How to Choose a Childcare Center
Our expert this month is Norma Schwartz. Norma has worked with children 0-5 for over fifteen years. She’s visited preschools across the United States on behalf of U.S. Congress and state universities and led over 300 action-packed circle time lessons as a Head Start teacher. Norma currently works as one of the co-founders of the Carepass app, which helps parents quickly access and compare licensed childcare options that fit their budget and their child’s needs.
At a Glance
Norma helps us break down the different childcare options available to parents, what high-quality looks like (and it’s not just a clean facility), and offers suggestions on how to pick the best center for your family.
Choosing the Best Kind of Care for Your Family
There are lots of different options available to us as a parent when it comes to childcare options.
- Family Childcare Homes are located in private residences. They usually have a low number of children of mixed ages in a smaller setting. Your child will likely spend the day with children younger and older than your child. Usually, these centers have that homey feel to them, and offer activities to develop every child’s skillset.
- Private Childcare Centers are schools run by either independent, franchise, or nonprofit organizations. These centers usually serve more children in a larger setting, often a commercial space with multiple classrooms separated by ages.
- Head Start / Early Head Start is a free childcare program for eligible children from birth through 5 years of age. You will find Head Start programs in local Miami-Dade County public schools, private childcare centers, or standalone facilities.
- Head Start serves children who are 3 to 5 years old by September 1.
- Early Head Start serves children from birth until they are three years old, as well as expectant mothers. See if you qualify for Head Start here.
- Florida’s Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program or VPK is a free educational program that prepares 4-year-olds for kindergarten and beyond. Children must live in Florida and be four on or before September 1 of the school year they enroll. These programs are found in Miami-Dade County public schools and private childcare centers and consist of 3 hours of instruction a day. Sign your child up for VPK here.
What to Look for when Touring a Center
When you are identifying quality centers, your focus should be both on the environment and on the teachers and staff that will be responsible for your child, as they will be a large part of a child’s day-to-day life.
Here are a few questions you can ask when you tour a childcare center:
- What training have the teachers attended beyond the required yearly Department of Children and Families training? The more training a center’s staff have, the better they are able to use best practices with your child.
- Is the center accredited? Accredited (NAEYC/APPLE) centers abide by standards that are higher than what is required by law. Not being an accredited center should not be a deal-breaker, but it’s a definite added layer of quality.
- What programs/partnerships does the childcare provider participate in in the community to improve their quality? (Remember, no one is perfect!) A high-quality center will always want to be up to date with the latest early childhood development best practices. Be sure to verify what you are told online.
Finally, when your tour is complete, search licensing reports and check if the childcare center has had any violations – if so, you should ask the childcare administrator what steps they took to correct the violations.
Identifying Centers that Prepare Children for Kindergarten
Early learning begins from birth. The first five years of a child’s life are crucial, as their brains are capturing data and forming their algorithms faster than any computer processor out there. Every moment is a “getting ready for kindergarten” moment.
Parents should look for a childcare program that has a well-planned curriculum that gives your child enough opportunities to explore and build their skills. A really good sign is when you walk into a childcare center and there is a lot of language all around. You should hear both the teacher and the children talking, singing, babbling, and cooing.
Books, books everywhere! Even if your baby is only six weeks old, they should have access to books, and if they look like they’ve been around the block a few times, even better! That means those children are accessing and exploring those books.
How to Keep Costs Down and Still Find a Nurturing Environment
When we talk about early education being very expensive for parents, this is what it means, on average: in the State of Florida childcare for an infant (less than a year old) costs $9,312 a year. To give you an idea of what that means compared to other tuition costs, the current tuition to attend a public four-year university comes in at around $6,000 per year.
My advice is to speak to the childcare center that you are considering. Don’t be embarrassed to ask if there are any discounts, scholarships, or aid available. Most childcare centers are used to answering these questions and guiding parents on how to access different types of financial help provided by state subsidies, or they may even offer payment plans.
Locally, some childcare centers are recognizing that parents have non-conventional work hours or have a flexible schedule and are now offering “drop-in” rates where you don’t have to pay the full tuition and only pay for the days you do need.
You can also find many helpful resources on your local Early Learning Coalition website.
Always remember that once you have narrowed your childcare choices based on the quality indicators, take your overall gut feeling into account. Parents are the experts of their own children, and you know your child best.
About the Author
Norma Schwartz is a mom of two, a co-founder of the Carepass licensed childcare finder app, and has over 15 years of experience as a teacher, research analyst, coach, professional development specialist, and advocate in the Early Childhood Field. Norma currently serves as Early Childhood Chair on the Miami Dade County Council PTA/PTSA board and Public Policy and Advocacy team for The Florida Association for the Education of Young Children(FLAEYC). Norma is committed to partnering with various organizations within the early childhood community to ensure all children and families have an opportunity to succeed.