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Choosing A Day Care Center And Preschool For Your Child

Apr 18, 2008
Day-care centers-which are often called child-care centers, nursery schools, or early learning centers-can be operated by churches, schools, universities, social service agencies, the federal government (Early Head Start and Head Start), independent chains, and employers. Day-care centers care for children of all ages, although most are between ages 3 and 6. A major advantage of daycare centers is that parents don't have to worry about a particular caregiver's illness or vacation because several caregivers share responsibilities.

Preschools provide a more formal structure than day-care centers and emphasize educating children, usually those between the ages of 3 and 5 years. Preschools are usually staffed by teachers with training in early child development. They group the children according to their age and social skills and teach them fundamentals such as letters, numbers, shapes, and colors.

Start your search for a day-care center or preschool by asking other parents, friends, and coworkers about the ones they use. Look through community parent publications and newspaper ads and check the yellow pages under "child care" or "day care" or look up "preschools" under "schools:' Ask your county child-care resources and referral agency for a day-care directory. Once you have narrowed down your search, check with a social services or child-care agency to see if the center has a current license and if there are any complaints, accidents, or closures on file. The National Academy of Early Childhood Programs can give you a free list of accredited centers grouped by state. Contact the National Association for the Education of Young Children for a list of accredited day-care centers in your state. Ask if staff members have Child Development Associate credentials or other early childhood certification. Caregivers and center directors should have basic training and experience in early childhood development. The lead teacher in a preschool program should be trained in early childhood education or child development.

State regulations vary about the number of caregivers needed to adequately care for children in day care, but most experts consider the best ratios to be one caregiver for every three infants, one caregiver for every three to six toddlers, and one caregiver for every seven preschool children. Many programs take only children of a certain age or accept only children who are toilet trained.

In your search for a quality center, visit several and ask if you can check all the areas your child would use. The center should be bright, cheerful, and well ventilated. It should have lots of books, toys, and play equipment, including games, blocks, sand, water, art supplies, and props for make-believe play. All materials should be accessible, clean, safe, well maintained, and appropriate for children of various ages. The center should have a written plan for play and learning activities that include active play, quiet play, nap or rest time, and snacks and meals; ask to see it. Find out whether the children can explore in clean,-safe areas-both indoors and outdoors. Make sure the children are supervised at all times. Also, inspect various rooms and inquire if the children are typically separated by ages.
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