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Child Care: Preschool Center-Based Care


What is center-based care?

Child care centers provide an organized group setting away from home. They may also be called preschools, nursery schools, or learning centers. Most centers take children 3 to 6 years of age who are toilet-trained. Some have infant or toddler nurseries for children younger than 3.

Child care centers are licensed by the state. They must meet safety requirements and the center staff must have certain kinds of training. The states also have rules about the number of adults needed to take care of a certain number of children. Check your state's requirements for center-based preschool care.

Ask the Child Care Provider:

  • Is the child care center licensed? Is the licensing permit current?
  • What are the tuition payments? When are they due?
  • What are the hours? Holiday and vacation schedule?
  • Is an initial registration fee required? What are admission requirements?
  • Are there extra charges for such things as meals or transportation?
  • Are fees reduced if more than one child enrolls?
  • Are deductions offered for periods of absence?
  • Is financial assistance available?
  • Is safe transportation provided?
  • What is the caregiver to child ratio? Federal guidelines for centers suggest no more than 1:3 for infants 1:4 for toddlers 1:8 for children aged 3 to 6.

Observe or Ask About:

Facility

Does the center have:

  • carpeting, pads, and drapery to absorb noise?
  • child-sized furniture?
  • a cheerful, colorful atmosphere?
  • ample toys and art materials?
  • plenty of indoor and outdoor space?
  • special areas for quiet and active play?
  • safe, creative outdoor play equipment?
  • a place to display children's work?
  • smoke detectors and fire extinguishers? Regular fire drills? Alternate exits?

Staff

Does the staff:

  • welcome my questions and suggestions?
  • hold regular parent/teacher conferences?
  • share my childrearing philosophy?
  • take time to share my child's experiences with me?
  • remain gentle, yet firm? consistent, yet flexible?
  • have low turnover?
  • sensitively handle feelings of fear, shyness, upset, and anger?
  • respect each child's unique background and interests?
  • guide rather than direct behavior?
  • really listen and talk to the children?
  • kneel or sit at child's eye level?
  • spend individual time with each child?
  • emphasize children's strengths and accomplishments?
  • handle discipline positively?
  • establish and consistently maintain limits?

Program

Does the program:

  • provide daily outdoor activities?
  • balance active, physical activities with quiet, restful ones?
  • provide ample rest and nap times?
  • prohibit play that could quickly get out of hand?
  • maintain an adequate staff to child ratio on the playground?
  • help children deal with feelings constructively?
  • provide security through a well-defined, predictable schedule of daily activities?
  • show children how to help themselves as much as possible?
  • allow children to pursue some activities without being disturbed by others?
  • provide plenty of time for children to complete their projects?
  • foster curiosity through opportunities to see new things and try out new ideas?
  • provide plenty of "hands on" learning experiences?
  • furnish an environment rich with science materials, books, building equipment, musical instruments, toy and art materials, props for dramatic play, natural materials like sand, water, and clay?
  • balance structured and unstructured activities?
  • develop a sense of satisfaction over completing a task or thinking something through?
  • design step by step goals for each child?
  • plan field trips or invite special visitors?
  • encourage language development?

Health and Safety

  • Is each child required to have an up-to-date immunization record?
  • Does the facility meet state standards for how many children can be taken care of by one staff person?
  • Are staff and children taught to wash hands with soap and water after diaper changes or contact with body fluids?
  • Are important phone numbers posted near the phone? (Examples include police, fire, poison control center, hospital, children's physician, ambulance.)
  • Does the staff always know how to get in touch with both parents?
  • Is your child always watched, indoors and out?
  • Can all doors inside the center be opened from the outside at all times?
  • Are the outside doors and windows locked?
  • Do strong screens or metal bars cover the windows? (especially important above ground level)
  • Do all glass doors have decals?
  • Are the rooms well ventilated and comfortable year-round?
  • Are the bathroom facilities clean and easily accessible to children?
  • Are stairways and walkways free from clutter? Are floors free from spills, slippery surfaces, or small throw rugs?
  • Are small, sharp, or otherwise dangerous items out of reach or locked in a cupboard, drawer, or cabinet? (Examples include pins, thumbtacks, paper clips, matches, lighters, knives, plastic bags, scissors, guns, razor blades, glassware, working appliances.)
  • Are poisonous items stored out of reach or locked in cupboards, drawers, or cabinets? (Examples include cleaning products, polish, bleach, medicines, cosmetics, perfumes, aerosol cans, and first aid supplies.)
  • Are the center and outdoor play area free from poisonous plants?
  • Do all electrical sockets have protective covers?
  • Has attention been paid to objects that could be pulled or knocked over? (Examples include tablecloths, electrical cords, lamps, furniture.)
  • Are toys safe, clean, and in good repair?
  • Are play surfaces, indoors and out, softened with carpeting or wood chips?
  • Do children seem safe with one another?
  • Is the outdoor area fenced and free of hazards?
  • Is the play equipment safe and appropriate for your child's level of development?
  • What is the procedure for medical emergencies?
  • What are the policies regarding illness? (for example, are parents contacted if another child has a contagious disease? Does the caregiver have someone to substitute in case she gets sick?)
  • Is a physician on call? Are medical records maintained?
  • Is the staff trained in early childhood education and first aid?

Meals

  • Are the meals healthy and nutritious?
  • Are menus varied and posted for my review?
  • Are healthy snacks served mid-morning and mid-afternoon?
  • Are children allowed to leave food on their plates? (They should never be forced to eat.)
  • Are portions small and second helpings available?
  • Who plans the menus (dietitian or other staff)?
  • Is the kitchen clean?

Written by Donna Warner Manczak, PhD, MPH.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-01-28
Last reviewed: 2009-05-26

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

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