Questions You Need to Ask When Choosing a Childcare

I’ve been AWOL lately. It must be the Holiday period, or maybe it’s the fact we just moved house (crushing number 1 on my 30 before 30 bucket list).

Or maybe it’s the recent health problems I have been dealing with (number 24).

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s the dreaded 11 month sleep regression!

OK, to be frank, it’s definitely a combination of all of the above, mixed with the daunting task of choosing a childcare so I can go back to work full time.

The time has come for us to choose a childcare center. Something I have admittedly, been putting off as long as possible.

I have been working part-time for 4 months and have been very lucky to have my mother-in-law (and sometimes my sister) looking after little Jaxxy while I have been re-finding my feet as a working mama.

Unfortunately, I need to increase my hours. Yes, this was always the plan but I have really started to miss my days off with my baby, and they are not even gone yet.

Why Am I So Worried About Choosing A Childcare?

Leaving my baby with strangers is something that is incredibly intimidating for me. In fact, leaving him with my mother in law was so hard! So, you can imagine how I feel about this whole situation.

I know other mamas feel the same way and so I wanted to share my experience. Hopefully this will help other mamas who are faced with the task of trusting someone with their most prized possession.

Related: Anxiety About Going Back To Work After Maternity Leave

We have just moved house a few weeks ago. This is one of my 30 before 30 checklist items so while I am incredibly sad to leave the home that brought Jaxon into our lives, I know that a bigger, more child-friendly space will do wonders for our family!

So now that I know the area we will be living, for hopefully the next few years, I have started the search to find the best option for us in terms of childcare.

Child Care. How do you choose? This is what you need to ask!

Where Do I Begin Choosing A Center?

So far, I have visited 3 different centers.

Centre 1

This center is a franchise structure so upon calling the customer service line I was allocated to a specific center by someone living interstate, who obviously didn’t know the suburbs location and placed us with a tour in a suburb about 15 minutes from where we live.

Now, 15 minutes doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you imagine the morning rush getting yourself and your baby (and nappy bag) ready for drop off and the 30 minute drive to work to be on time at 9am – 15 minutes is a bit of a stretch. Add to that peak-hour traffic – eek!

Still, I decided to go ahead with the tour.

Centre 2

The second center was one that was literally walking distance to our new place. Perfect! It was independently owned.

Center 3

This center was part of the same franchise as the first, much closer to our new home and had much better Google reviews (more on that later).

Childcare Center Tours – My Experience

I went into center 1 with an open mind and little idea of what to look for. I didn’t know what questions to ask or what to expect. All I knew was that the tour was booked for 45 minutes. I figured they must have a schedule for these sorts of thing, right?

Parking my car, I immediately noticed the colour-bond fencing surrounding the premises which resided on a corner block. You would have to try pretty hard to have a peek over the fence which gave me peace of mind immediately.

I let myself into the center as the auto-close on the security door was broken, leaving the door ajar. Not a great start!

I sheepishly knocked on the office door and the center manager was shocked that I was standing right there, without having to ring the door-bell.

She showed me the nursery and then nonchalantly asked me what else I wanted to know.

I asked about scheduling, food, sleeping arrangements, costs and a number of other things. All which I thought would be spoon fed to me on my 45 minute tour.

Which was over in less than 20 minutes.

I had put my name down on a wait list – all seemed ok with the center, but this was the first childcare facility I had stepped foot into, at least since I worked as a teenager at after-school care many moons ago.

I got back into my car and realized that the appointment had run super quick! Did I ask enough questions?

Take Two

I had center 3 booked in an hour and Jax was buckled in the back, over-ready for his nap so I decided to call the second center. Being a private center, I figured I would just call and see what their process was for having a tour.

Surprisingly they told me that I can pop in any time between 10:30am-4pm and someone would give me a tour. Even unannounced!

I loved that they were unbothered that I wanted to attend within the hour – this means that they are totally ready at any moment to show a potential client through their premises.

Well, I’m glad it worked out this way because I can tell you now, they were not prepared!

After a quick cruise around the neighborhood so Jax could get some kip we pulled up to the center.

Having let myself into the first center and not knowing any better I struggled to open the security door at the front entrance.

I was yelled at (by a less than friendly staff member) across the sandpit adjacent to the front entrance – in total visibility of the street that I would need to ring the doorbell.

I am greeted by a lovely woman who asks me to take a seat while she fetches the manager on duty. It is there in the foyer where the manager discusses subsidies and whether I am entitled to any. Straight to the point, I guess?

She takes me through to the nursey and then we slowly work our way up to the kinder room. They have 5 rooms in total and each room has its own playground, staff and capacity limits.

The facility is great! The children have many toys and activities and the manager tells me about how they create a port-folio of art for each child which carries through their entire stay with the center. What a great idea!

She also gushes about how the staff do plenty of activities with the children like growing vegetables and going for walks around the neighborhood in 6-seater prams – no thank you – I would not want my child being taken off the premises while in care. This one comment bugged me. A lot.

The only issue with this center (and it’s a big one) is that they place was filthy! It was run down and it felt as though they had littered the walls with children’s art to cover the filth. The floors and mats looked like they hadn’t been washed in months and it just had an overall grubby feel.

They also informed me that they have 2 weekly menus which alternate on a 6 monthly basis. Taco Tuesday anyone?

Once the tour was over, we discussed fees and availabilities once again in the foyer. They take a $100 deposit to hold a position which is non-refundable if we pull out. No thanks.

I was really disappointed with this one. The location was perfect and the culture seemed really good for the kids. Although some of the staff were a bit standoffish – as if I was judging them or something – I felt like saying, “sorry love, that’s exactly what I am here to do!”

This tour took about 40 minutes and so it was good timing to get to our 3rd appointment.

Third Time Lucky?

Arriving at the third center I parked the car, made up Jaxon’s milk which he scoffed in the backseat and then walked towards the center.

I encountered another parent while we were waiting to be let in. As it turns out the doorbell was broken so we got to chatting.

He was in the midst of his son’s orientation (what’s that?) and expressed how great the center had been in his son’s transition into childcare. That’s a great start!

I eventually got fed up pressing the inoperable door-bell and gave the door one of my inspecting real estate agent knocks (loud and obnoxious) and I was greeted with a formal reception window.

There was a kiosk with sunscreen as a reminder for parents to apply before dropping their kids and while I was admiring the collage of framed children’s artwork on the wall, the manager (holding a clip-board!) introduced herself.

She proceeded to go through a checklist on her board which included questions about Jaxon, what he eats, how he sleeps etc. and about what my main concerns, expectations and hopes were for Jaxon’s time in care. Wow.

The manager took me through each room starting with the nursery and we chatted as we walked. The environment and staff were welcoming and warm and CLEAN!

She explained that the rooms were divided by age (instead of 6 week-18 month old’s all in the same room).

She explained their open door policy (the children are free to wander inside and outside into the secure playground) and how they offer them food at a certain lunchtime but do not enforce this if the child is not hungry (instead they will continue to offer every 30 minutes until said child has been fed).

This center was smaller than the other two and somehow this meant that they had their sh*t together more.

Now remember, this center was part of the same franchise as the first one, and yet this director had a completely different approach with myself as a new client.

The only downfall was seeing the food they were serving the children (it was lunch time). Some sort of corn chicken curry with rice (I’m being dramatic, Jax would probably love it, but it looked like newborn poop).

Just as I was having that thought she advised that she had cooked the lunch that day as they were ‘in-between chefs’ at that moment but a new one was starting that week – it was like a sign!

I asked about availability and waiting lists etc. (surely a center this organized has a wait-list a mile long!) and she basically stated that as all the children would be moving up a level there should be no problems enrolling Jax in the nursery. What?!

The Verdict

If you haven’t already guessed we have decided to go with center 3. I am in the process of completing my subsidy and enrollment paperwork as we speak.

Even though we have found a center that we are comfortable with I still feel horrible that I have to put him in care because I do really love my days with him (where I don’t have to work – hey, it’s a bonus!)

Jax is my little superstar and I know he will make friends with the other children and staff and is at an age where he is totally ready to be socialized (I hope).

Final Thoughts

I know that this process is this easy for all parents. I am sure some areas are filled with centers similar to center 2 and so I wanted to help you out mama!

I have created a list of questions for you to take to your own center tours, something like this would have been helpful on the day for sure.

Just click on the image below to download my FREE PDF list of points to note and questions to ask at your childcare center visits.

I have based these on questions I asked as well as information that was offered to me form each center.

Don’t forget to pin for later as you may need to inspect a few different centers like I did.

Questions to ask at your Childcare Centre Tour

Things To Note:

  • Check the Google reviews before you go so you can look out for things disgruntled clients have complained about.
  • This is also a good way to see how the center deals in response to these sorts of comments
  • A professional center will have responses to the negative comments that are respectful and do not air the client’s dirty laundry (so to speak) and encourage that the client contacts the center to find a resolution.
  • Entrance security
  • Visibility of playground to street (appropriate fencing)
  • Reception – do they have a formal office to meet with the director should you need to speak privately?
  • Is the nursery separate from the older children, is it a quiet room?
  • Is the center clean?
  • Are the children clean?
  • Do the staff look like they are actively interacting with the kids? Or are they sitting on the edge of the sandbox staring into space while the kid next to them eats a handful of sand?

Questions to ask

  • Room age groups – what room will your child start out in
  • Cleaning schedule
  • Feeding/sleep schedule – do they keep yours?
  • How many children per room?
  • How many children per adult ratio?
  • Do you have back up for staff calling in sick?
  • Sick plan for children not well (when do I get a call?)
  • Will I be charged for care if my child is sick? And public holidays?
  • Is the center eligible for the subsidy?
  • Is the subsidy applied at center level? Or is there a rebate program?
  • What activities do they do with the children during care?
  • Do you quarantine children showing signs of unwell (keep them away from others)
  • Will my child be taken off the premises at any point?
  • Will I receive a daily report on pick-up, or will I get met by staff to discuss my child’s day?
  • Are the children allowed to watch TV?
  • What will my child eat?
  • Is the menu customizable?
  • Can I provide lunch for the days you are serving something my child does not like?
  • What is your process in case of medical emergency?
  • How often do you change nappies?
  • How often is the linen/toilets/floors/toys cleaned/sterilized?
  • Do the children get their own cots/sleeping mats with their own linen?
  • Will you document the times my child sleeps/eats/cries etc.?
  • What do I need to pack for my child while he is in care?
  • Do you have a fee for late pick-up (due to traffic etc.)
  • What holidays’ do you acknowledge with the children?
  • Do you celebrate the children’s birthdays?
  • How do you discipline the children?
  • How do you reward the children?
  • What are the fees?
  • What is included in fees? (Food, Nappies, Sunscreen, Hat)
  • Evacuation plan

Download my FREE PRINTABLE to take with you on your search for the perfect Childcare center.

Good luck finding the right center for you and your bubba!

Much Love, Veronika Xx

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40 things to note when choosing a childcare

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Veronika Veale is a first time stay at home mum helping others make sense of motherhood through her love of writing.

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