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Expert Infant Teachers Share What to Look for in a Daycare

smiling teacher and interested baby
Photo by David Hume Kennerly

Getting ready to go back to work after having a baby? Post-baby life can be a lot to handle: coordinating childcare, figuring out your new schedule, beginning to feel like a normal person again—whew! When you’re feeling overwhelmed (and it’s inevitable), just remember all new parents have been where you are, and everything will fall into place sooner than you think.

We asked some early childhood experts—KinderCare teachers—what new parents should look for in a daycare. Here are some of their top suggestions on how to find the perfect place for your new baby.

1. Look for safety first—especially at naptime.

One of the most important things to look for is evidence that your potential daycare follows safe sleep practices.

“When you first walk into the infant classroom, check for see-through cribs,” Naomi Lennis Hicks from the Park Avenue KinderCare in New York City says. “Teachers should be able to see your baby every moment of every day, even when they’re sleeping.”

You should also ask how they put babies to bed—and what’s allowed in cribs. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, to reduce the risk of SIDS, babies should sleep on their backs on a firm surface, without pillows, blankets, or toys in bed with them.

“At KinderCare, we strictly follow safe sleep guidelines,” Hicks says. Cribs should be fitted with a firm mattress and tight-fitting sheet. To make sure naptime is safe, the only thing allowed in your baby’s crib (besides their adorable, sleepy self) is a pacifier.

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2. Find a place that follows your baby’s schedule.

During your time at home with your baby, you’ve found a sleep and feeding schedule that works best for your family. So make sure to choose a daycare that will honor it! Although babies’ schedules are never 100 percent predictable, the right daycare will work with you to follow your baby’s routine as closely as possible.

While some daycares enforce naps at certain times, you should look for a place that pays attention to when your baby needs to sleep. Teachers should know how to watch each child closely for signs of tiredness. Eye-rubbing, sucking on hands or fingers, and heavy-headed nodding are all signs that it’s time for some shut-eye.

“Our teachers meet every child’s needs during naptime—it’s not a struggle or a fight,” says Millie Boychuk, a KinderCare Center Director in California. Whether your baby likes rocking, singing, being held, or using a pacifier, the right daycare will partner with you to learn what works best for your baby—and be there to comfort them right away when they wake up.

3. Make sure the center is clean and tidy.

Ever since your new baby arrived, your house hasn’t been as clean as it used to be—and that’s okay! But your daycare should always feel clean and tidy, even when your house is a bit of a mess.

Of course, a little clutter is bound to happen when kids are playing with toys all day. On your tour, look for evidence that teachers clean up after each activity and keep their classrooms (mostly) tidy. When classrooms are spick and span, it’s a great sign that a daycare knows what they’re doing—and that they likely have cleaning policies in place to make sure the space is safe for kids to crawl and play to their heart’s content.

In infant classrooms especially, keep an eye out for shoe-free policies and disposable booties for visitors to use, Sheila Silveria from Mercantile KinderCare Learning Center in Boston says.

“At KinderCare, we have a bootie- or sock-only policy, and many of our teachers even bring their own slippers just for the classroom,” Sheila says. “As soon as babies are ready to start crawling, it’s important to give them freedom to explore—and a shoe-free policy is the best way to keep their little hands and mouths away from germs and dirt while they discover the world.”

4. Spend quality time with the teachers.

Maybe most important of all is choosing a daycare where you feel great about the people taking care of your baby. Teachers should take the time to really talk to you and answer your questions—no matter how many you may have! This is a great sign that they’ll be there to communicate with you every step of the way, even after you’ve enrolled.

“When you’re touring, you should feel free to ask about anything. No question is out of bounds!” Kate Cassidy from Mercantile KinderCare Learning Center in Boston says. “Any good daycare teacher has heard all of this before and will be more than happy to address your concerns.”

Getting to know the teachers will help you figure out if your potential daycare keeps parents in the loop and, if they do, how they communicate. Whether that means quality face-to-face conversations at drop-off and pick-up, daily handouts that go over your baby’s progress and activities, an open-door policy so you can stop by anytime, or all of the above, you have to choose somewhere that offers the kind of communication that feels right to you.

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5. Learn about licensing vs. accreditation, and check for both.

Finally, once you’ve found a center you really love, how do you know your baby will thrive there?

To start with, it’s important to know the difference between a licensed center and an accredited one. For daycares, licensing is the bare minimum. Any daycare you consider should be licensed to operate—period.

However, nationally accredited centers go above and beyond to make sure teachers are giving your child the very best education possible. These centers aren’t just safe places for your baby—they’re also places where children grow their minds and prepare for the future.

“At KinderCare, we’re proud that 100% of our centers are nationally accredited!” Naomi says. “It means when parents are at work, they can always be sure that their babies are learning and thriving.”

Before you make your decision, it’s a great idea to make sure the daycare is accredited by an independent third party. The National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Accreditation Commission are both great places to start your search.

No matter what, know that whatever childcare you choose for your baby, the most important thing is that they’re safe and happy—and that they have you!