Finding the right child care center for your child is no small undertaking. Knowing what to look for, what questions to ask, or simply how to start the process can be overwhelming, especially for new parents and first-time care seekers. Here at Primary Beginnings, we understand the challenges all too well. And that’s why we’re here to help!
We’ve put together this comprehensive guide with our best tips, advice, and insider info to help Raleigh parents navigate all aspects of the child care center selection process.
In our experience, having a solid search plan goes a LONG way in helping ease nerves and boosting confidence. So read on, and of course, don’t hesitate to contact us with any additional questions. We are at your service!
Getting Started: Timing is Everything
The first thing to consider when beginning your child care search is timing. When will you be needing care for your child?
Ideally, if you know you will be going back to work, start looking well before you have your baby. Getting the ball rolling six months in advance might seem a little overzealous, but in reality, that is probably the MINIMUM amount of time you’ll want to give yourself. Nothing is more frustrating than finding a place you love and then learning they are full for the next six months. As the saying goes, the early bird catches the child care.
It’s also important to know that many Raleigh preschools follow an academic-style calendar and begin their registration early–as in January early. Very popular programs may even require registration a year or more in advance.
Year-round preschool programs are usually a bit more flexible, with rolling or continuous enrollment. Primary Beginnings is an example. But in general, late January/February and August tend to be the “high season” for child care enrollment–and the months where you will most likely encounter the most competition for space.
Do Your Prep Work
Rather than simply diving into tours and interviews, it’s a good idea to first make a list of “needs” and “wants.”
Clearly defining your priorities will help guide your search process and make it easier to keep the staggering array of details straight.
Every family will have different priorities, but some of the more universal ones include:
Other common priorities:
- School Rating/Staff Certifications
- Education and Discipline Approach
- Class Ratios
- Meals (provided or not, types of food, etc.)
- Special needs assistance
How you rank these things will be unique to your family. We suggest choosing 3 or 4 “must haves,” 2 or 3 “important but not absolutely essential,” and then put anything else in the “nice but not necessary” category.
Insider tip: If cost is a critical factor, be aware that many centers don’t include their pricing on their websites. However, a simple phone call is usually enough to get the info you need. Finding costs out first will help prevent wasting time or having to walk away from a facility you love but simply cannot afford.
Once you’ve nailed down your needs and wants it’s time to start touring!
Recommendations are always a great place to start. But if your network doesn’t include many working parents or you are new in town, a simple “near me” geographic search (or near your workplace–you’ll have to decide which you prefer) will work fine, too. Browsing online reviews never hurts either (but take them with a grain of salt).
The best way to get a true sense of a what really goes on at a center is to simply drop in and request a tour.
Sometimes facilities encourage scheduling a tour in advance, which you certainly can do. But an unscheduled drop-in will give you a more accurate picture of a real “day-in-the-life.”
If a facility does not have an open-door touring policy or pressures you heavily into scheduling in advance, consider looking elsewhere. Places that seem to have something hide probably do!
Insider tip: Morning drop-ins work best! Most full-day programs devote a large portion of their afternoon to meal and nap/quiet time. It’s hard to see what sort of activities occur and staff interaction if the children are asleep!
While you are touring, think of it as less of an interview and more as running reconnaissance. Your main goal is to observe.
What exactly should you be looking for?
- Cleanliness and safety (both in terms of child-proofing and building security)
- How the staff interacts with the children
- The staff (and children’s) overall demeanor
- Class size/ratio to staff
- Space size, both indoor and outdoor
- Age appropriate/variety of toys
- Your initial impression as soon as you enter
- Your child’s reaction upon entry (if they aren’t an infant)
You’ll probably know fairly quickly whether you want to pursue a center as a viable option. Don’t be afraid to trust your gut! If something doesn’t feel right, move on.
If you do decide to take the next step and pursue a center further, this is where all the questions come in.
Ideally, you’ll want to interview the facility’s director or assistant director in person. (Inaccessible directors are another red flag!) This may or may not happen after a drop-in tour, but it’s ok if it doesn’t. Set an appointment for the interview, get a copy of their handbook, and take it home and read it. Thoroughly.
Insider’s Tip: The handbook should be well-written and easy to follow. And it should include clear, thorough policies on EVERYTHING: discipline approach/policy, emergency procedure, how to lodge complaints, sickness policies, etc. From it, you can flesh out your list of questions for the interview (and make sure what you are being told is consistent with what you read).
Have your list of questions ready to go and don’t be shy. You are potentially entrusting your child’s wellbeing to these people and at no small expense. Make sure ALL your questions are answered clearly and completely.
And take note of the Director/Asst. Director’s demeanor and personality. They should not only be well-informed and professional, but welcoming and forthcoming.
Here are the questions we consider most important:
- What are the center’s licenses/certifications/accreditations? Ask to see them and then double check with your state’s official licensing bureau–most also allow you to see what complaints have been lodged against a center
- What are the caregivers’ qualifications and certifications? Are background checks conducted for every employee? Is everyone first aid/CPR certified?
- What is the student/teacher ratio?
- Will your child have the same/an assigned caregiver, or does staffing change frequently?
- What is your education philosophy? Discipline policy? (the more details the better!)
- If you have an infant, what sort of care are do infants receive? How much interaction and personal attention?
- For infants and toddlers, are eating/sleeping schedules used or an “on demand” approach? Is the center supportive of breastfeeding?
- How much time do the children (and babies) spend outside?
- Are screens/technology used? How much and in what capacity?
- What is your sick child policy? How are accidents and injuries handled?
- What is the school calendar? What is the drop/off pick up schedule and how flexible is it?
- How will the center communicate with me? How often will I receive updates and evaluations on my child’s progress?
- Do you administer medication? Ask about allergy policies, too, if this is a concern for your child
- What is the complaint/grievance procedure?
This is just a short sampling of questions to ask; feel free to add and subtract as is appropriate for your family.
Again, we can’t emphasize enough the importance of making sure you get answers to each and every question you have. If you get any sense of ambiguousness or purposeful avoidance, don’t just let it slide. Get the information you need or take your business elsewhere.
Insider tip: ask a center for parent referrals and actually call them! Firsthand feedback is a fabulous resource and highly underutilized.
Phew! We made it to the end! If you’ve thoroughly defined your needs and priorities and done your research well, chances are a clear winner will be obvious.
That being said, sometimes situations change or things don’t work out like we’d hope.
Yes, young children love routine and stability. But their overall safety and well-being is the most important thing. Plus, your chosen pre-K center needs to suit your family’s needs and schedule, too.
Should you find yourself unhappy with your choice later down the line–whatever the reason–it is 100% ok to change centers.
Contact Raleigh Child Care Center Primary Beginnings Today
Come out to visit a 5 Star rated child care center today at Primary Beginnings by calling either 919-790-6888 for our Spring Forest Road center or 919-785-0303 for our North Hills Drive center, or message us through our contact form.