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How to Research a Day Care: Ask These Important Questions

How to Research a Day Care: Ask These Important Questions

When researching a day care, it’s important to make sure you’re comfortable with the staff, policies, and more. Ask these questions to ensure you make the right choice.

“It can be hard to find a high-quality child care program that supports your child and your family, and the pandemic has made this even more challenging,” says Lynette M. Fraga, Ph.D., CEO of Child Care Aware® of America. “The good news is that there are more than 400 state and local Child Care Resource and Referral agencies across the country, including in the New York metro area, that can provide parents with referrals to local child care providers, information on state licensing requirements, and where to get help paying for child care.”

As part of your day care research, you’ll want to check online reviews, ask friends or family for recommendations, and post in Facebook groups. “Choosing child care is a critically important and highly personal decision,” explains Rachel Robertson, vice president of Learning and Development, at Bright Horizons. “We recommend visiting centers, either virtually or in-person, and hearing from current parents about their experiences at the program.”

Questions to Ask Child Care Providers When Researching a Day Care

Our comprehensive list of questions is designed to help you figure out what feels right to you as you start your own day care research and, eventually, visit potential child care centers. Along with the questions outlined below, you’ll want to ask about cost (typically day care is most expensive for infants, then gets progressively cheaper as the student-to-teacher ratio increases and fewer in-room resources are required). Convenience is another factor: A center near your home or work might be a better option than one across town.

Questions to Ask Day Care Providers About Philosophy of Care

  • What is your teacher-to-student ratio? New York State has specific guidelines that must be met in terms of both the ratio and maximum class size.

  • What is your teaching philosophy? Self-directed or direct instruction?

  • What are the accreditations of your director? Of the center? Two of the most common, and well-regarded, accreditation associations are the National Association for Family Child Care and National Association for the Education of Young Children. “Ask about additional certifications and accreditations that reflect a center’s commitment to even higher quality standards than those recommended by government agencies and regulations,” Robertson recommends.

  • What is the education level of your teachers? The New York City Department of Health has qualification requirements, including required certifications.

  • What do the rooms look like? “The early childhood years are unique, and the classroom environments should be uniquely designed for this joyful stage,” Robertson notes. “Look for furniture that’s appropriately-sized for the youngest of children, carefully selected elements that consider safety, and materials that make the classroom feel less like a mini-elementary school, and more like home. Additionally, there should be soft, clean, cozy places for quiet time, ample space for children to move and explore, and the room to be socially distant when necessary.”

  • Are there any periods during which kids might be unsupervised, such as during naps?

  • How are children toileted? At what age do you encourage toilet-training?

  • How are children grouped? Are there any instances in which children of different ages are grouped together (such as in a playground during drop-off or pickup)?

  • How do you deal with behavior issues? How are children disciplined? How are disagreements or spats between kids addressed?

  • Can caregivers be hired to babysit? Some centers have strict rules about parents and teachers interacting offsite.

Questions to Ask Day Care Providers About Health and Safety

  • What is the center’s immunization / vaccination policy? Robertson also advises families to check whether the child care program regularly confers with any medical experts.

  • How does the center protect against COVID-19? What happens if there is a confirmed case?

  • Are teachers allowed to administer medicine, including pain relief? If so, in what circumstances?

  • If a child becomes ill, how long must the child be kept at home before returning to the center?

  • How often are the toys, art supplies, tables, chairs, and other materials and furniture disinfected?

  • What is the security set-up? If there are cameras, who is monitoring them? How long does the center keep the footage? How are people allowed into the center?

  • What is the hiring process for your staff? How are your teachers screened? Is everyone given background checks?

  • What’s the drop-in or visitation policy? Can you stop by whenever to feed, watch, or interact with your child?

  • How do the teachers communicate? Do you get daily updates via email? Texts throughout the day? “The program you select should welcome all families,” Robertson notes. “Beyond just inclusive practices and policies, the center should proactively engage voices via parent partnership groups, and welcome open, ongoing dialogue via live or virtual events and conversation.”

  • What is the turnover rate among your teachers? What’s the average tenure (amount of time in role)?

  • How often do children get to go outside? Is there an outdoor play structure? Is it loud? Near the road? Visible from the street?

  • Are children ever taken offsite, such as to a neighborhood playground or on a field trip? Do they walk, take public transportation, or travel by van / bus? Make sure to ask about the policy and procedures for field trips.

Questions to Ask Day Care Providers About Snacks, Screens, and Schedules

  • Is food provided? How often? What kind? Are vegetarian options available? How do you address allergies? How do you address other dietary needs/restrictions?

  • If you must provide food for your child, how much do you need to provide (entire meals or just snacks)? Where and how is the food stored?

  • Are children given access to electronic devices? How often? What kinds, and to what end? Some classes might start the day with a movement class on a smartboard, for example, while others might let their kids watch a video in the unstructured time before parent pickup.

  • What are the center’s hours? What happens if you’re late? A center may be open from 7am-7pm, but there may be extra costs associated with dropping off or picking up your child beyond a certain window of time.

  • What does the daily schedule look like? Are older children assigned jobs in the classroom?

  • Is there a weekly learning plan? What holidays are celebrated, and how?

  • Does the day care follow the NYC DOE school calendar? What about snow days?

  • What is the sleep schedule? Are kids allowed to sleep when they’re tired, or is there a specific time for naps?

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Jessica Allen


Jessica Allen writes about food, culture, travel, and New York City, where she lives.

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