Are you pregnant and planning to return to work after your maternity leave ends? If this is your first experience with infant care, take a look at what you need to know about daycare, early learning, and your child.
Should You Wait to Visit Daycare Centers?
More specifically, should you wait until after you give birth or you're ready to return to work to visit child care centers? While there's no rule for timing the selection process, you should think about:
Your maternity leave. When do you need to return to work? You may need to start visiting daycare centers now to make sure you can return to your job on time. If you wait until your baby arrives, you may not find a center that works for your family's needs within the time frame of maternity leave.
The number of centers you want to visit. How many centers do you want to visit? The more daycares you consider, the longer the process will take. This means you may need to start your search while you're still pregnant.
Waiting lists. Does the daycare have a waiting list for the infant room? Licensed centers maintain staff-to-child ratios. The acceptable ratio for infant rooms (under 12-months) is two trained adults for six to eight babies, according to the U.S. Administration for Children and Families. This low ratio can create waiting lists in some centers.
If your top pick center does have a waiting list, ask the director how many other families are ahead of you and how quickly the list moves. It's possible your number one choice won't have an available spot until after your maternity leave is over. This situation requires you to search for other centers. An early start gives you the time necessary to find plenty of alternatives.
What Benefits Does the Center Have for Your Infant?
After you decide when to start searching for a daycare, it's time to take the next step and visit each program. You want the best for your infant—and this means you need to know how each potential daycare center can help them to grow, learn, and develop. As you tour schools, look for a center with qualified caregivers. The infant teachers should have an educational and experiential background in child development, education, or a similar area.
Along with the caregivers, the program should have a quality curriculum. While infants need plenty of sleep and free play time, the educator/school should have a curriculum that includes age and developmentally appropriate learning opportunities. This could include gross and fine motor activities, story-time, and sensory explorations.