Because we both work full-time, we had to navigate the tricky world of daycare selection in New Orleans about one and a half years ago. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I was totally lost when we first started looking into options. I found that there were not as many choices as I was hoping for, and figuring it all out was more complicated than I was anticipating. After talking to several other moms in the area, I discovered that I was not alone. I’ve compiled some advice and guiding questions to hopefully make daycare selection just a little easier. If you have any ideas to add, I’d love to hear them!
Baby’s on the way – yay! Now what?!?
- Get thee on lots of waiting lists. This may sound crazy, but it is never too early to put yourself on lots and lots of waiting lists for daycare in the New Orleans area. It doesn’t really matter if the daycare director knows you’re pregnant before your husband does. Put your name on as many lists as possible and figure out the best fit later.
- Visit your preferred daycares unannounced. If you have time, drop by a few daycares unannounced to take tours. Yes, I know that some ask for you to call ahead, and yes, I know that some ask you to make appointments. But you can gain really valuable information by dropping by unannounced, and if they can’t accommodate you for a tour right then, at least you will see how they respond to your visit. Are they friendly? Welcoming? Warm? Understanding? If not, it’s likely you may not feel comfortable with the daycare anyway. Do be considerate when thinking about when to drop by (i.e avoid obvious drop-off and pick-up times. Mid-morning is likely a safe bet.)
- Enjoy your pregnancy. Once your name is on a few waiting lists, try not to stress or worry about childcare for the rest of your pregnancy. I know that this is easier said than done, but everything WILL work itself out. It’s hard to know how you’ll feel after the new addition to your family until he/she arrives, so it’s not worth stressing about. While a tad nerve-wracking, it’s not terribly uncommon to head into maternity leave without a spot at daycare.
Your child has a spot – hallelujah! How will you know if it’s a fit?
- Consider your daily routine. What will the commute be like? Even though New Orleans traffic is nothing like Manhattan or LA, it can take quite some time in the morning to get across the city. I recommend driving the route and testing the routine at the time you’d be making the drive just to make sure it won’t add too much stress. I had to make the Metairie to uptown commute for 6 dreadful weeks last fall and soon realized that there were no less than 10 school zones between our house and daycare. Not fun.
- Check the daycare’s exact schedule. For example, what are the exact hours and on what holidays do they close? Are there certain days/holidays throughout the year where the daycare closes early? Does the daycare run a “camp” in the summer or is it truly a year-round daycare? If the daycare does run a camp in the summer, how will it be staffed (i.e. are the teachers the same year-round, or do they change)?
- Determine if the daycare will accommodate your personal parenting choices. How much food, if any, will you be able to provide from home? Will the daycare allow you to bring (or will they purchase) organic milk (or yogurt) when you get to that stage? How are nursing mothers accommodated during the day? How/where is breast milk stored? Do bottles have to be pre-made? Does the daycare provide wipes, sunscreen, diaper cream or any other products, and if they do, would they be willing to use yours instead, if desired? One thing to know is that not all requests are possible due simply to state regulations or logistics, but it’s still helpful to get a feel for the way a daycare will work with you in those early months.
- Meet the teachers. One of the most helpful things for me was actually spending time in the room at daycare before Thatcher started. It allowed me to get to know the teachers and the routine. Ask the teachers how long they’ve been there, how long they have been working with that specific age and just try to get to know them. It may be a flag if teacher turnover is high or if teachers are constantly changing rooms. Also, be sure to ask the director for the teachers’ credentials (both background and experience, as well as things like First Aid and CPR certifications). It’s also wise to ask whether or not the daycare follows any sort of curriculum or daily schedule. Do they just “wing” every day, or is there a set routine? Are all babies/children put onto one schedule, or does baby dictate what he/she needs?
- Understand how decisions are made. It’s natural to focus mostly on the room in which your child will initially be placed. That said, your child(ren) will eventually move rooms. Be sure that you understand what the teacher to child ratio is in each room (and at each age) and that you are comfortable with when children move rooms. Some daycares move children when they hit certain milestones (e.g. sitting up or walking) whereas others simply move children at the end of each school year. Ask these questions in advance so that you’re not taken by surprise when a change to your child’s routine is made.
- Read the policies and procedures. Most daycares should have a handbook for parents. Ask for a copy and read it thoroughly. How often does the daycare practice fire drills? What happens in emergencies like tornado watches? (I once panicked during a terrible thunderstorm when I realized that I didn’t know where they’d take the kids in the event of a tornado. Oh, the joys of worrying as a mom!) What are the security measures for visitors and individuals who come to the daycare for drop-off and pick-up? For what incidents will they call parents? Can you leave the infant carrier at school if mom drops off and dad picks up, for example? Are the teachers required to get vaccinated for things like the flu and whooping cough? How often and for how long do the children play outside? Are there any TVs (or DVD players) at daycare, and if so, when are they specifically used? Will the children ever be taken off campus for walks, and if so, when and why?
Now what in the heck does baby need at daycare?
- You’ll feel better if you are over-prepared. I probably send “too much” to daycare, but it makes me feel better and that’s important. Thatcher has extras of everything he could possibly need (diapers, wipes, sunscreen, diaper rash cream, clothes, loveys, etc). Of course, it’s important that you check with the daycare about how much space they have for your child, but don’t feel bad about sending anything to school that would make your child feel comfortable. In the very beginning, I actually bought extras of our favorite swaddling blanket and pacifiers, as well as a second Sleep Sheep, just for daycare. I wanted Thatcher to feel as comfortable as possible, and I didn’t feel guilty about it for a minute.
- Purchase labels for everything. A couple of great resources are InchBug and Name Bubbles. It’s better to over-label than to have stuff go missing because the cost of replacing pacifiers, sippy cups and bottles can get expensive! The Baby Face Band is also a super creative way to label sippy cups since toddlers are capable of recognizing their own image but not reading their name quite yet.
- Consider bottle transportation. If you are nursing or have to bring pre-made bottles, you will be really happy if you invest in one of these BUILT Neoprene 6-pack totes. Yes, it is for carrying beer, but we could not have lived without this because it prevented bottles from spilling in the car on the way to/from daycare. If and when you move to formula, I found this formula dispenser really helpful for transporting his formula.
- Remember seasonal necessities. Many daycares offer water play in the summer, but our climate is generally mild enough for year-round outdoor play. Make sure that your child has appropriate seasonal clothing, as well as “extras” like hats, swim diapers, bug spray and coats for whatever season we may be in.
It’s not just about baby!
- Ease back into work, if possible. I remember being a nervous wreck for the first few days Thatcher was at daycare. Would they know what he needed? Would they respond to his cries? Would he get enough to eat? Would he be able to fall asleep? Would he miss us? I think that all of these feelings and emotions are totally normal. I actually ended up bringing Thatcher for a few hours a day during the last few weeks of maternity leave. Part of me hated this because it was our last few days together, but it was super helpful at the same time. I also arranged to leave early for the first few weeks back at work so that I could pick Thatcher up at a reasonable time. Some people suggest starting back to work on a Thursday to give you only two days before a much-needed weekend together. All of these strategies can help make the transition easier on baby and mom.
- You will cry. And it’s normal. Regardless of when you enroll your child in daycare or school, it’s going to be emotional. Some tears are to be expected (and we’re talking about mom here!) If you’ve done your homework and are confident in your choice, give it a few weeks before doing anything drastic like changing daycares. But I don’t recommend going back to work the Monday after Mother’s Day and also baptizing your child on said holiday. Trust me on this one.
- Network with other working moms. This truly saved me on multiple occasions. Seek out moms with whom you work, or ask your friends if they can connect you with another working mom. Just talking to people who understand can really help because you are likely to find the first few days and weeks rough at times.
A condensed version of the information from this post is available here, and we hope you find it helpful!