When you’re interviewing a babysitter, the goal is to find out as much as possible about just one person. On the flip side, when you’re looking at daycare centers for your child, you’re trying to gain information about a whole staff, as well as the entire facility. Overwhelming? Just a bit. That’s why having a list of questions to ask a daycare when touring facilities is key.
“Start by making a list of what matters most to you and ask questions to make sure the center addresses all of your needs,” explains Yesenia Sanchez, a 20-year KinderCare center director in Fresno, California. “Potential questions might include whether the center will support kindergarten-readiness and how they encourage social and emotional development.”
Ready to get started? Here are 21 expert-recommended daycare questions to ask during a tour.
Academic and social-emotional learning questions
1. How do you support children’s mental health and social emotional development?
According to Sanchez, every parent should inquire about the center’s practices for supporting mental health and social-emotional development, as countless studies have shown a link between the early development of these skills and things like academic success, empathy and confidence later on in life. “These absolutely should be part of the school curriculum,” she says.
2. How do you prioritize inclusion?
Something else Sanchez recommends researching is how a daycare provider prioritizes inclusion. “More parents these days are looking for best-in-class inclusion practices at daycares,” she says. Inclusion practices ensure all children, regardless of background or ability, can participate in activities in a meaningful way.
3. What factors are considered when developing the curriculum?
“A curriculum should be created to meet the individual stages of child development while supporting physical, emotional and social growth,” Sanchez notes. “Additionally, parents should look for curriculums that are based on best practices of how children learn better, not how we want them to learn.”
4. What are your cleaning protocols?
Parents should look for daycare centers with rigorous cleaning protocols, according to Sanchez. “Centers and classrooms should regularly be cleaned following a daily cleaning checklist,” she says, noting that younger classrooms may need more rigid rules. “For example, in our infants, toddlers and 2’s classrooms, we have a bucket for toys that need to be cleaned as soon as children put them in their mouths.”
5. Is your program accredited by a third-party agency?
“When centers are accredited by third-party agencies, such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), it ensures they’re following the highest standards of education, health and safety for young children,” according to Sanchez.
6. What is the staff to student ratio?
“Based on the state you’re in there are different rules on the staff-to-student ratio at daycare centers,” explains Dr. Cassie Hudson, a pediatrician at Holston Medical Group in Bristol, Tennessee. “For example, in Tennessee, infant classrooms with children 12 months and under should have one staff member for every four infants. The more adults compared to babies in each room creates a safer environment, but at the minimum, you want to ensure the facility is meeting your state’s criteria.”
“As children get older, the staff ratio could change from one staff member to 12 students,” Hudson continues. “A larger ratio for older children is OK knowing they can play more independently and don’t need as much individualized attention.”
It’s a good idea to check out required ratios and group sizes in your area.
7. Is your center up to date on any necessary licensing?
Make sure to ask if the daycare center is up to date on any necessary licensing. Requirements vary by state, and not all child care businesses are required to obtain a license. State-licensed child care providers, however, are required to have annual licensing inspections, which are public record.
To verify the licensing status of a child care center, you may visit your state’s Department of Licensing, or search by state.
8. What are the staff qualifications?
Sanchez notes that caregivers at daycare centers should be “trained in child development, early childhood education or a related field” and certified in CPR, and they should have completed a background check.
“Above all, though, look for teachers and staff who love what they do and have a natural ability to connect with the children in their care,” Sanchez says. “When children love their teachers, there is no limit to how much they can learn and grow.”
9. What are your emergency plans?
“Any daycare center should have a clear and detailed emergency plan with a regular cadence of practices and drills to ensure adequate and safe response to a variety of emergencies, such as fire drills, tornado drills, earthquake drills and lockdowns,” notes Sanchez.
10. What is the sick day policy?
“Parents want to make sure potential centers have intervention measures in place to keep all children in the classroom safe and healthy, including clear guidelines on when a child must stay home due to illness and a well-developed plan in place for a range of illnesses …” explains Hudson. “Any center should be able to clearly articulate their policies and offer guarantees that their policies are followed by all staff and families.”
Additionally, Hudson notes that daycares should “follow the standard guidelines where a child’s parents should be notified to pick up their child if they are experiencing symptoms of any infectious disease, such as a fever of 100.4 or higher, vomiting or diarrhea.”
11. What is the vaccination policy?
Day cares should make parents aware of their staff vaccination policy, according to Hudson. “The daycare should be able to provide a written plan in place in the event a staff member does get COVID [or another infectious disease] and their policy on when a staff member can return to work,” she explains. “This will make it clear to parents what needs to take place and all feel comfortable with the decision.”
12. Do you have a medical professional who weighs in on policies?
While it’s not necessary, Hudson notes that it’s perfectly OK for parents to ask whether a daycare center has had a medical professional weigh in on the policies put in place. “As a pediatrician, it’s a role I serve for my daughters’ school,” she says. “While it’s not required, or possible for every school to have this option, this would be a bonus to consider in decision-making.”
13. What are the security practices?
According to Hudson, daycare safety should start from the moment you walk through the door. “Is there a passcode to enter? Does someone let you in or are the doors open at all times?” She says, “The daycare center should have clear, written rules on parent and visitor safety.”
14. What are the safety practices?
Sanchez notes that daycares should perform daily checks of equipment and learning centers to make sure everything is working as it should. Additionally, Hudson recommends looking around and asking about common safety precautions, such as placing cribs away from blinds and windows, securing highchair straps and putting babies to sleep (never on their stomachs).
“Parents can also ask where medication is stored and whether it’s locked up,” she says.
15. What do you do in the event of an injury?
Parents should know what the daycare does in the event that a child is injured, such as who they contact and how they attempt to reach them, according to Hudson. “Also ask about whether they provide parents with a written report of the incident.”
For more safety tips, check out Care Safety.
Food and nutrition questions
16. Do you provide meals and snacks, and if so, how do you decide the types of foods to offer?
“A well-balanced meal plan should incorporate fruits and vegetables, as well as healthy drink options if they are no longer on breast milk or formula,” Hudson says. “If the daycare provides meals, ask to see what the menu looks like and if it fits your child’s dietary needs.” Hudson also recommends asking how the center handles food allergies and intolerances to certain foods.
17. How do you handle feeding for babies?
18. What daily activities can we expect?
“A robust and child-centered daycare should include daily activities that encourage exploration and reading and that build a sense of belonging,” notes Sanchez. She adds that parents should look for toys, books and activities that are child-sized and age-appropriate when visiting.
For infants, Hudson recommends asking how the center can support developmental milestones “through activities like tummy time and learning to crawl,” as well asking to see where babies nap.
“For older children, I encourage more outdoor activities implemented into their daily routine,” she continues. “They should have at least 30 minutes to one hour to play for free time and movement, and many facilities offer more.” Additionally, ask where kids go to move when the weather isn’t nice.
Finally, for preschool-aged kids, Hudson recommends asking how sensory play and motor skills are incorporated, as well as whether or not there is time for unstructured play.
19. What is the visitation policy?
“With COVID protocols, daycare centers are limited in the level of visitation they can allow,” notes Sanchez. “But as restrictions lessen, centers should have an open-door policy and allow parents to visit or observe their child’s classroom at any point during the day.”
20. As my workplace status and child care needs shift, what options will be available to me?
“Families’ schedules change, which is why working families may want to inquire about the different options, including part-time and full-time programs,” says Sanchez. “Day cares are there to support the needs of families, so flexibility is important.”
21. What’s the communication policy?
“Communication is key when it comes to day cares,” notes Hudson. “In addition to written plans and policies, updates to parents about what occurred throughout the day are essential. Parents with infants want to know what their children ate, when they played, their diaper count and how much they slept. Find out if this comes in the form of a daily report card and whether it evolves to ongoing conversations as the focus moves toward the developmental preschool scale.”
The bottom line
Finding the perfect center may take a little work, but asking the right daycare questions will help get you there. Says Hudson: “As their home-away-from-home, daycares should be an extension of parental communication to make sure little ones remain as healthy and safe as possible.”