I am so sad to be writing this post! We have not had the best luck with our daycare situation, with our oldest being kicked out of his daycare when he was just a few months old. We thought that it had all worked out for the best, even though it was stressful at the time, because we fell in love with our current daycare which is located just a few blocks from our home. Unfortunately, we are scrambling yet again to find a new daycare, this time with the added difficulty of trying to find one that has two spots, one for a 2-year-old and one for a 1-year-old.
In November, we were notified that our daycare had lost its lease. This space was heavily subsidized by the local government and therefore more affordable than other daycares in the area, but by no means inexpensive (one child in daycare cost approximately the same as our mortgage). Initially, the daycare said that it would have to close their doors in December, but uckily, the county extended the lease for another six months and the last day is currently set for June 30. While the extension was immensely helpful, we still felt like we were put back at square one with the daycare situation.
I will miss walking these two home from daycare.
Considering our options
Ideally we want to find a daycare with spots for both kids starting in June or July. We don’t want to move too soon because our current daycare is extremely convenient since we can walk to drop them off when the weather is nice. We also only have one car and our current daycare is in walking distance of both our home and the metro, so we can be flexible in the pick up situation.
- Obviously having both kids at the same daycare would be our preference, simply because of the convenience factor. Additionally, our kids love each other like crazy and I think that it would help if they were able to transition together.
- We have serious budget constraints and didn’t realize how much more expensive almost all other center-based daycares are than the one we are currently at. Some are as much as 60% higher than the cost of Lion’s current rate, which seems insane to me.
- We have to find a daycare or situation where the hours work for us. I have been surprised by the number of daycares that don’t open until 8am because we really need one that opens at 7:00, or 7:30 at the latest, because of the long commute into work.
- Having had a bad experience with one in-home daycare situation and knowing that most center-based daycares have more policies in place to protect the child and parents (i.e., unlikely to suddenly be given one week notice for a five-month-old), we mostly focused our search on center-based daycares.
- With Lion turning three this August, we also considered preschools though we had hoped to wait until he was four. Also we knew there would be a much greater likelihood of spots being open for him than for Panda; most daycares can only have up to 6 two-year-olds in a room, but can have 20 three-year-olds.
We ultimately also had to recognize that the daycare situation in the DMV area is crazy! There are waiting lists of more than a year at some places. Finding a spot for both kids simultaneously would be difficult, if not impossible.
Thus, we also had to consider placing the kids in different daycares. We thought we could place Lion in a daycare for kids over the age of two, more of a preschool setting, and hope that a spot opens for Panda when he turns two in January. We could put Panda in a different daycare, perhaps an in-home daycare (though we have serious concerns as Panda starts his biting phase), for six months and deal with the two separate drop-offs during that time.
We also have been exploring doing a nanny-share with another family at our current daycare since they have a child who is just two weeks younger than Panda. They also have multiple kids and will be placing their older child in a school for ages two-and up. We’ve discussed doing a nanny-share until both kids turn two. I’ve covered the pros and cons of center-based daycares, in-home daycares and nanny-shares here.
Looking at daycares
I contacted at least ten center-based daycares in our area based on location and, if the information was available online, the price. Most daycares do not list prices on their website. I also got information on additional daycares from other parents at our current daycare. Anything over our budget, I crossed off my list immediately. Daycares that had hours that were too short were also nixed because we need at least 10 hours of coverage. Based on ones that looked like they fit our parameters, I started scheduling tours.
Questions we asked
Having been through two daycares with Lion already and one for Panda, we had a much better sense of what we were looking for in a daycare. Additionally, I now realize what some of the concerns are for each of our individual children based on their personalities. Here are a list of questions/considerations that I asked about, as well as questions that I had answered even if I didn’t initially think about them along with some of my own reactions:
- Is the daycare licensed and accredited? In Maryland, pretty much all daycares are licensed, but many were “in the process” of being accredited.
- What professional development opportunities/requirements are there?
- How long have various staff/teachers been at this center? Does there seem to be a high rate of turnover? One of the biggest drawbacks at our current daycare has been the extremely high rate of turnover; throughout our two years at this center, the director, lead toddler teacher and one aide have remained consistent but the other six to eight staff members have all changed a minimum of one, if not as many as five times for each position. To me, this is a signal of how happy teachers are and how stable the environment is for kids.
- Are snacks/meals provided? Can I see a menu? If meals are provided, is outside food allowed? Is your school a nut-free zone? If we have to provide our own lunches, is there a microwave/toaster oven to heat up the food? What beverages are served? Our current daycare provides snacks, but parents can cross out foods they don’t want their child to have and provide alternatives.
- Can we leave strollers/car seats at the daycare during the day? If the daycare is walkable, it’s nice to be able to leave strollers there.
- What is your biting policy? How do you handle biting and other inappropriate behavior? I was very wary of schools that had a three-bite policy and refused to tour any with this policy because while Lion was never a biter, Panda certainly seems to be.
- How do you handle tantrums? Hello, toddlerhood.
- What is the snow/inclement weather policy? These were widely divergent because while all the daycares we looked at were near are home in Maryland, some followed our county’s school district, others followed the county’s school district’s administrative office policy, while others adhered to the Federal Government status. The policies may be more uniform in other regions, but the closures based on these three different options vary dramatically. During the massive snowstorm that shutdown DC in 2016, the Federal Government reopened on a delay on Wednesday (snowstorm began on Friday evening) whereas most school districts in the region closed for the entire week.
- When is the school closed? All federal holidays, of course, but how many professional in-service days? Is the daycare closed for winter/spring break? Many daycares we looked at are closed at least a week for winter break and several days for spring break, which can be tough for us.
- What does the outside play space look like? How many classes/what ages go out at the same time? In bad weather, is there another area where the kids can play?
- What curriculum is used? Is there any language immersion program? Is the learning play-based or more structured? Is homework assigned? We were looking for a play-based learning environment. Also, the homework thing would never have occurred to me to ask because it seemed ridiculous that a child not even in Kindergarten yet would have homework, but one of the centers proudly showed off the weekly homework assignments for the three-year-olds.
- At what age/in which class do kids learn to read and write? What other subjects are explored? How advanced did the kids seem? How ready are the 5-year-olds for Kindergarten? We ask these questions, in part, to see how play based it seemed.
- How individualized is the attention/curriculum? Our oldest is a spirited child and benefits from some individualized attention.
- Are there field trips? How many/how often? Are there extra fees? Are parents required to attend for the children to attend? We were surprised by the number that offered field trips, but only if the parents also attend.
- Are there extracurricular activities such as music, dance, sports, martial arts or language? Do they have an extra cost? We didn’t love activities with an extra cost and would prefer a higher cost for the center but with all inclusive activities. I don’t particularly like the idea that some kids get pulled out for special extras only if their parents can afford it.
- What is the waitlist fee? Are credit cards accepted for tuition? We “travel hack” and spend a significant amount on tuition for two kids so there’s a definite upside to those daycares that accept a credit card.
- Is a sibling discount offered and what does that look like? Some offered as much as 10% off, others 5%, some applied only to the eldest child while others applied to all siblings.
- What does the student body makeup look like? Is there much diversity? Not really a question I asked, but something I observed. Some volunteered information about the students they had from other countries.
- How many kids are enrolled in the daycare? How many per class? How many teachers in each class? Although maximum ratios are set by regulation, some daycares have much lower ratios.
- What are the age ranges in each class particularly after the kids turn 2? Our current daycare has a room for infants, a room for toddlers, then a mixed preschool ranging from ages 2 to 5. Others were set up similarly, some have each age as a separate class (a room for 2s, a room for 3s, a room for 4s, etc.) and others had mixed ages, but in a smaller range (for example, 2-3 year-olds and then a different room for older 3s to 5-year-olds).
- How do they handle transitions? How do they handle shy children? These were very specific questions we asked based on our concerns with Lion’s transitions. It was one of the most important aspects to us.
- How do parents and teachers communicate? Are daily sheets sent home or is the information computerized? Benefits of apps are the ability to communicate in real time and having the information at our fingertips if we’ve forgotten to bring the daily sheet home.
- Do kids have to be potty-trained? How much does the center work with the kids and parents on potty-training? How long do the kids have to be dry/accident-free before you can send them in underwear? This was an issue with our current daycare which only allows underwear after being accident-free for two weeks, meaning we had several setbacks each week for the longest time.
Additionally, as noted above, the following considerations factored into our decision, perhaps more than anything else:
- Location (distance from our home as well as distance to a metro station).
- Availability/place on the waitlist/probability of getting off the waitlist.
Of course, no daycare was going to meet all of our preferences and we had to prioritize what was most important to us. Even our current daycare, which we love, has its drawbacks, some of which became more obvious after looking at other daycares. After touring a number of centers, we started narrowing down our options to the following, each of which had its trade-offs:
This was the third daycare that I toured and the one that I immediately fell in love with. One of the other parents at our daycare who has an older child as well as an infant said they had moved their older daughter there because she wasn’t progressing at our current daycare. She told us that within a week, her older daughter was writing her name. When I toured, I was very impressed because the kids were all engaged in activities, but it seemed like they were doing things that naturally held their interest. This daycare emphasizes play-based learning and uses the Creative Curriculum. It was obvious to me that this center is heavily play-based, but the kids also learn to write their names and many of the three-year olds were learning to read. Some of the older children could add and subtract. They seemed well equipped to deal with a child that is slow to transition or warm up, explaining that they used a buddy system to pair a new child up with a particular teacher until that new student trusted the new environment. Additionally, this daycare offers a monthly field trip based on whatever that particular month’s unit was (for example, one month they learned about pets and then went to the pet store for the field trip). They serve breakfast and snacks, but not lunch.
It was one of the more affordable daycares in the area, the cost only slightly higher for Lion than his current tuition. Daycare A is located at a nearby elementary school and within a ten-minute drive of our home, but isn’t exactly walkable to/from our home or the metro station, unfortunately. This center has 40 children divided into two classrooms which seemed to be a decent size, but unfortunately children must be at least 2 or older. At the earliest, we wouldn’t be able to have the kids in the same center until January, meaning a minimum of about 7 months of separate drop-offs. It seems like there will be a spot open for Lion beginning this summer, but things are totally up in the air as to whether a spot will open for Panda in January when he turns 2.
This was the fifth daycare I toured and it was impressive in a completely different way from Daycare A. It is a huge center located in a federal agency near our home and is at the edge of what we would consider walkable from our home. It is directly across from a metro station, though, which is very helpful. This center has more than 100 students, with several infant/toddler rooms, two 2-year-old rooms, and then a room for 3s, 4s and 5s (transitional kindergarten). When I toured, the kids in the 3s, 4s and 5s room were all engaged in circle time type activities and I had some concerns that it might be too structured. Daycare B uses the P.L.A.N. Curriculum which is supposed to be very play-based and individual-oriented, but it seemed like there was a lot of structure built in and the older kids obviously know how to read and write. Daycare B has the benefit of providing all snacks and meals for children over the age of 1 and meals are served family style so that kids can learn to serve themselves and each other. Quarterly field trips are offered for the 4s and 5s, with occasional field trips for the 3-year-olds, though parents must provide transportation for the 3-year-olds (the older kids take a school bus). It seems that this daycare has extras like music (which is included in the cost) and karate and sports (which have an additional cost). The teachers had been at this daycare for a long time and the assistant director told me that they have never kicked a child out for biting or other behavioral issues and that they believe it is their job to figure out how to meet a child’s needs. It seemed like, despite my concerns about too much structure, there is a heavy focus on meeting each child’s individual needs. Uses an app so you can track what is happening with your child daily. There is a great outdoor play space as well as an indoor auditorium that they use during inclement weather. They said that siblings would be allowed to visit each other if they want, which the kids currently do quite a bit at their current daycare. A spot is currently open for Lion, but not for Panda. While a spot could open for Panda before he turns two, an exact date is unclear and not guaranteed.
This was the last daycare I toured and only because one of Lion’s friends had recently switched here and the mother told me that the biting policy I found on the website was an old policy. I went to this daycare with very low expectations, but walked away pleasantly surprised. It reminded me of our current daycare in some ways, but a bit more organized. Currently, they have 60 students but are acquiring the building next door to accommodate another 30-40 students. This center is located in the basement of a non-denominational Protestant church and has a weekly bible verse, chapel once a week and other religious teaching (for reference we are Catholic). They seemed to be the best on potty training and work harder with the children and parents than anyone else I’ve seen, encouraging kids to be put in underwear so they can feel the wetness. In fact, they offered Lion a spot in the 3-year-old room because he’s 2.5 and potty-trained enough (meaning they were fully supportive of us just sending him in underwear and he does not have to be accident-free for two-weeks first). This center also uses Creative Curriculum and is supposedly play-based, but they do assign homework. The kids in the 3-year-old room learn to read and write. For the younger kids, it is obvious that they really do tailor things to the individual needs of each child because weekly goals were listed for each child based on observations by the teachers. Daycare C hosts occasional field trips, but parents must attend (I think). They have extras like soccer and dance for an extra fee. Location-wise, it is the farthest away from our home and is in the opposite direction from our work, but does have a metro station nearby.
Stay tuned as we try to balance all of our priorities and find the right child care decision for our kids, family and careers.