Interviewing day care providers: What to ask to find the best care for your child

Feb. 12, 2019

Once you’ve done the hard work of figuring out what kind of day care you need and finding a few great programs in your area, it’s time to schedule a tour and interview with each day care provider. This will allow you to ask questions and get all the details about their program and facility, so that you can make an informed decision.

“There is nothing more important in the search process than getting to talk with actual providers and experience the environment [your child will be in] and the type of care your child will be getting,” says Arika Molitor, a Richardson, Texas, child care worker with over three years of experience working in day cares. “There’s no reference or report that can really give you that kind of up-close experience and information.”

Here, she and Lynn Wiener, director of the Day Care Centers at New Haven Hospital, share what to look for and what questions to ask when you’re interviewing a new child care provider.

How day care interviews and tours work

The interview process with a day care is kind of like a first date. It’s your opportunity to assess the overall vibe of the center or home, ask your most burning questions about the program and learn about the practices, rules and requirements of each day care.

To schedule an interview, you should contact the provider by phone and let them know how many children you plan on enrolling, their ages and when they would need to start. The provider will then be able to walk you through the next steps and plan on a time to meet.

During this meeting, you’ll likely be provided with an information packet that outlines all of the important information about the day care, but it’s still important to speak with the director, teachers and any other people who will be directly caring for your child to make sure you get all of the detailed information you need to make a decision about where you’d like to enroll.

Questions to ask during your day care interview and tour

Basic operations

During an interview, the provider should answer questions about all policies and procedures, including details about hours, rates, class sizes and any rules related to absences, tardiness, late pickups or other special circumstances.

Ask questions like:

  • What are the hours and days of operation?

  • What is the education level of the providers? What training do they have?

  • What is the payment schedule?

  • What is your absence policy?

  • Is there a fee for late pick-ups?

  • Who cares for the children when the main provider is sick?

  • What is the ratio of teachers to children?

  • What licenses and accreditations do you hold?

With an in-home care provider, you should also ask:

  • Do you have any pets?

  • Is this a non-smoking home?

  • Are you the only provider?

  • Is anyone else at home during the day?

  • What areas of the home do children use during the day? What areas are off-limits?

  • If they are unlicensed, ask if and when they plan to become licensed.

The daily routine

Once you have a better idea of how the day care operates, it’s time to get into the specifics about your child’s class and the curriculum. The classroom itself should be warm, inviting and well-organized, says Molitor.

“They should also be able to tell you what a typical day in the program looks like, including a schedule of meals, snacks, naps and all activities,” she says.

Wiener recommends asking to see a calendar or lesson plan with the actual curriculum since it can vary so widely by program.

“Make sure the abilities of the children are paralleled with the goals of the program,” she says.

Ask questions like:

  • What is the daily schedule?

  • What kinds of meals and snacks are provided?

  • When is naptime and how long does it last?

  • What items does my child need to bring from home?

  • Does my child need to be potty trained? Will the teacher help him or her at bathroom time?

  • How much time do the kids spend outside?

  • Where do the children nap?

  • Are there designated areas for reading, art, drama, play, etc.?

  • Will my child have a cubby or other designated space?

  • Can I see a sample of the planned curriculum?

  • How often are children read to?

  • What is your approach to discipline?

  • Do you use any technology (like a webcam) that allows parents to check in on the classroom during the day? If so, how is it used?

Cleanliness and safety

A clean, safe environment is arguably the most important part of any day care setting. When you visit a day care, the space where your child will be should be maintained and free of things that are stained, broken, outdated or otherwise in poor condition.

“Look at the windows, doors and mirrors. Are they clean — or covered in dried food and fingerprints?” says Molitor. “Check out the books in the room. Are they torn up with pages missing? These small details can give you big clues about the day care functions. Everything should be neat and well cared for.”

The room should also be baby-proofed, and there should be a clear plan in place for keeping children safe and dealing with any accidents or emergencies.

“Accidents are common in day care centers,” says Wiener. “Children are learning to walk and learning to climb. I think what’s most important is, how are parents notified and what is reported?”

Ask questions like:

  • How do you deal with incidents like falls, bumps, bruises, cuts, bites, etc.? How are parents notified of these incidents?

  • How are often are the toys cleaned and how are they cleaned?

  • Do you follow the guidelines for safe sleep?

  • What accommodations do you make for allergies and food intolerances?

  • Are diaper stations disinfected after each use?

  • Do you apply sunscreen before going outside?

  • What does the playground look like? What equipment does it have?

  • Are you able to dose medications for my child, if necessary? Do you require a doctor’s note?

  • Is there a first aid kit in every room?

  • Is every caregiver trained in first aid and CPR? Have they submitted to background checks?

  • How do you handle visitors?

  • What are your procedures for lockdown drills, fire drills or evacuations?

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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