inquire about how flexible their food program is and whether you can bring your own food from home. This will often be dependent on the center’s rules around external food being brought in and what allergies are there. If you require a specific dietary need, such as dairy-free, gluten-free, or vegetarian, you can also ask to see if they can accommodate that.

In a home daycare, it would probably be quite simple to send your own food from home or come to an arrangement with the daycare provider. As they are caring for a smaller number of kids, sometimes the dietary needs are easier to meet. Just be open and up front when you are checking out the daycare, and see what they can do to support you and your child.

#12 – What is your communication policy?

Some parents like to know that they can drop in during the day and check on their child when they want to. Others prefer centers that have video cameras set up in the rooms so they can login and virtually see their child as they go about their day. I recall a friend of mine had their child at this type of daycare, and she loved being able to log on and see how her little guy was doing each day. Some centers prefer that you don’t pop in during the day, as this can sometimes lead to upset for the child when the parent leaves again, and subsequent upset for other kids in the center who miss their parents too.

You will also want to know how they communicate about your child’s day; do they send home daily updates? Will they text or call you? Do they send weekly reports? Or, is it just on a need-to-know basis that they reach out to you? You will want to know what their policies are so that you aren’t disappointed or frustrated waiting to hear about your child. 

#13 – How do you comfort kids who are hurt, sick, or upset?

I keep thinking about our first home daycare provider who told me that she was too busy with the other children and could not spare the time to comfort my son when he was upset. That blew my mind. Now, that is not to say that I thought she should be spending the whole time with him every day, but in the first few days as he is trying to adapt, providing a little extra love and comfort could have gone a long way. The next time we were looking for a daycare, this was one of the first questions I asked.

You want to inquire about the daycare’s policy around how they comfort and treat a child who is hurt, sick, or upset. At what point is a child sent home if they are ill? What do they do with children who have hurt themselves? What warrants a phone call to the parent? What if they are just feeling upset, how does the staff comfort them?

#14 – Do the kids get outside during the day?

This might seem like a silly question because it should be a given that the children get outside during the day. But, it is still something that you want to find out about. Are the kids out for long periods at a time, or do they go out in short bursts throughout the day. One of the daycare facilities that our son attended spent most of the day outside, which my son absolutely loved. But, it also meant I had to make sure I sent him with proper clothing, hat, sunscreen, and footwear. Knowing ahead of time how long they will be outside and how often can help you to get prepared.

Some daycare centers get the children out for the mere minimum that is required, which doesn’t always amount to a whole lot. It might be a half hour in the morning, some time at lunch, and a half hour in the afternoon. Depending on what you are looking for, this may be a deal-breaker for you.

#15 – What is your policy for late pick-up or early drop-off?

Sometimes as parents, we run late when it’s time to pick up our child. Things happen, weather happens, traffic is unpredictable, and at times we find ourselves showing up several minutes late at the daycare. For some daycares, this is a strict policy where you are charged for every minute that you are late. For others, they offer a flexible pick up arrangement up until a certain time. At home daycares, the provider may need to stick to certain times due to their own family commitments, so they may require that you pay extra if you’re going to be late. 

You may be a shift worker who has to drop your baby off earlier than most due to an early shift start; you will want to know what is the earliest time that you can drop off your child. Inquiring about a daycare’s late pick-up or early drop-off policies can give you peace of mind knowing that it can accommodate your family’s schedule. 

#16 – Do you have references I can contact?

This is especially important if you are looking around at home daycares. You want to be able to speak to a few families who have had their children at that daycare, to find out what their overall feelings were about the center, what benefits they saw, and what drawbacks or problems they encountered while their child was in attendance there. 

At large daycare centers, you may not be able to request specific references for the workers or director, but you can always seek out reviews of the center. Check it out through former customers, look it up on the Better Business Bureau website, or ask other friends who have their children in daycare.

#17 – What are your rates?

You need to know what this will cost you each month! You want to find out what the center’s regular rates are per day for them to care for your child, and you also want to find out if there are any hidden costs that you should be aware of, such as early drop off or late pick-up fees. There may also be different charges depending on the age of your child; usually the younger the child, the more expensive the rate will be.

The search for affordable and reliable childcare is a struggle that many parents face today, and the search can be overwhelming and daunting at first. While you don’t want to select a daycare solely based on its rate, you do want to consider what you can afford. 

#18 – What are your policies around vacation time and summer/holiday hours?

Some daycare centers require you to pay for full-time days Monday through Friday, and they do not reimburse missed days. This is something you will want to know and plan for when checking out a daycare. If you want to book a week or longer off in the summertime, do they hold your spot? Do you have to pay for the missed days? If you book far enough in advance, do they cut you a break? This makes a big difference when planning and budgeting for your daycare costs.

For me, as a school teacher, I wanted to find a daycare that would not charge me for the summer months when I was able to be home with my children. However, that is awfully hard to find, especially if you’re looking at home daycares. You are their source of income, so when you take off two months, they lose that income. Luckily, we found a wonderful home daycare that was also understanding of my predicament and only charged me for 2 days a week throughout the summer, regardless if my daughter attended or not. She was more than welcome to attend, but if I wanted to keep her home, I still paid for the 2 days. To me, this was a very fair compromise.

#19 – What is your approach to potty training?

Every daycare center will have a slightly different approach to potty training, and you want to make sure that their approach is similar to yours, in order to avoid confusing your little one. Some centers follow a very specific approach that involves introducing your toddler to the potty and having them sit on it periodically throughout the day, building their confidence and understanding. Other centers prefer that you deal with the potty training at home, and send your child in diapers or pull-ups until they are fully potty trained.

At home daycare centers, there will likely be some flexibility in terms of what approach they use, and often the caregivers will work with you to develop a plan that will support your child in their potty training journey. Find out what they do to help your toddler transition from diapers to potty successfully and with minimal stress.

#20 – How do you handle naps?

Naps can be tricky because every child is on a slightly different schedule. You will want to ask about how the center handles naps and how they ensure that your little one gets the rest they need throughout the days. Children require different amounts of sleep depending on their age, but all children require sufficient sleep for proper development. The Sleep Foundation suggests that toddlers between the ages of 1 and 2 years old should be getting between 11 and 14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. If your child typically sleeps from 7:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m., you want to make sure they’re making up the last few hours in naps during the day.

Sometimes it can get tricky if you have a child that either likes to sleep a lot or one that rarely takes naps. We had one of each, and both presented their own set of problems at daycare. Our son loved his naps twice a day until he was at least 5 years old, and often required more sleep than the other kids at daycare, thus needing a quiet space to rest away from noise. Our daughter, on the other hand, gave up naps very early, which posed a problem when it was nap time for the rest of the kids. She learned how to play quietly and not to wake the others until nap time was finished.

#21 – Who else lives in your household? (Home daycares)

This question pertains to home daycares only, but it is an important question to ask if you are considering one. You will want to know who else lives in the house and whether they will be around the children or not. Spouses, older children, friends, and relatives are all people that could come into the home, and you will want to know how that works and whether they will be around your child or not. It’s not that you want to be untrusting of them, but in this day and age, it’s important to be aware of who your child interacts with.

#22 – Does all staff have police checks completed?

This is something that is very important in both the larger daycare centers and small home daycares. You want to ensure that the people who are working with your child(ren) have had a sufficient background check done that includes a criminal record check. There are various levels of background checks that can be done, but because they are working with minors, you want to make sure that they are screened under the Vulnerable Sector as well.

Typically, in the United States, licensed daycare centers require their employees to undergo a background check that includes a fingerprint check, sex offender registry check, and a state-based criminal history check. If the center does not provide such things, check your state requirements, and possibly continue your search elsewhere for a daycare that does.

#23 – Do you have pets? (Home daycares)

This is a little consideration for most people, but sometimes it is a large consideration if you or your child has allergies to specific pets or is nervous or scared around specific pets. Some children are very afraid of large dogs, so choosing a daycare that does not have large dogs would be important. This is primarily only for home daycares, as larger centers do not typically have pets, and if they do they’re usually things like fish or hamsters. Either way, find out if the home daycare you’re looking at has any pets, and decide if your child would do ok around such pets.

#24 – Are you the only person who will be caring for my child? (Home daycares)

It’s one thing to have family members living in the home, but it is another thing if those family members will be actively helping to care for your child. You want to know specifically who exactly will be looking after your little one each day. Of course, there are times when things come up and your daycare may need to bring in someone to cover for them, but that should be someone that you have met, that you are familiar with, and that has had proper background checks done in the past.

At the daycare our daughter attended, the primary provider had an older daughter who was in her mid-30s, and she often came and helped out and covered for her mother occasionally when needed. We had the chance to meet her ahead of time, I was informed when she would be there, and I knew her background information. You should never be taken by surprise when someone is caring for your child.

#25 – What do you have by means of safety equipment?

Any daycare centre, whether it is a large center or a small home-based center, should have the proper safety equipment in place for your child. They should have a sufficient first aid bag of all of the necessary items that they may need to tend to cuts, scrapes, and other injuries. In some states, there is a specific requirement of what items exactly should be kept in the first aid bag at all times and how often the bag should be inspected and updated.

At a home daycare, you will also want to check what safety precautions they take around the house. Are the electrical outlets covered, is there a fire extinguisher within reach, are there baby gates at stairs and doors where toddlers could get out. Be sure to check and see what safety equipment your daycare provider has.

In conclusion

Being informed and asking the right questions will help tremendously in choosing the right daycare for your little one. Were there any other questions that could be included in this list? Let us know if there is another one that would be helpful for other parents!

Sarah Poirier is an elementary school teacher, freelance writer, and busy mom who is seeking a simpler lifestyle away from the everyday "rat race". Having recently completed a cross-country move, she now lives on her rural oceanfront paradise with her husband and two beautiful, energetic children. As a writer, she is passionate about finding ways to live a healthier and more holistic lifestyle, and she loves sharing helpful tips and tricks she's learned along the way on this parenting adventure!