Signs of a Good/Bad Childcare Center

One of the first truly difficult decisions many parents face is choosing the right childcare center for their little one, especially first-time parents whose experience with professional childcare is limited. Learning to spot the signs of a great day care is just as important as recognizing potential red flags, which can be a very real challenge for parents.

Recognizing the Signs of a Good Childcare Center

While programs and particulars may vary from one childcare center to the next, there are some commonalities shared by outstanding facilities. These identifiers can help parents understand what they should be looking for in a childcare center

  • Licensing – Each state and local government will have their own laws regarding the licensure of a childcare center, up to an including a lack of regulation in some states. While current licensure isn’t a guarantee of quality in itself, it does show a commitment to young clients and their parents. Look for NAEYC accreditation as a sign of excellence, as the standards for accreditation are quite stringent.

  • Cleanliness and Safety – Ideally, a childcare center will offer at least thirty-five square feet of indoor space per child. A great childcare center will also be clean, well lit and in compliance with basic safety rules. Indoor and outdoor spaces should be tidy, featuring toys and play equipment which are in good condition, and standard childproofing measures should be in place.

  • Established Curriculum – While children need plenty of time for free and exploratory play, a structured curriculum is also a strong sign of a quality childcare center. Not only should there be a reliable routine, but also a focus on helping kids learn and develop.

  • Commitment to Nutrition – Some childcare centers provide in-house meal preparation, while others require parents to bring food each day. In either situation, a great childcare center will have a commitment to nutrition and health which includes adequate protection for children with food allergies, and will actively encourage children to develop healthy eating habits.

  • Qualified Teaching and Caregiving Staff – Not only will a good daycare center feature a staff of fully trained and qualified caregivers, but also a proper ratio of teachers and staff to children.

Potential Warning Signs of a Bad Childcare Center

All childcare centers are not created equal, and there are some red flags which can help parents spot the lower-quality offerings in their area. Some of the more common signs of a bad childcare center are easily recognized, while others may be a bit more subtle.

  • Unsanitary Conditions – With several children playing and learning, a childcare center may be understandably cluttered and messy at the end of the day. While leftover paint from a craft project and scattered toys may be acceptable sometimes, unsanitary conditions are not. Overflowing garbage cans or diaper pails, dirty food prep areas and unclean bathrooms are all signs of a poorly managed childcare center.

  • Lacking Curriculum and Schedule – Kids need a dependable routine in order to thrive, and a sound curriculum in order to learn and develop. If activities seem largely unorganized and there is no curriculum in place, it could be a sign of a bad childcare center.

  • Under-Qualified Staff – While not all childcare center employees will have advanced degrees, they should at least be certified in CPR, first aid and subjected to thorough background checks as part of the hiring process. Asking about staff training and observing the way caregivers interact with kids is wise, and can help to identify a bad childcare center.

  • Poor Reputation – Even the strongest marketing plan will not be able to contend with a poor reputation, something a bad childcare center will often have trouble shaking. Complaints online or from other parents should be considered a major red flag for any parent considering a particular childcare center.

  • High Staff Turnover – Great caregivers won’t continue to work in a bad childcare center, and bad childcare centers often don’t value their employees. As a result, a high turnover rate is often considered a glaring red flag in the evaluation of a childcare center.

5 thoughts on “Signs of a Good/Bad Childcare Center

  1. I like what this article recommends about looking for a care center with an established schedule and routine. I think this could be a good way of ensuring the kids learn structure and organization at an early age. I’ll have to keep this in mind when looking at different daycares for my kid.

  2. I’m putting my 27 mo old son in care for the first time, and I recently moved to the area. I had selected one Montessori School but when we visited it was nap time and he freaked out
    He wanted to leave, he cried and was really upset. During that visit I noticed: dirty carpets and halls, food left out from lunch (a 3 dollar a day charge for lunch and this was ham and cheese on hot dog buns cut in half….) They seemed super disorganized. So I visited another place and revisited this place again. To my horror while visiting the second place the new tricycles we’re missing their seats (director didn’t know where they were) the teacher roughly handled diaper changes by just putting them on potty then standing them up and putting on diaper and dragging them away, no hand washing between kids. Then a little boy did a cartwheel kick and kicked the toys out of my son’s hands, no one even noticed. The “new girl” )she told me it was her first day) used to work for a butcher shop (???) And wandered around looking lost and not at all engaged with the kids. Another huge red flag for me was that I was able to enter and go to his classroom without anyone stopping me or noticing. When leaving they called my son by another name and told him to stay there, but didn’t even get out of their chairs and he was pushing on exit door in lobby. So then I’m leaving and a teacher for 4-6year olds is watching kids ride bikes, she looks at me and asks if I like dirty jokes, then proceeded to tell me one while I was holding my son!!! Nope, no way. So the other school is dirty and unorganized, and this one has major red flags… I got offered a job and need to find care asap. I thought I had it figured out with first school. Don’t judge a daycare by it’s website!!!! I am spending a half day at a third facility today.

  3. I had never considered that it would be a good idea to visit the daycare unexpectedly. I can see why this would be a good way to see the provider in their natural state. My sister is going to be needing to find a daycare for her two children while she and her husband are at work. I’ll have to suggest that she do this with the provider she is thinking of hiring.

  4. You made a good point that I should check the curriculum of the childcare service that I’m looking to get. Having my child have a jump start at education would be such a boon on top of developing her social skills. I hope I can find a place where simple arithmetic is being taught because my daughter likes counting things way too much whenever we play.

  5. Thanks for the reminder that an established curriculum is usually a great sign when looking for a good daycare center. I’d like to enroll my child in one soon because he has been getting too restless at home. I think it’s about time that he start meeting other kids his age.

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