Childcare Options That Work For Your Family

When you're evaluating your out-of-home childcare options, it's important to consider how well -- or how poorly -- each childcare center or home daycare will meet the needs of your child. Obviously, this is where such factors as age and temperament come into play. Read suggestions from Ann Douglas, author of The Unofficial Guide to Childcare.
by Ann Douglas

Your child's age
Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers have very different needs when it comes to childcare. Not surprisingly, given the huge developmental leaps that occur in just a matter of months, the very same environment that is ideal for an infant can be enough to bore a toddler to tears.

Infants and Babies
Infants (ages birth to eighteen months) thrive in environments in which there is a low caregiver-child ratio (ideally 1:1 but no more than 1:3) and a small group size (ideally three or less but certainly no more than four). Because they need to have the opportunity to build strong attachments to their caregivers, they should be cared for by the same caregiver day after day. These caregivers should genuinely love babies and should be prepared to respond to their needs as quickly and effectively as possible.

Babies need to be able to eat and sleep when their own bodies dictate (as opposed to when the clock says they should be!), but at the same time they need a predictable environment in which they can feel secure. Also, they need a safe yet stimulating environment in which they are free to explore (as opposed to being confined to playpens or cribs for unreasonably long portions of the day).

When you're shopping for care for an infant, you'll want to pay particular attention to the caregiver-child ratio and the interaction between the caregiver and your child. Yes, it's nice if the playroom is decorated in eye-pleasing primary colors, and it's an added bonus if the toy cupboard looks like a store window at Christmas time, but what really matters for children of this age is the quality of the relationship that they are able to forge with their caregivers. If your child's caregiver is too busy to cuddle him between diaper changes and feedings or seems disinterested in his day-to-day accomplishments, he simply won't receive the quality of care that he deserves.

Toddlers (ages eighteen months to three years) receive the best care when the caregiver-child ratio is relatively low (ideally 1:3 or less, but certainly no more than 1:5) and the group size is six or less (four if you can find it). They need caregivers who have the patience and energy required to contend with their ever-changing moods, and who have realistic expectations of their behavior. And they need a safe environment that encourages their natural love of physical activity and active exploration while providing them with plenty of opportunities to practice new skills, do things for themselves, and make simple choices.

When you're looking for care for your toddler, you'll want to focus on such factors as the safety of the physical environment (something that's critically important because most self-respecting toddlers have a knack for zeroing in on the only hazard in a particular room in a matter of seconds!) and the way the caregiver interacts with the toddlers in her care. (After all, it takes a very tolerant person to put up with the tears and tirades of three very vocal two-year-olds.)

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