Infants benefit from being cared for by high-quality professionals, but it isn’t always easy for parents to tell if an infant/toddler care provider is high or low quality. Research shows, that in general, the quality of care provided in infant-toddler day care centers tends to be higher than when a person cares for your child in their home or yours. If you are considering a day care center for your infant, make sure to visit and observe the teachers (they may call themselves caregivers, but we refer to them as teachers).
The Basics: The infant-toddler care center should be licensed by the NYC Health Department. It is best if the teacher has a bachelor’s degree and/or a certificate in early childhood education. The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends one teacher for every three infants, no more than eight infants participating in total and infants should have the same teacher or teachers daily. At the center look for safety straps on high chairs, changing tables, and strollers; make sure all electrical outlets are covered and loose wires and cords are kept out of baby’s reach. Additionally, toys should be large enough not to be a choking hazard. Teachers should never leave children alone, even during naps, and infants must never be allowed to feed themselves. Parents should be able to enter the center at any time.
Signs of a Higher Quality Child Care Center
Parent-Teacher Communication: Teachers and parents should be able to communicate daily, either in-person or through notes, texts, or emails. Teachers and parents should update each other continuously on any changes to the baby’s schedule or habits in feeding, toileting, or sleep. If the family speaks a language other than English at home, teachers should try to support this when they can. Most importantly, parents should trust that the teacher will always act in their child’s best interest.
Activities: Teachers should talk to the infants in their care, even before their charges are able to reply. They should encourage infants to babble and respond as if they are having a conversation. Once infants start to speak, teachers should help babies grow their vocabulary by naming items they see and actions they are participating in. Look for infants spending lots of time on the floor playing, moving and engaged. A high-quality center will offer toys, music, and a carpeted space on the floor for the children to play.
Routines: The day at the center should be structured with consistent daily routines. Predictability will make your child feel more secure, less anxious about separating from you, and more open to learning.
A Happy Environment: Look for teachers enjoying themselves at work, not appearing stressed out or bored. Children should be happy to see their teacher each day. Keep in mind, though, you cannot judge how your child feels about the teacher at first because the transition from home to child care can be very difficult for some infants. Some children may cry daily, including, when they wake up from a nap at the center, return to child care after some time away (like Monday morning), or at morning drop off when parents say goodbye. However, over time, babies will get familiar with their teacher, and at that point, you should be able to judge whether your child is happy to see the teacher each day. Your child should also be happy to see the other children who are enrolled in that center.
Signs of a Lower Quality Child Care Center:
Television or videos being used to engage and stimulate the children instead of organized or free playtime.
Teachers that don’t notice or respond when infants cry or attempt to get attention in a different way.
Infants spending a long time strapped into a high chair, bouncy seat or laying in a crib.