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Parents Corner

What is Good Day Care?

Most child and adolescent psychiatrists recognize that the ideal environment for raising a small child is in the home with parents and family. But since the ideal environment is not always an option, day care often needs to be considered. Before choosing a day care environment, parents should be familiar with the state license regulations for child care. They should also check references and observe the care givers with the child.

What are the most important quality in choosing infant and toddler program? Loving care givers, comfy areas, and lots of fun. Use the following general guide when selecting a day care provider for your child.

Julie Loe

Infants need individual attention

Infants and children under 3 need:

The same care giver(s) over a long period. Parents should find out how long the individual plans to work in the day care center. High turnover of individuals, several turnovers, or any turnover at critical points of development can distress a child.
A care giver who will play and talk with them, praise them for their achievements, and enjoy them. Parents should seek a care giver who is self-confident, affectionate, and comfortable with the children. The care giver should be able to encourage social skills and positive behavior, and set limits on negative ones.
More adults per child than older children require. Infants and young children need a lot of individual attention.

Children over the age of 3
benefit from group day care

In groups, older children can have fun while they learn how to interact with others. Parents of children three years and older should seek day care services with:

Trained, experienced teachers who enjoy, understand and can lead children
Opportunity for creative work, imaginative play, and physical activity.
Space to move indoors and out.
Lots of drawing and coloring materials, and toys, as well as equipment such as swings, wagons, and jungle gyms.
Small, rather than large, groups. (Studies have shown that five children with one care giver is better than 20 children with four care givers.)

If the child seems afraid to go to day care, parents should introduce the new environment gradually: At first, one parent can go along, staying nearby while the child plays. The parent and child can stay for a longer period each day until the child wants to become part of the group.

Though parents may worry about how the child will do, they should show pleasure in helping their child succeed. If the child shows unusual or persistent terror about leaving home, parents should discuss it with their pediatrician.

Here are the 10 key ingredients to look for with INFANTS

Your baby need nurturing and plenty of activities to support her natural curiosity. As you observe child care programs, you should see the following:

  1. A cozy, loving environment with a homey look. Babies are cuddled often, in caring arms, and are tenderly held and attended to during feelings. At nap time, your baby will have her own "blankie" or her special soft animal. Plants and flowers adorn the room, providing fragrances for babies to smell.
  2. Care givers who enjoy playing with babies. Adults often engage in special games (such as peekaboo and patty-cake) - and babies soon learn to enthusiastically join in.
  3. Many toys for infants to explore. Look for a variety of items for babies to push, pull, squeeze, roll, bang together, and investigate. Other essential toys include puzzles with knobs, on each piece, soft balls for squeezing, large balls for rolling, and pegboards for hammering. All toys are washed daily and are too big for babies to choke on.
  4. An abundance of a variety of blocks. There should be lots of one-inch wooden cubes that babies can pick up, bang together with two hands, pour into and out of containers, and build with.
  5. Frequent experiences for learning language. Care givers use daily routines as wonderful opportunities to talk. They name and label new sights, sounds, tastes, toys, and activities. One-on-one conversations are frequent, and care givers respond to babies’ coos, babbles, and single words with genuine pleasure.
  6. Lots of singing and crooning. Care givers ease infants into nap times and comfort them when they’re distressed by singing familiar songs.
  7. Durable and inviting books that are read daily. Books, should be made of plastic, cloth, or heavy cardboard. There should be one picture per page, showing familiar things such as a dog, ball, baby, or apple. As they read the books aloud, care givers talk with babies about the pictures.
  8. Family photo albums for each baby. Your providers should invite you to keep a book with family photos in the child-care facility so they can snuggle up with your baby to look at pictures of family members.
  9. Experiences to build small-motor skills. Care givers engage babies in activities that help them develop important skills such as picking up dry cereal with their thumb and forefinger.
  10. Social mealtimes. Care givers show patience when infants dribble as they learn to handle strained food and when babies, who are getting the hang of tippy cups, make a mess. Feeding is a special time for talking with each baby.

Here are the 10 key ingredients to look for with TODDLERS

As your child grows, he’ll need new challenges and things to explore. Here’s what to look for in a program:

  1. A variety of toys to challenge your toddler’s dexterity and problem-solving skills. Good materials include: ring-stack sets, a windup jack-in-the box, peg-pounding boards, puzzles with several pieces of familiar things, and busy-boards with many pieces that produce special effects with they’re turned or pressed.
  2. Lots of space to tumble, run and ride trikes. Toddlers are often on the go! There should always be safe climbing equipment with slides, steps, and even rope ladders.
  3. Teachers who encourage friendships and group games. This appeals to toddlers, who often have playmates they naturally prefer to play with, sit next to, and jabber about pictures in a storybook with.
  4. Many opportunities to sing together. Toddlers love to act out the hand motions for fun songs. Teachers are patient with tots who don’t yet feel ready to join in.
  5. Daily group readings. Teachers choose books with simple, interesting stories that engage toddlers. They hold the books so that toddlers can look at the pictures.
  6. A variety of activities to increase dexterity and grace. Dancing to slow music helps toddlers gain more coordination and control. Toddlers also develop small-motor skills as they help with cooking.
  7. Toddlers are gently lulled into sleep. Teachers rub their backs or croon and sing songs in low voices at nap time.
  8. Materials that help toddlers learn about shapes, colors, textures and sounds. There should be toys in a variety of colors and shapes, as well as cylinders filled with beans, sand, or stones that toddlers can shake and listen to.
  9. Daily art experiences. Magic markers, finger paints, crayons, easels, and poster paints are set out daily for toddlers to experiment with.
  10. Opportunities to learn social skills. Care givers patiently explain the importance of

taking turns. They read stories about kindly acts and praise toddlers who show concern for other children’s feelings.

What to tell the teacher

The more you share with the care giver, the better able she’ll be to meet your child’s needs.

Infants

Point out the strained or textured foods that you baby prefers.
Mention your baby’s favorite books for nap time and the tune you hum to help her calm down.
Share your intimate knowledge about your baby’s temperament and personality style with your care giver. Each baby responds to change, unfamiliar people, and new foods in her own way.

Toddlers

Tell you care giver about your toddler's favorite books, songs, toys, or any insights about his personal preferences.

Be sure to explain if your toddler needs a special "lovey", such as a particular blanket or teddy bear, to help him fall asleep.
Let teachers know if your toddler has very irregular bowel movements or strong food preferences.
Share family events that are causing your toddler stress. If there’s a new baby sibling at home, be sure your care giver knows!

Alice Sterling Honig, Ph.D.,
is professor emerita of child development
at Syracuse University.
Scholastic Parent & Child
August/September 1998

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Last modified: January 26, 2013