Let me preface by saying we had very specific needs for our day care situation. Not only did we need it to be licensed, clean, organized, and have that good "feel," but also it needed to meet very practical concerns. We were looking for a place that would accommodate all (or at least most) of the following:
1. I'm a teacher so I want a 10 month (not 12) schedule.
2. I also want 3 days per week, not 5, since FIL is willing to do 2.
3. I teach at a private school, so our vacation schedule is different than public schools. I wanted a place that does NOT close during public school vacation weeks in February/April.
4. I want the day care to be within very short distance to either home or my husband's work. I work in a very affluent suburb and had no hope of finding affordable care in that area. Plus FIL lives close to our home, so in an emergency I need him to be able to pick up the baby.
5. We have a pretty specific budget.
6. I needed a center that had workable hours for both my husband's schedule and mine, such as 7 or 8 to 5 or 6 instead of closing at 3 or 4, which some did. We wouldn't leave the baby all those hours but some days are different than others.
There were other things we were looking for, but these were the top ones.
I researched, called around, and talked to friends A LOT before setting up 5 appointments. I visited one in-home day care (10 kids - came from personal rec), 3 larger group daycares (1 came from personal rec, 40ish kids each, divided into age groups), and 1 church based daycare (personal rec, 20ish kids, divided into age groups). I didn't visit large chain day cares (Kindercare, Bright Horizons, A Place to Grow) because it was cost prohibitive for us. I also didn't pursue visiting more than 1 in-home daycare because I quickly figured out I was just more comfortable in a center setting.
It was a serious education. It is not as simple as going to the old lady down the street, who served Kraft Mac and Cheese anymore. (Anyone else have that experience?)
Here is what I learned:
1. No where is going to be perfect.
2. A lot is based on gut feeling when you walk into a place and meet the director/caregiver.
3. Personal preference plays a key role. I have a girlfriend whom I love to death, but she and I visited two of the same daycares and had drastically opposing views about them. Go figure.
4. Many daycares in my area often either require 5 days for infant care with a flat fee, or make their part time hourly rate so high that 5 days feels like a bargain. I ended up choosing one that charged a straightforward daily rate.
5. As personal preference, I liked the idea of a center better than an in-home day care because I like the idea of more staff, a director overseeing, more structure, etc. Some people love the homey nature of in-home day cares and I agree that a smaller group of kids is definitely a plus. BUT, I just had to go with my gut and I preferred a center. Many of the centers even have webcams where you can watch what's happening during the day!
6. The Massachusetts state mandated ratio of infants to adults in licensed daycares is 3:1. Check on it for your state.
7. Make sure to ask whether all staff are First Aid/Infant CPR certified.
8. Call references.
I'm relieved to say that we put in a deposit at one of the larger day cares, down the street from our house, last week. It ticked a lot of our boxes, appeared clean and organized, and had good references. I'm lucky in that I can see how it goes from April-June and then re-evaluate while on summer vacation. I have a backup in mind, in case it isn't the right place for us, as long as they have a spot.
I can't believe how stressful choosing a daycare was. The truth is, I have no idea how my feelings or instincts will change when The Nugget is here. I am taking my best guess at what will work for us, until I have a better frame of reference. Here's hoping I made a good choice.
On that note, I leave you with a new pic, because it's been a couple of weeks and I am astounded at the evolution of my belly.