Daycare Tips for Working Moms

Daycare tips for working momsHere’s a fun topic: what are your best daycare tips for working moms? What are the things that only friends will tell you about daycare (such as dress your child as cute as possible); what have you learned the hard way by the way of daycare tips?

When readers were discussing baby clothing and daycare a while ago (I think in the post where I noted that one of my mom efficiency tricks is to dress my babies in footed sleepers for the first year), a trend emerged. Among working moms who send their kiddos to daycare, a lot of people noted that they purposely dressed their child cutely (headbands! overalls! tiny outfits!) for daycare, in part because they hoped the clothes would help give the child a personality for daycare workers to relate to. A lot of commenters reacted against this idea that you have to spend MORE money, time, and effort at a time in your life when none of those things is really in ready supply — but it makes sense to me.

This is also the kind of thing that isn’t going to be in a welcome packet from your daycare — only passed down among friends and other women. So I thought we’d discuss today — what are your best tips for daycare (other than regarding daycare waiting lists)?

Readers, Share YOUR Daycare Tips for Working Moms!

Some specific questions for readers:

  • What’s the #1 thing you appreciated about your daycare after you were in it — but didn’t know to look for during the interview process?
  • What’s the best tip you’ve gotten from another mom about daycare?
  • What are your specific tips for: the infant room, the toddler room, the preschool room?

All right ladies, over to you — what are your best daycare tips for working moms? (that no one else will tell parents)?

Psst: here are our general thoughts on pros and cons for different kinds of childcare.

Pictured: Family Portrait, originally uploaded to Flickr by Arturo Sotillo.daycare tips for working parents



  1. Famouscait says:

    I just learned one yesterday: my daycare will make an extra art project (on request) that I can have to give to a family member, etc. This came up because I wanted to send a handprint card (or something) to a friend who’s in the hospital. When I asked what kind of paint they used (so I could go get my own, to do the project at home) they offered to have my kiddo make an extra art project that was planned for that day. I think I’m going to ask for a couple extras over the next few months and stock pile for holiday cards, etc.

    • NewMomAnon says:

      Yes! My daycare now makes two art projects because they know her dad and I are separated. It’s nice not to have to split up the art projects (although we would do it if we had to).

  2. Meg Murry says:

    Number one thing I didn’t know was awesome about my daycare because I didn’t know it wasn’t normally provided: food and formula. No packing food – breakfast, lunches and snacks were all provided.

    Number 1.5: Daycare used same kitchen dishwasher to wash and sanitize all baby bottles for us, so we only had to bring in b-milk if we wanted to – no taking home bottles to wash. Same with sippies, water bottles, etc.

    we also weren’t asked to provide sheets, bibs or anything like that, beyond a favorite blankie or lovie if the kid had one. They also washed clothes that were only moderately wet/stained (so, if food stained or spilled milk on, they would wash and put back in the kiddo’s clothes bin, but we had to take home clothes that got diaper blowouts or potty accidents to wash ourselves)

    I was one of the heck no! commenters about the extra cute outfits. My kids often wore footie sleep and plays to daycare. If they were wearing clothes, we were winning – I made zero extra effort at dressing them cute for daycare, and actually tried keeping the cute outfits for at home and sent them to daycare in the hand-me-downs that might not match so well or might have some ghostly splotchy faded-but-not-gone stains.

    • Two Cents says:

      This is the holy grail of daycares. Having the daycare provide all food is AMAZING. It saves an incredible amount of time. Unfortunately mine doesn’t provide food but I really wish it did!!

      • Meg Murry says:

        It truly is. FYI, our daycare provides food because they get money from the USDA food program, due to serving lower income families. But it’s good food (unlike the school lunches at the public school, ugh). So take a look at programs that serve multiple income levels where possible – sometimes the less fancy daycares actually offer more services.

        Our daycare is really good at getting grants and partnering with other programs, so my kids also get free music and movement classes, go on field trips to art museums and the natural history museum in preschool, have college students come read to them for work-study money or to earn practical hands on hours toward teaching degrees, etc. We really just lucked into it, but I’m so glad we did.

        One major sign for us was that a lot of the staff had been there for a really long time: I’d say it’s evenly divided with 25% being less than 5 year employees (many on their first job out of college or working their way from Associates to Bachelors while there), around 50% in the 7-15 year range, and 25% there 20+ years (one of the infant teachers was there 35 years!). A happy staff willing to stick around for the long haul is often a sign of a good program.

        • On the flip side, we are in a daycare that is the top of the price range for our area (still affordable for us), and they provide amazing meals (we have to bring our own formula/bm). They recently overhauled their menu and won’t serve anything that is packaged (with the exception of a couple cereals), nothing with more than 9 grams of sugar, will only use complex carbs (brown rice, etc.), and serve veggies/fruits with every meal and snack. Our kid will probably eat better there than at home.

          • Coyote DT says:

            My daycare provides the same for us. And my kid eats SO well here. We served her some grilled shrimp and rice the other day and she reached over and ate the broccoli off of my plate instead of eating her own food. She ate about 10 small steamed broccoli florets and later rejected ice cream. They give her unflavored homemade yogurt as well, and I realized she won’t eat the lightly flavored yogurt I give her at home because it is too sweet. Its amazing to me. My kid refuses anything not 100% healthy.

        • Completely agree with you about examining staff turnover rates

    • +1,000,000. Find a daycare that provides all the meals. We save so much time not having to think of meals, buy all the ingredients, prepare them, pack them, and then wash all the containers at the end of the day. Glorious.

      My big tip – if your child has a cubby and you commute by car, buy a separate set of shoes and outerwear that can stay at daycare. It can be something not-fancy and not-expensive from Old Navy. One less thing to carry back and forth every day.

  3. (1) Offering food! It didn’t even occur to me to ask about this when I was pregnant and looking at centers (I hadn’t thought past the b-feeding stage). Now, I’m the only one in my circle of friends that doesn’t have to plan / pack meals for my kiddo to take to school every day. Saves time, saves money.

    (3) Tip for infant / toddler room: don’t freak out on other parents when your kid comes home with bite marks, he/she will be the ‘biter’ soon enough.

  4. My main tip is that I buy teacher presents for everything, and I make sure they are good (i.e. gift cards to one of the teachers’ favorite restaurants). I do: Christmas/winter holiday; teacher appreciation; their birthday; and a good-bye along with a heartfelt note when my child moves up. Occasionally I’ll buy for other holidays when I have time. Partly, I do it because I know that teaching at a daycare is a hard, low-paying job, but there is a little bit of, “I hope this makes them like me/my kid a little more.”

    My other tip is, watch party sign ups. Make sure you are first so you can bring juice. There is no glory in tramping all over to find nut free cupcakes.

    • I am always the first parent to sign up to bring things for parties, and I will always sign up for plates/cups/napkins. One-day Amazon shipping and I’m done!

    • NewMomAnon says:

      One caution on this – our daycare is one of the “USDA” funded ones with low-income kids, and there is already a big disparity between the “paying” kids and the kids who are on a sliding scale due to financial need. I try to be mindful about teacher gifts because I know many of the parents can’t afford anything, or don’t have the spare energy to make it happen even if they had some extra dollars. I still give something (card with a modest Target giftcard, for instance), but it’s not the big lavish gifts that I hear about at the fancy daycares.

      • Good point, NewMomAnon – this is probably a “know your daycare” sort of thing.

      • You could offer to start up a class pool for gifts, so that you can gift your heart out and not make others “look bad.” Our old daycare did this around the holidays– they just put out boxes for each teacher, and anyone who wanted to do a gift was encouraged to drop it in the box and sign a group card. Teachers all got the cash and card.

    • anne-on says:

      I’ve asked the teachers directly what they wanted in their room for the fundraiser proceeds. Its usually something relatively affordable, a set of toys, an extra walker, a digital camera, etc. I’ve chosen to buy those items directly and give them to the room my child is in so the director can use the funds on something extra. Plus I hate hitting up family members for fruit/candy/wrapping paper. Plus, the amount the schools actually get from some of those fundraisers is laughably low.

  5. Bloom says:

    I was also one of the dissenters to dressing your baby up to go to daycare. It just makes no sense to me. They’re daycare providers by profession, they don’t care how cute your kid is. I’ll jump on board with the food thing, I love not having to worry about it. By far my favorite part of our center is how small it is (only one classroom for each age group). I feel like the teachers at all levels recognize most of the kids at any given time. A couple other things – some places I toured wouldn’t take infants outside for walks at all (ours will), and ask how long the teachers have been there – high turnover can be a red flag, you will be able to tell if the manager is trying to gloss over this question.

    • Our daycare is NJ, where the state requires that all licensed daycares take kids (regardless of age) outside at least twice a day, unless the weather is severe. And they’re very conservative on defining “severe”–our daycare had said they wouldn’t go out if temps were below freezing, and the state came in and said the kids needed to go out even then

  6. This is a slight TJ, maybe more relevant to the daycare-waitlist post a while back, but: What about finding a daycare for a sudden job relocation?

    I’m due Oct 1 and have a spot at our top choice daycare starting Jan 4, which is great! Except … just got tapped for a potential relocation sometime after January. This is terrifying to me because I got my current daycare spot by being waitlisted since March 2015.

    The relo isn’t for certain yet – but when/if it does happen, it will be fast. Could be January, April, July, or drag into 2017.

    What do you do about childcare – especially infant care – when you suddenly have to move for work? Do I preemptively get on lists in the new location, or is that just crazy? do I hope to find a nanny/sitter situation for interim care? I’d be moving to an even more rural location and obviously would have no local support or contacts at all for a while.

    • If the only cost to be on a waitlist is some kind of registration fee, than yes – absolutely pay to secure a spot on the list in the location you will be moving to, and advise daycare that your start date is uncertain. This isn’t so unusual; friends who have adopted have done something similar, held a spot because they would have a kid starting ‘sometime in the next 6 months to a year.’

      Obviously won’t work if you have start paying monthly tuition as of a certain date whether your kid is enrolled or not, but I remember putting money down to be indefinitely on a few ‘waitlists’ just in case my first choice didn’t work out for some reason. I think it was $50 or $60 to be added to any list.

      • Meg Murry says:

        I agree, get yourself on lists if it’s a moderately low fee. Rural area could mean less competition for daycare spots – or it could mean fewer daycares, period.

        Could you talk to someone at the new location (HR maybe?) and ask if there are any recommendations for a daycare?

        Sorry if I’m assuming, but what will your spouse/partner be doing if you move? Could he handle the childcare for a few months before kicking the job search into high gear post move?

        • One of the beautiful things about this particular job move is that my husband could also make an internal move, even though we work for different companies. (His location is flexible so long as he shows up somewhere in person; there’s a nearby office and his assignment wouldn’t be changing at all).

          Sooo… overall good for hubs, but no downtime where he could provide transitional childcare.

          • Meg Murry says:

            I think getting on daycare lists should be your Plan A, looking for a short term nanny could be Plan B, and perhaps he could take some FMLA/baby bonding time if you are only looking at a 1 month gap? I’ve worked places where it wasn’t super uncommon for the husband to take a week or two FMLA when baby is first born, and then take a few more weeks after Mom goes back to work but before they start daycare.

    • B, I’d start getting on the lists. Assuming the daycares/schools aren’t charging a ton to be on them. Also, I’d find the FaceBook pages for the local moms and start asking around about where to go. Theses women will also be helpful if you need to find interim care.

    • I have two small kids and opted for infant daycare for both. I think if you can find an excellent infant daycare it’s a great option. I was uncomfortable with the idea of a nanny because of the lack of oversight. With a daycare there are more providers, more of a structured curriculum, etc. It just gave me more peace of mind.

      My younger one was home for the first 8 months until he went to daycare. It’s amazing to see how more social he is ever since he started daycare. He is very comfortable with lots of different people, which I really appreciate.

      The downside of daycare at that age is that they can get sick often.

    • Anonymous says:

      Get on every list you can as soon as you can. That is not crazy at all. Think of how long you were waitlisted for your current daycare– that is likely to be the case at your new location (it is in my city, as well). You can always cancel. I promise a lot of people get on daycare lists the day they get the positive pregnancy test, and you calling will not be crazy at all. Just treat it as if you are definitely moving and prepare accordingly. If you don’t move, no harm, no foul.

  7. Two Cents says:

    I look forward to reading the responses to this question! I have two small kids in two different daycares (we are on the waiting list at my older son’s daycare for the little one, and in the interim he’s in a temporary daycare). The logistics of two different drop offs can be daunting. Here is what has helped us:

    1. Pack bottles/food the night before and label everything.
    2. Fill out daily sheet to give to the daycare the night before
    3. If needed, hire a responsible college student to help drop off or pick up. We did this recently and it’s working out great.

  8. Our first child is due in November, and we are deciding between a regular daycare and an in-home provider (her home, not our home). The regular daycare is our favorite one in our city and is great on location, price, etc. The in-home lady has all the appropriate qualifications/licenses and is also great on location/price. She keeps four children under the age of two in her home for the same hours that the daycare would be open. We have close friends who have recommended both the daycare and the in-home lady.

    My question is, do you think there is any advantage to one of these over the other? I am leaning towards the in-home lady because I like the idea of her attention being divided among only four children, it feels more personal, and (this is my OCD showing) I feel like her house is cleaner than all of the daycares I have visited. With fewer children, I suspect there are fewer little sicknesses being passed around (I’m sure he’ll still get sick, but maybe not as much as a larger daycare). Any thoughts or suggestions?

    • Downside of in-home (or any situation where you only have one person) is … what if they get sick? What about when she goes on vacation? Not sure how much this weighs one way or another, but it’s something to think about. It’s never been a concern at our daycare center – if a teacher is sick, they have a great bench of substitute teachers to fill in.

      Another consideration of in-home vs. center is the frequency of inspections / state oversight. It may very well be the case that her home has the appearance of being cleaner – but in a center, you have regular inspections that can verify which cleaning products are used where, and how frequently, etc. Not often the case with in-home providers.

      • +1

        I would go further and say… What about lunch/bathroom breaks for the provider? Or when another child is having a rough time and needs to be held all the time? The nice thing I’ve found about daycare centers is that in these instances they have a floater or even office staff that can pop in to help.

        • Meg Murry says:

          Yes, that is what I was going to say. The thing I like about our daycare is that it is the teacher’s job to take care of the kids, period. Someone else preps lunch, cleans the center, etc. When I was a kid at an in-home daycare, I remember being left to our own devices or in front of a tv with the adult only keeping a general half eye on us while she was prepping/cooking lunch, or cleaning up after lunch, or in the bathroom with another kid.

          I would probably feel better about in-home if it was 2 adults, even if it was more kids.

          On the other hand, the one big plus my friend has to an in-home is that there is a ton more flexibility. She needs to work late for a week when she’s running a conference (with plenty of advanced notice) – her in-home provider is willing to feed baby dinner and keep her much later than usual. Baby is running a slight fever but isn’t straight up vomiting, or has a little rash? She can still come to the in-home daycare, while she would be out of the center for at least 24 hours, if not 48.

          On one hand, in home can have a lot more of an extended family feeling – like having a grandma or aunt watch your baby, and the other mixed age kids are almost like siblings or cousins. However, on the other hand, I really appreciate that my daycare has people trained in child development, nutrition, child safety, etc.

          Another big question on in-home is whether the provider is declaring the income on her taxes and you can therefore use dependent daycare flex spending or get the childcare tax credit, or whether she expects to be paid under the table.

          Last, what if she takes another infant, or more kids in general? My friend decided to look for a new sitter real fast when all of a sudden when school let out she had 3 more school aged kids, and mentioned that in the fall those kids would be in school but she would be taking on infant twins.

      • AttiredAttorney says:

        In most states, licensed home child care providers are also inspected by the state at the same frequency as child care centers, so the frequency or rigor of state inspections shouldn’t be a point of differentiation between the two. In my state, all licensed care (family or center) gets visited by the regulatory agency at minimum 2x year.

        • MTAttorneyK says:

          Just a few questions to ask if you are considering an in-home child care provider (based on my very turbulent experience looking and hiring providers]:
          are you licensed with the state? what type of license is it? how many kids are you allowed to have? [some don’t think they are req’d to be licensed – check this out for yourself! And some don’t consider older kids, their own kids or grandkids, etc. to be part of this calculation – this may be a red flag]
          who is your back up in the event of a Dr’s appt., vacation, etc.?
          do you keep your home life and work life separate? How do you keep them separated when they are in the same building? (I caught one in-home provider mowing her lawn when she was caring for 4-5 kids 4 and under, and they were outside with her. Beware of the providers who just see child care as a way to continue their way of life – being a stay at home parent into old age- being a provider and a parent are very different. For ex. I like the provider to be able to tell me how well my child ate, when they last slept, etc.; parents aren’t expected to keep a journal of their kids day).
          are you willing to keep a journal or report card of my child’s day?
          what kind of continuing ed do you get? Do you keep up on best practices for caring for child of this age group?
          Are you on the USDA food program, do you provide meals and snacks or do parents?
          TV? how often is it on? what types of programs do you watch, allow the kids to watch? at what age do you think it is appropriate for kids to start watching?
          how will you engage my child?
          how will you discipline my child?

    • I know people differ on this, but I prefer a center, as I’m more comfortable in a more structured environment with more oversight–a single person freaks me out. What if one of the other kids gets sick, injured, has a tantrum, etc.? 3 adults caring for 12 babies (the situation in my daughter’s infant room) seems preferable over 1 adult and 4 babies, to me. In addition, a center never closes unexpectedly–ours is closed only a few days a year for major holidays, all of which are announced way, way in advance–and an in-home can close for vacations, illnesses, etc., sometimes with very short to no notice. (Of course, this generalizes a lot–if the in-home provider has a good backup arrangement, this may be moot–have just heard the complaints from friends with kiddos in in-homes.) I was nervous that our daughter would be lost in the shuffle in a room of 12 babies, but I haven’t found that at all, and I don’t think that will happen in a good center with loving caregivers.

    • octagon says:

      We decided on a center because of the closings issue. Friends recommended their in-home daycare, but when we called, they close twice a year for a week at a time on top of regular holidays. I do not want to spend my vacation days just because daycare is closed.

      • Famouscait says:

        When we were touring daycares, I actually sat down and tallied up how many days each was closed for during the course of a year: for holidays, cleaning days, teacher trainings, etc. we ended up not even considering what I had previously thought would be out first choice simply because they were closed twice as much as everywhere else. I’m sure its a great facility, but I need my daycare to be open and available to watch my kid as often as possible.

    • MDMom says:

      We chose a daycare center for a lot of the same reasons already mentioned… the ratios at daycare centers in our area are 3-1. Ours has at least 4 people in a single room with the 12 infants, which to me makes it a lot less likely that something will be overlooked. Can you imagine being home all day with 4 kids? That requires a lot of vigilance. And the average family home has a lot more potential safety hazards than a daycare center. Another big thing for me is that you have no idea who else might come by during the day- the provider’s adult child who has a criminal record, for instance? States usually require background checks of all adult residents but, at least in my state, there is no manpower to have regular inspections to discover hey, they’re now renting the basement bedroom out to a pedophile. What about a provider’s teenage children? Background checks don’t cover juveniles. Now all of this can be mitigated if you know the provider well and trust them. But I felt a lot more comfortable with a center where there is more oversight and more eyes on the babies, rather than trusting my gut feeling about a stranger. Downside of course is more potential germs and potentially some inflexible policies and hours (some in-home providers may be more flexible, others not).

    • In my state, the ratios for <15 months is 3:1 or 2:7. Bumps to 4:1 or 9:2 for 15 months-2.9.

      I'd be a little skeptical about one person, with no help, watching 4 kids under 2 unless 2 of them were teeny tiny and slept all day. That depends on what the ratios are at your daycare option, however.

    • Katherine says:

      I think a lot also depends on your child. I’ve had both of my girls in both. The older one did better in-home because all of the kids and noise at the center bothered her – she would cry and cry when she came home. My younger one is in a center (definitely more convenient) and does fine there.

    • We love love love our home daycare. But make sure if it is licensed (in our state, can only be two babies under age 2 per provider), that you like the space (we visited one that didn’t have a separate napping area), that the babies get to go outside, etc.
      What we love about ours is that the kids range from age 6 months to 4 years, so there’s lots of variety; both daycare ladies are amazing; they are very, very responsive to any concerns; our baby goes outside for extended periods every day; they are great about making sure he gets enough sleep and can work on his schedule, vs. one blanket schedule, because there are only 3 babies. We also gets awesome notes of all his daily activities, and can text the main provider basically any time.
      They provide food for kids but not babies, sadly.

      • Right, also make sure to ask who takes over if the provider is sick, and are those people on the license? How much vacation (and how much do you pay for? Ours is one week paid, one week unpaid). Our provider has three family members on her license who take over if she or the secondary lady are sick, have to go to a state certification conference, etc.

  9. These are all very helpful insights– thank you all! I’ll find out more about her backup arrangement. She does close for a week around Christmas and a week in the summer, but this kid has two sets of super involved grandparents that have already expressed their willingness to host “Nana Camp” when the in-home is closed, so that is helpful. Thank you all for pointing out these things!

    • My niece is in an in-home daycare and it has been a wonderful, wonderful experience for her. I am actually a bit jealous that I don’t have the same set up for my own daughter. The only downside for my sister and brother-in-law is the provider’s vacation schedule (2 weeks summer, 1 week around Christmas), but it sounds like that wouldn’t be an issue for you.

    • Eunice says:

      My son is in an in-home daycare. He has been there since he was 6 months old and he is now 1 4 months. I’m just now realizing that is has been a whole year! The pros: when he was smaller it did make me feel good that he was in a cozier environment with more 1-on-1 care. She is really attentive and he seems comfortable with her and that makes me feel better about leaving him there. She also has an assistant who helps with diaper changing, etc. so that there is always someone watching the kids and so she isn’t overwhelmed if all 4 kids need her at once. She runs a licensed in-home day care so there are regular inspections just like in a regular daycare. Cons: if she is sick or has a doctor’s appointment, she closes early or doesn’t open at all. This has only happened 2 maybe 3 times in the entire year, so it wasn’t an issue. She also takes one week off per year (plus holidays), so we had to find alternate care for him that week (grandma was more than happy to fill in). I have no experience with regular day care, but my son has gotten sick several times even in this setting, which I know comes with the territory. He was very sick once and had minor colds/ear infections 3 other times. Don’t know how that compares to regular daycare and I’m sure it depends on the child. All in all I am happy that we chose her for his time as a baby, but now that he is a toddler I am considering a change. That’s what I’m having trouble with now- deciding if I want to switch him now that he is used to being there. It’s a tough choice but trust yourself to make the best one for your baby. :)

  10. Having food provided at daycare is a must for me. I ruled out several daycares in my new neighborhood because they don’t provide food each day.

    While I liked our old montessori school/daycare a lot, we ran in to some issues with combining the age groups in the mornings and evenings during the “extended hours.” The older kids (4-6 years old) were combined with my son, who had just turned 3. He told us that the older kids picked on him and made fun of him a lot. We talked to his teacher and eventually the director, and while they promised to keep an eye on it, there’s only so much you can do when kids with different age groups are combined.

    Like we discussed earlier, keep a few prints of recent family photos on hand. You never know when you’re going to get an “art” project that will need pictures. I also keep glue sticks, markers, and other craft supplies around now. I also keep a stash of gift cards and blank note cards for teachers’ gifts.

  11. If you are looking at licensed or certified care (not a nanny), find out if your state agency publishes inspections or reports for each facility. If they do, monitor those reports. In my state (Wisconsin), the program is called YoungStar and I check this regularly to see the results of our center’s latest inspection and to keep up with others in the area. YoungStar was invaluable in selecting a daycare center we felt comfortable with.
    I preferred a center over in-home care primarily because of thee adult-to-child ratio. While my infant was in a room with 7 others her age and 2 teachers, I appreciated that there was always more than one adult in the room. Our center also has webcams for parent access , and that made me feel safer leaving my kids when they were brand-new babies. I didn’t watch obsessively, but I might log in for 5 minutes here and there, especially around nap time when I wanted to be certain my baby was sleeping in a crib, on her back and with no blankets.

    Also, label all of your kid’s clothes! Once they hit the potty training stage and accidents happen, it can be pretty awkward to realize your kid is wearing someone else’s undies because they weren’t labeled clearly.

    • AttiredAttorney says:

      Yes, over 30 states have child care rating systems similar to Wisconsin’s “YoungStar” program, so chances are, your state has it too! Try a google search for “Quality Rating and Improvement System (your state name)” to find the one for your location. QRIS are becoming more and more common and are a great tool.

  12. This post was so timely! I went back to work on Monday and it’s been rough adjusting (waking up at 5 a.m. and a 2 hour commute each way now).

  13. MDMom says:

    When looking for a daycare, ask your friends/coworkers with young children. If you’re looking at a place and they haven’t heard of it, ask them to ask their friends and so on. It’s good to read reviews on internet sites and forums but I don’t know if we would have found the center we ended up using if we had just relied on internet searches. The online reviews for it are hit or miss- on one of the parenting forums, some anonymous user complains about not seeing a teacher wash her hands once and about one time someone let her in the door without the code (even though it was another parent, not an employee, which could happen almost anywhere). There were also positive reviews, but there is a tendency to give more weight to negative reviews online. However, coworkers who sent their kids there absolutely raved about it, they just gushed about how wonderful it was and how lovely and warm the teachers are. That made a huge impression on me and so far (3 days in) I am really pleased.

    Also, tour a lot of different places. It sucks to make the time for it, but it really helps you when you have a lot of options to compare.

  14. Katherine K says:

    Random thoughts … fill out your daily sheet with as much information as you can (name, DOB, parents’ contact info, etc.) and make your own copies so that all you have to do each day is fill in the date and whatever other daily information they want.

    For holiday gifts, I give a gift card to the staff for a local restaurant so they can pick a day and order lunch on us. I usually calculate about $10/person who works in the classroom, and add in another $10 for tip.

    I also periodically brought in treats for the staff, including the bookkeeper and manager (who don’t regularly work in a classroom and don’t always get those little perks!) Sadly, this has gone by the wayside since having two kids, but it was very well received when I did.

  15. Sylvia says:

    I was a little nervous about corporate daycare but they were great during the last government shut down (they did contingency planning and dispatched all the kids to centers that remained open) and use an organic caterer. The director sends out regular updates by email and every month we receive a monthly update on the theme of the month and supplementary activities we can do at home.

    I had “mommy” cards made up with our son’s name and my and my husband’s contact info to hand to other parents so we can arrange playdates on the weekends.

  16. Anonymous says:

    We are on our third childcare facility (daycare in old city, daycare in new city, and now preschool in new city). The daycare in our current city provided breakfast, lunch and two snacks and it was so amazing. At our preschool, we have to bring lunch and it makes mornings so much more frantic. At our first daycare, my favorite time saving hack was to bring in the whole week’s worth of gear every Monday so that I only had to grab bottles in the morning. After my kid transitioned to eating mostly solid food, we would bring in a week’s worth of food on Mondays to save time (and avoid the inevitable “oh, sh!t!” moment when we would show up at daycare with no food for him. I appreciate that my current preschool offers private music lessons and sports during aftercare, so we don’t have to figure out ways to schlep my son to those activities or squeeze them in to our limited family time. I didn’t think about this when choosing a preschool but am happy with how it worked out.

    I also made a point of picking out a preschool with summer camp for most of the summer. Obviously much easier than finding 12 weeks of full time camp.

    • anne-on says:

      This – our current ‘preschool’ makes a ton of effort to prepare kids for the kindergarten requirements, which is huge b/c our state has no school pre-k. They also offer a ton of ‘extras’ for kids so I don’t have to schlep him around on the weekends like sports/movement classes/languages/STEM classes/etc.

  17. EB0220 says:

    Things I didn’t know in advance but wish I had:
    – The more items provided, the better. Our current daycare provides wipes and food and it’s great. I hated packing lunch every day for my older child when she was a toddler.
    – If you plan to breastfeed, you need to ask how many breastfed babies they’ve had. With #1, none of her providers were familiar with the differences between breastfed and formula-fed babies, and it was so discouraging.
    – You may not know what kind of environment you’ll want for your child when you’re still pregnant. Don’t be afraid to change daycare providers if your priorities change once you actually have the baby. I skewed much more attachment parenting than I expected to, and I wish I’d acted more quickly once I realized that my first daycare choice wasn’t a good fit.

    In my opinion, art projects and academics and “school” stuff are all fine, but what I really want for my kid are: loving providers, a great outdoor space and a pleasant and soothing indoor space. Emphasis on reading and play over curriculum and assessments. Infants don’t need a “curriculum” – they need love.

    • Meg Murry says:

      And along with this – don’t be afraid to move if you think one center would be better for infants but a different one better for preschoolers.

  18. Meg Murry says:

    Oh, another tip/trick for moms with infants – see if the infant room has a freezer where you can leave breastmilk, for emergencies or those “oh crap, walked out the door without the cooler this morning” days. Our infant room had a full sized fridge, and let me leave a shoebox sized box of milk bags there, so I didn’t have to pull them out on Mondays – just restock the box every few weeks. It also freed up more room in our freezer at home.

    Also, if you aren’t the primary contact for emergencies, write a big note on the emergency forms that says: “in case of emergency, call in this order” and then list what numbers to call (for instance, for us it is: DH cell, DH office, my cell, my mother’s cell, MIL’s office, my office, etc in that order) because I work an hour away and am rarely at my desk, while my husband almost always has a cell phone on his hip and is usually within 15 minutes of daycare at any time. Far too many places still default to mothers as the first point of contact, when in our case I am the most unreachable of all the emergency contacts, and once you got a hold of me I still couldn’t get there in less than an hour.

  19. Definitely second the joys of a daycare that provides lunch and snacks.
    Also second being the first to signup for things when sign up sheets go up.

    One thing I worried about when enrolling my daughter in daycare was who would be our “in case of emergency” person since we didn’t know anyone who would have access to a car seat. Turns out, our daycare center has extra car seats on hand so if anyone ever had to pick up your kid, they wouldn’t have to worry about having a car seat. Not a make or break thing, but definitely something that has come in handy. Which is to say, don’t be afraid to talk to the folks at the school about your concerns or questions. They see a lot of first time parents and how they respond to your questions can tell you a lot about what kind of environment they are trying to create both for the parents and the kids.

    One of the best thing I’ve done is to convince one of my really good friends to enroll her kid in the same school. First of all, we get a referral bonus, but also we have someone to be our “in case of emergency”person who will be going to the school anyway. So if we are just running five minutes late, we can ask our friend to sign our daughter out. That way I do not incur the late fee and my friend doesn’t mind letting our girls play on the playground until I get there. Also, sometimes it’s hard to make time to see friends, but now that our girls are at the same school, we often volunteer for school functions together and some days we will drop our girls off at school early and go for a walk and chat in the mornings. Even if you don’t have a friend to convince, find out if anyone at your daycare lives in your neighborhood and make new friends. It really helps to have a good parent friend at the school.
    I read this tip somewhere – When you stock your kid’s cubby with all the extras, put in clothes that are slighly too small or that you don’t particularly care for as her second set of clothes. I like that that way I can tell when I pick her up if she has had an accident and also I’m not sad that my favorite onesie is not getting worn because it is in the emergency pile.

  20. jurisma says:

    this discussion is very timely as I am sending my son who is turning 7 month old to daycare next week. Although I am not new to the daycare arrangement as my daughter has been going to the same daycare for the past two years, sending two kids to daycare ( and getting both ready in less than an hour in the morning) still seems daunting. As many noted here, we prefer daycares to nannies for the same reasons (more structured environment, standard compliance and more oversight/help). That being said, does anyone care to share her experiences as to how a young 7 month will handle at daycare? I am a bit uncomfortable with my son being so young..he will need more naps than other older babies, and we have to pack our own food for him etc. do any of you mommies pack homemade baby food for your infants(other than sweet potatoes, avocados & bananas), ? if so, what are the best food that freezes well and de-freeze easily and nicely – I’d like to cook a patch of food and pureed them in advance (maybe on the weekend). any tips?

  21. Onlyworkingmomintulsa says:

    I would say the #1 thing I have appreciated is the twice-yearly parent-teacher conferences. My daughter is only 2.5, but I have really the care the teachers have taken in charting her developing development and giving me more formal updates outside of pm pick up.

    I’m actually another dissident on dressing cute for daycre. My daughter gets SO diry in the summer. Our daycare does not have rubber ground material like most of the new playgrounds in the area, so cheap-o play clothes it is! We save the nicer stuff for weekends and visiting friends and family.

    A big thing for me when I was touring was if the daycares offer paid vacation and health benefits for the teachers. I think this relates directly to teacher retention and a happier work staff. Daycare teachers already make so little, they deserve the benefits.

  22. Former daycare provider says:

    We hated the cute outfits that included accessories. Headbands, cute shoes and frilly socks were just another object to keep track of. If you want your daycare provider to love you, sure dress the kiddo up cute, but keep it sensible, something that no one is going to feel guilty about if it gets messy or lost and skip accessories. Btw, headbands are choking hazards. We used to a) ask that ppl leave then home and b) if ppl didn’t we put all of the accessories Into the child’s cubby until pick up time.

  23. Lauren says:

    I normally dress our 11mo old daughter “cute” for daycare because ALL her clothes are cute (my MIL loves to shop for her…), and while I noticed she was dressed a little snazzier than her classmates, I didn’t set out on this path with any intent other than covering her body. But then I read this, and that very afternoon when I went to collect her, I walked in to find her taking a nap on the owner of the school (also a teacher), and while we sat and chatted, she remarked on how cute my daughter always looks, and that it reminded her of how she used to dress her daughters. So…. maybe there’s something to this after all!

  24. As a dad, and having my wife working also…daycare has become a gigantic expense rivaling our rent. These are good tips for both of us. We take our daycare search seriously.