Searching for the perfect preschool or daycare can be overwhelming. There are so many things to consider like cost, location, waiting lists, overall curriculum, child to teacher ratio to name a few. Then once you have your list together the next step is the preschool or daycare tour.
As a former preschool teacher I witnessed and even guided plenty of tours. For the most part, all parents had the same questions about ratios, sibling discounts and outdoor time. I think because parents don’t understand the day-to-day operations of a childcare facility they don’t miss the opportunity to really dig deep and get to the heart of things.
So I’ve made this short list of 6 questions you MUST ask while on your daycare tour.
1. Is the sick policy strictly enforced?
Most daycares and preschools have sick policies. You should make sure you clearly understand what it is. What symptoms
I suggest any working parent to have some sort of back up babysitter or family member on call in the case of a sick day. Kids in these centers get sick a lot!
Anywhere from 10-25 kids in one confined class area combined with the fact that many do not wash their hands and its no wonder why the germ spread so fast.
2. How much are the teachers paid?
Very few people ever think to ask something like this. But let me tell you why it is so important and will open the box to so many other things about the school.
Like restaurants, preschool and daycare tours are back house and front house experiences.
When you walk into a sit-down restaurant you are usually greeted by a host or waiter (front house) who is put together, well-spoken, attractive and hopefully pleasant. This makes you feel good about the restaurant brand and the experience you are about to have.
The front house is important and has a vital role. However the sole reason you are at the restaurant is to eat.
And that is where the back house comes in. The cook, chef and dishwashers are people you will never meet or even see. These are the people actually cutting, prepping, mixing and cooking the food that will go in your body. These are the people washing the cups, plate and utensils you will use.
“[A] daycare tour is like a front house back house experience”
It is the same with selecting a childcare center. The person giving the tour is usually an administrator or owner and they are vitally important to the function of the school.
However they are front house and shouldn’t be your sole focus.
The teachers will be with your child 99.9% of the time. Not the director, not the administrative staff, not the owner. (Unless the owner also teaches).
And the only reason you are visiting the center is to find a place where your child will be happy, safe and can learn and play.
So I am begging you to pay attention to the teachers!
If their pay is crappy that will effect your child because turnover will be high.
If you aren’t comfortable asking directly about pay, ask whether their vacation is paid or unpaid. How many weeks of vacation are the entitled to each year? Are they offered any type of benefits and insurance package? Can the teachers afford to enroll their own children in the program?
If the teachers aren’t happy with their jobs, there is no way your child is going to get everything they deserve.
I know there are great preschool and daycare teachers who love their students and wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
However, I also know many who resent their low pay and long hours and take it out on the children directly or indirectly.
So your job is to find a place where the teachers are happy and from that your child will prosper.
3. What are the potty training expectations?
Even if there is not a formal policy written about potty training, every center has a way they deal with it.
Some places will not your allow children move beyond a certain classroom until they have mastered potty training. Some places expect all potty training to be handled by parents and will not get involved. Other places will take the lead and offer to potty train for you.
If your child is not fully potty trained this is important to ask because their answer can help you make the best decision.
4. How does your school handle biting and hitting?
This is a question many parents never think to ask until their child is on the receiving end.
When I taught Montessori there was a little boy who bit a little girl on her cheek causing her to bleed profusely. The little girl’s parents were understandably upset. However they were even more upset when they realized the little boy would stay in the same class with their daughter. They assumed he would be removed from the school or at least moved to another class.
You can ask this a number of ways:
How are children disciplined for hitting? Or what first-aid measures are in place to aid my child if one of the other children bites them?
Young children are still figuring out healthy ways to express emotions like frustration, anger and sadness. And sometimes those expressions can come out in unhealthy ways. Make sure you fully understand what the protocol is for matters like these because they do happen.
5. What is the holiday / vacation schedule?
Some places follow the school district’s schedule, some follow their own, some follow a hybrid of both. Whatever the case, this is definitely a question you need to ask during daycare tour.
Of course they will be closed on major holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. But what about a random week in March or a 5 week closure during the summer?
This is important to know so you can plan ahead. Again, if you are a parent who works outside of the home this is another reason to have backup childcare.
Also make sure to ask how many weeks your family is allowed for your own vacation. Most year round centers allow you at least one tuition-free week to take a vacation and still keep your child’s spot.
6. Do you have references?
Do not leave your daycare tour without a list of current and former parents. They will tell you the good, the bad and all in between. Questions like teacher turnover, office organization and overall school culture can easily be answered by some one who has been there and done that.
If your prospective school can not provide at least 3 references of current and former parents that is a RED FLAG! If they have been in business longer than 6 months they should be able to easily give you this information.
What are some other questions you think should be asked at a daycare tour?
Let me know in the comments.
Cieara is a wife and mom of two, passionate about empowering parents to not just survive but thrive. She offers practical and expert advice on topics related to parenthood.