Daycare daze: how to find the right daycare

 By Heather Camlot

As new moms, it’s almost impossible to imagine leaving our new bundle of joy in the care of another.  But for most of us, the day comes when we have to make some big child-care decisions: who will provide the care, where will that care take place and when will that care begin?

Step 1: Prioritize

The first step in tackling the childcare dilemma is determining what’s most important to you. “Every parent has different priorities,” explains Muriel Howden, general manager of the Le Petit Chaperon Rouge French daycares in Toronto. Do you want a language school, a specific location – near your office, in your neighbourhood – catered meals, a large or small environment (nanny versus home daycare versus childcare centre), a daycare that takes infants? You should also ask yourself whether you prefer unlicensed or licensed care, the latter of which must follow provincial health, safety and caregiver training standards.

Step 2: Make a list

Once you have a sense of what you need and want, ask around. “Referrals are very important,” says Howden. “Talk to your neighbours, your friends, even your local schools about daycare options.” In Toronto, log on to the Child Care Finder to narrow your search by ward, type of program and type of care centre and be sure to click on the city’s quality rating. Other government-run locators include the  Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services, the Ministry of Children and Family Development in British Columbia and Alberta’s Children and Youth Services.

Step 3: Take a look

Once you have a list of potential daycares, make an appointment to visit them. A tour of the facility helps you get a feel for how it is run and how children and caregivers interact. When inspecting a daycare, take note of a how the classroom is organized (are there special nooks for different activities, like drama, science and reading?), how activities are planned, what a typical day is like (including routines and nap times), whether the facility is clean and whether the toys are in good condition.

If meals are prepared onsite, tour the kitchen and ask about the menu and how the daycare deals with food restrictions and allergies. If meals are catered, don’t be afraid to request the caterer’s phone number.

Talk to the director about your child’s specific needs at this time as well, suggests Howden. If a child is outgoing, how does the daycare nurture that; if a child is shy, how do the caregivers get him involved?  For more questions to consider, visit AboutKidsHealth.

Step 4: Get on the waiting list

Waiting lists are long, especially in big cities where space is limited. Howden had signed her son up at a daycare located in an elementary school she was considering. She got a call when space became available – five years later.

Typically, though, waiting lists range between a couple of months to a couple of years, depending on the age level. The lesson: “You should start researching daycares when you’re pregnant, even when you know you want to start a family,” says Howden. “The idea of having a child is not real yet for parents, but at least think about what you’ll need and want and get some information.”

And when you are on the waiting list, be sure to follow up, says Elena Coderre, director of LPCR’s Coxwell Avenue location. Waiting lists are complicated, she explains. Siblings take priority, some families may have found space elsewhere and when openings do come up, some waitlisted prefer to give up that spot for a more convenient start date.

Step 5: Take a second look

“When we have a space available, we encourage parents to come with their child for a second tour,” explains Coderre. “They can come spend and hour or two in the classroom. Parents are welcome to stay with their child or they can drop the child off, as long as they stay on the premises.”  If you’re happy with the daycare-child fit, fill out the paperwork and get set for an emotional first day (more for mom and dad than child).

Finding the right daycare can be a long and sometimes gruelling process. But knowing your child is in the best possible care — and having fun with new friends — is worth all the effort.

First published August 2009 on


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