The days of searching for daycare in Omaha are fresh in my mind. Walking in wide-eyed to each place, not knowing what things I should be looking for, what signs to note for a “good center” and a “bad center.” I asked for recommendations, but ultimately, I just went with my gut. And how a center makes you feel is important, but there are some universal things you should consider beyond the happy vibe a place gives off. I talked with Jewel McKercher, a director at Premier Academy Child Enrichment Center in Omaha and Elkhorn, to help me fine-tune this list.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Premier Academy. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.
Before you start looking for childcare
Congrats! You’re having a baby! Or you’ve had your baby. Either way, I bet you’re exhausted and, maybe, overwhelmed. Well, hopefully I can help with this task you have in front of you: Finding the right childcare center.
Step 1 – Start early.
I was barely showing when we started touring different centers in downtown and Midtown Omaha. For my search, I asked friends and co-workers and family and anyone who looked pretty trustworthy. I didn’t realize there were more resources like local experts you can talk to, as well. McKercher suggested you contact Child Care Resource and Referral Agency to get started. They’ll give you facts and a list of childcare options that may meet your needs.
Step 2 – What are your needs?
Ah, see in Step 1, I said you’d contact the referral agency to get started, but you’ll have to have an idea of what your needs are. For me, location was important, as well as flexibility with cloth diapers, for instance. What are your needs?
Step 3 – Make calls.
Once you have a list of places that may fit your needs, it’s time to lineup a tour. Call each place to schedule an appointment.
Things to look for in an Omaha childcare center
Time to tour! Yay! (Or not. I was totally overwhelmed when I started looking at childcare centers). Expect your tour to take around 20 minutes. You can do this.
Here’s what to look for:
The center as a whole
Check if the center is licensed or regulated. “Licensure ensures that the center is registered and has met or exceeded the state’s local requirements,” said McKercher. She also said it’s advisable to contact the state to see if the center has any complaints filed against it.
You want to know who works there, because these are the people who will spend the most time with your child. McKercher said the State of Nebraska requires the following background checks, at minimum: Department of Health and Human Services Central Registry Check; Nebraska State Sex Offender Registry; and Nebraska State Patrol Criminal History.
Also ask about any special training employees are required to have. “It is important for providers to have the following training: Pediatric CPR, Pediatric First Aid, Child Abuse prevention; Safe With You training, which is required by the State of Nebraska; and Continuing Education in the field of Early Childhood Education,” said McKercher.
Also be aware of the employee turnover rate. “Consistency is extremely important to children and the environment in which they learn best,” said McKercher. “Getting used to new teachers takes time and energy that could be spent learning.”
I can’t tell you how delighted I was to get updates at the end of the day from my kids’ teachers. Back in my day (not too long ago), it was all paper and an occasional emailed picture. At places like Premier Academy, teachers have tablets that make it easy to send updates to parents, like photos or a video of a fun activity.
So, check how the center’s teachers communicate with parents. McKercher said parents should get a daily report of their child’s day. It should highlight what they ate and drank, lessons or curriculum, and if the child is younger, how many diaper changes.
How’s the classroom?
Most parents eyeball the teacher to student ratio in things like swim lessons, but it’s also a very important thing to keep low in childcare, too.
When you’re touring a childcare center, look into what the teacher to child ratio. “The fewer children the better for your child,” said McKercher. “You want your child to get plenty of attention and care.”
McKercher said babies need a teacher to child ratio of 1:4, while 4-year-olds can do well with a ratio of 1:12.
And while you’re in the classroom, ask about the curriculum. Yeah, we’re talking about toddlers, but there are sound practices on how youngsters learn best and develop essential skills. McKercher suggested you ask if the center incorporates the Nebraska Early Learning Guidelines into the curriculum.
On top of that, ask what the Kindergarten Readiness rate is, and how prepared or advanced the students are when beginning Kindergarten. I’ll be honest, I didn’t even think to ask that when I was looking!
Meals at the daycare
Find out how the food is prepared and how healthy it is. McKercher said you can ask for the menu. Also ask if kids are encouraged to try different fruits and vegetables.
One of my kids had trouble with dairy early on, so when I was looking for a center, I wanted to be sure I could bring non-dairy drinks for him (most should be fine with this).
The outdoor space
When you look at that outdoor space, note if it’s fenced-in and if the equipment looks safe. McKercher suggested asking if the caregivers can see the entire playground and all the children playing. You should also ask how often they go outside.
My final thoughts on what to look for
I hope this list gives you plenty of ideas for things to look for and questions to ask when you’re looking at a daycare center. It’s an important decision that may be easy to make or may take some time researching. Good luck!
About the post sponsor
I learned a lot just interviewing Jewel McKercher from Premier Academy in Omaha. If you thought she was helpful, too, and you happen to be in the market for childcare, I encourage you to check out her employer and see if Premier is the right fit for you!
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