Finding daycare can seem difficult. There are many choices, but so often, they’re full or just not right. Knowing what to look for, when to look, and what to ask can make the process a lot easier. 

In this blog, we’ll offer some insider advice, share some tools you need to make sure you’re working with a great provider, and even teach you a few hints for making sure you have care this fall.

Let’s get started.

When to Start Looking

The brief answer is now. The best daycares fill up quickly.

COVID-19 has changed how daycares do business in many ways. Many offer virtual tours and live online tours. This keeps the children safe and allows you to see a facility from your home or office. 

Many great daycares have wait lists. For parents, this can be stressful. Not knowing that you have care now might seem like a hassle but being on the waitlist is still a good idea. If you’re looking for fall, there’s still time for other families to change plans, move, or decide to go somewhere else. The key will be to find several facilities and get on several waitlists, simply to increase your odds of getting in.

How to Start Looking

The most obvious place to start is with Google or Bing. The major question will be to figure out what conveniently located daycares have the program(s) you need, depending on your child’s or children’s ages. 

When you google daycares, lots of options will pop up. Use the map to narrow it down quickly. Don’t just look for a location near your house; look near work as well and along your commute route. For example, if you commute from Des Plaines to downtown, you pass through several great neighborhoods that have daycares in them. Look at those as well.

Once you’ve found a few possibilities, look at state licensing. This is the bare minimum a daycare needs to have. You can go to Daycare Provider Lookup (https://sunshine.dcfs.illinois.gov/Content/Licensing/Daycare/ProviderLookup.aspx) with the state of Illinois. The licenses are listed by DBA (doing business as) name, so they should be easy to find. You can also use this list to search for daycares by using zip codes, cities, and more, to see who is licensed in your area.

Researching Daycares

Once you’ve put together a list of facilities that seem like they might work, look for websites.

Programs: The most fundamental question the website will answer is, do they offer an age-appropriate program for your child? Look for programs by age that match your needs. If you have more than one child, obviously the daycare needs to provide care for everyone in the appropriate age groups.

Private homes: One question I get often at our facilities is, what about putting a child in a private home? I don’t want to say anything negative about the great providers who’ve opened their homes to children, but there are advantages to using a professional, dedicated facility. 

A facility that’s been built as a daycare is inherently safer. There are no or few staircases, no private bedrooms, and facilities are designed with the idea that children come first. 

Because we aren’t just one or two people, the ratio of teacher to child is usually lower. We have more time to spend teaching the children.

The other major advantage is that most facilities have different classrooms for different age groups. This allows us to conduct group activities that are age appropriate. A private home will often have all the children in a single space.

Many of us grew up in a house where someone took care of us while our parents were at work. Many of Chicago’s private home providers are awesome people, but a dedicated facility is a better option.

Online reviews: Look at online reviews to see how a facility is rated. If it’s all rave reviews, be a bit skeptical. Every business that’s doing business will have someone who’s not happy. 

That said, look for trends in negative reviews. If many of the reviews say the place is dirty or that the children just sit and watch TV all day, there’s a good chance it’s true. 

Using these steps, you should be able to narrow down your list to the best facilities that are in your commuting area and provide the care your child or children need.

Tours and Questions

A virtual tour is the ideal place to start because, as noted above, you can do it at lunch or from home. You don’t need to drive to the daycare to get a sense of how it looks, how clean it is, and how the children seem. 

What to ask during a tour

You’ll have lots of questions during the tour, but here are a few fundamental ones that everyone should ask.

What is the ratio of teacher to child? As the Chicago Tribune explains, the ideal ratios vary by age group. 1 to 3 or 4 for infants and your toddlers, 1 to 4 or 6 for older toddlers, and 1 to 6 or 9 for preschoolers. If the ratios are higher, it can be difficult for each child to get the attention they deserve.

Do the teachers have degrees? It’s not necessary for a teacher to have a degree, but many do, especially in professional facilities.

Are they NAEYC-accredited or do they meet those standards? The National Association for the Education of Young Children is a non-profit organization that sets high standards for early childhood care facilities. Only about 10% of daycares are NAEYC-accredited. If the facility isn’t, that’s not a big deal; it can be a long process to get the accreditation. But the facility’s teachers and director should know and adhere to those standards.

Many of your other questions should relate to your child’s age group:

  • What activities do they do on a typical day?
  • How much time do they spend outside?
  • What books are available and/or read to them?
  • Is lunch included or do you provide it?
  • How is conflict between children dealt with?
  • How are food issues or allergies handled?

What are the payment options?

Daycares used to be all cash or check, but many accept credit cards and have payment plans. 

It’s important to ask if you can use a credit or debit card for tuition; that allows you to put tuition on credit if you need to, so you don’t drain your checking account.

Some facilities take payments from the state through daycare assistance programs based on parents’ income. Private facilities often don’t simply because if a business does, the state can set their tuition rates. 

There might be programs that will give parents money through federal and state programs that aren’t tied to income and will provide a prepaid debit card. All of this is part of the COVID-19 relief that’s being discussed. Watch for that in the near future.

Making the final choice

Ultimately, if everything is equal, the location you choose should be the best one for your and your child’s needs. 

To be honest, no matter what you choose, it’s always going to be a source of worry on that first day. If the facility is licensed, gets excellent reviews, and the people seem kind and concerned about your child’s well-being, everything will be fine.

About Sandra Chiu:

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Sandra Chiu is Director at LadyBug & Friends Daycare and Preschool. She has years of experience helping to care for children of all ages and calming worried parents.

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