Considering Enrollment

There are limited options for childcare in the NRV, so the advice to sign up early is particularly prudent in this area. With all the excitement of finding out you are expecting; logistics and reason are often easily pushed to the side. However, educating yourself on childcare options is as important as learning about prenatal development and/or choosing a doctor or midwife.

I strongly suggest that expecting parents visit every childcare option available in the NRV. There are many different types of childcare for young infants all with strengths in different areas. Without checking out all the options, parents run the risk of thinking there is only one model of early childcare education.

There are limited options for childcare in the NRV, so the advice to sign up early is particularly prudent in this area. With all the excitement of finding out you are expecting; logistics and reason are often easily pushed to the side. However, educating yourself on childcare options is as important as learning about prenatal development and/or choosing a doctor or midwife.

There are numerous checklists available that lay out questions expecting parents should ask while visiting a childcare facility. These lists include staff-to-child ratios, staff education/credentials, daily schedules, age appropriate toys and activities, and so on.

Here are the specifics for the state of Virginia.
Staff-to-Child Ratio Requirements:
1:4 (ages 6 weeks to 16 months)
1:5 (ages 16 – 24 months)
1:8 (ages 24 – 36 months)
1:10 (ages 3 – 5 years)
1:18 (ages 6 – 9 years)

Staff Education Requirements:
Program Director: Must be age 21 or older with education requirements ranging from a high school diploma with 3 years of classroom experience and 1 year in a staff supervisory capacity in a childcare center to a graduate degree in an education-related field and 6 months experience in a childcare center.

Childcare Lead Teachers: Must be age 18 or older with education requirements ranging from a high school diploma with 6 months supervised classroom experience to a graduate degree in an education-related field.
Aides: Must be 16 years or older.
All child care workers must be First Aid/CPR certified, get a TB test, receive training in Child Abuse and Neglect and Daily Health Observations, and maintain Continuing Education Units each year.

Daily Schedule and Activities:
Infants: A flexible daily schedule based on their individual needs, including sleeping, eating, outdoor time, and comfort. Additionally, “language development activities, including but not limited to staff reading, talking to, showing pictures to, naming objects for, playing with and engaging in positive interactions (such as smiling, cuddling, and making eye contact) with infants” according to the VDSS Standards for Licensed Child Day Centers.
Toddlers: A daily schedule that includes outdoor activity, sleep, meals and snacks, “small and large motor activities, language and communication experiences, sensory experiences, art or music activities, and play acting or social living.” (VDSS).

Of course, there are many, many more details to the VDSS licensing standards, but these are the basics of what every childcare facility must provide.

I advise parents, when visiting daycares and early childhood schools, not to worry so much about ratios, hours, tuition, etc. That information will be available in handbooks, brochures, and on their website. Your time is better spent in other, very important ways.

Mindfully observe the environment. Is it clean? Does it smell nice? Is it safe? Are the materials taken care of or in disrepair? Is the environment pleasing? Why? Why not? What do you hear? Is the room quiet or loud? Do you want to spend time in the room that your child will spend his days in?

Mindfully observe the adults. How do the adults interact with the infants? Do they treat the babies with respect? With kindness? With patience? Do they talk to the babies? What tone and language do they use? What do they say? How do the adults speak to each other? Do they seem to enjoy what they’re doing? When they talk about the babies, do you sense respect for the child? How does the director interact with the teachers, with the children? When the teachers and director talk with you, how do you feel? Do you want to spend time with the adults that your child will spend her days with?
*Everyone has bad days. Look past a possible bad day and evaluate the bigger picture of the human interactions.

Mindfully observe the children. What activities are they involved in? Are they learning? Are they being “wild”? Do they look bored? Listless? Are their clothes and faces clean? Are they happy? Friendly? How do the children interact with each other? With the adults? Do the children interact with you? What do they say? How do they behave? Do you want your child to act like these children?

Ask lots of questions-about everything! Ask about the school’s educational philosophy. Ask the director and individual teachers about their education, training, and experience. Ask why a child is doing a certain activity. Ask why the teachers are doing certain activities. Ask about the educational materials. Who chooses them? What is the purpose of each material? Ask what the rules are in the classroom and in the school. Ask about discipline. Ask the teachers what their role is in the classroom. Ask the director how he/she views her role.

Choosing childcare and early education for your new baby is an important and challenging task for families. Leaving your baby in the care of others for the first time will be difficult emotionally. It’s so important to feel confident in your choice. Researching the possibilities, visiting and touring the local options, and chatting with the directors and teachers are great ways to get a feel for the place and people who will be spending their days with your child.