Remember the whole journey. It’s natural to look at only the baby or toddler programs that your child is entering. If you find the right child care for your family, however, your child may be there until kindergarten. Ask to hear how the toddler program expands on the baby program and the preschool on the toddler, etc. I recall chatting with a center director once and she mentioned that she tours parents of infants through the pre-kindergarten classroom first and works her way through each classroom ending with the baby room. I thought that was so clever. Had I glimpsed the Kindergarten Prep class and met the children who’ve been on this journey, it may have nipped the guilt right away.

Ask about the curriculum approach. What sort of education are you hoping your child receives? Is play-based instruction important to you? How do the teachers adapt to the interest of your child? If getting outside is important to you – how is nature incorporated into the daily activities? How is curriculum experienced in the baby v. toddler v. preschool v. pre-kindergarten classrooms? Back then, I’m sure I would’ve smirked at the notion of “infant” curriculum. I didn’t know this meant an approach to child development — sensory stimulation, loving touch, etc.– vs. traditional curriculum topics such as math, science, etc.

Discuss approach to discipline. Infant parents, this may not be on your radar. Let me tell you, as a mom of a reformed biter, you want to know how these types of situations are handled.

Inquire about how social-emotional skills are fostered. We live in a social world and I don’t mean in the virtual realm. Learning how to be a friend, how to care for others, how to solve problems – these are the foundations each child needs to succeed in life. The social-emotional journey is a long one and hard to quantify during a single child care visit. Had you asked me when my daughter was in preschool about her social skills, I may have said, “my daughter is bossy and tells everyone what to do.” Now 11-years old, she is confident, a good friend, and kind to others. That foundation was built-in child care.

Meet the caregivers, teachers, and center staff. Parenting is hard. Being a working parent has unique challenges. The caregivers, teachers and staff will become your “people” – your community that will help raise your child. Before you choose child care, ask for the opportunity to meet a lead infant teacher, toddler teacher, and preschool teacher. Ask them questions – a lot of them. How do you approach curriculum? What does a day in your class look like? How do you handle discipline? How do you foster friendships? How will my child’s needs be met?

Ask this one simple question. How does your {infant/toddler/preschool/pre-k} program help develop the skills my child needs to be successful in life? That’s a big question and could be answered in a million ways. If the answer includes many of the above points that are important to you, then you can feel confident in the decision. Seven years ago, I didn’t know I should care about all this stuff. I only wanted a place where my baby would be safe, loved, and happy.

Trust your gut. Like children, not every child care is alike and not every location (even from the same company) will be the right fit for your family. If possible, “try before you buy” and visit as many times as you need to feel confident in the child care decision.

Remember, your child may be spending many days in care and finding the right child care is important.