Here's how to ask about child care centers

6 dumb questions people ask child care centers

Most families don’t plan for child care costs — and they don’t know how to talk to child care providers, either.

The first fact comes from a recent survey by Care.com, which quizzed more than 700 parents on the subject.  Its conclusion: “75 percent of U.S. families are overwhelmed by the cost of child care and yet nearly half don’t budget for it.”

The second fact comes from Future Scholars Preschool owner Mia Levy, who opened her first child care center in 2008 in New Jersey and her second in 2012 in Florida. She loves kids, but she can’t always say the same about their parents.

Levy has been interviewed by hundreds of parents looking for a safe and affordable place to keep their children during the week. But what most don’t realize is that during these interviews, Levy is also evaluating parents — to see if they would be a good match for her facility’s atmosphere. So I interviewed her about how you should interview owners of child care centers.

Here’s the right way and the wrong way to ask some common child care questions, according to Levy…

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BAD: Do you have any good day care specials?
BETTER: What is your center’s monthly tuition?

Of course, price is very important, but cheaper doesn’t always mean better. (Also keep in mind there are tax breaks for child care. Care.com found most people don’t know about them.)

When I was on the hunt for a child care facility for my 2-year-old daughter, this was my first question, too. But Levy quickly let me know that price is just one factor to consider. There are many other things that parents should look at when making this decision.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen parents decide to enroll their child in a preschool or day care based on a promotional special where the child got a month free or reduced tuition for six months,” Levy says. “Good prices don’t always mean a comfortable atmosphere, a caring staff, or an accredited curriculum.”

The fact is, a lot of schools offer promotions — especially ones that don’t have a track record, looking to get their name out there. “With so many new schools popping up every week, they feel an immediate need to compete with the more established schools in the area, and will run all types of specials to get a parent’s attention,” Levy says. 

BAD: What accreditation do you have?
BETTER: Is your pre-kindergarten curriculum accredited?

If you still count your kid’s age in months, accreditation doesn’t really matter. From 1 to 3 years, it’s all about teaching children how to develop a daily routine, how to interact with other children, developing learning skills, and learning basic classroom behavioral skills.

But at age 4, enrolling your child in an accredited voluntary pre-kindergarten program is vital. It helps prepare your child for their statewide kindergarten screening process, a nationwide test that varies from state to state, which takes place within the first 30 school days of the academic year.

BAD: How are your teaching skills?
BETTER: What is your teaching philosophy?

You should definitely ask about teaching methods and curriculum up front. But focus on the objective, not the subjective. Otherwise you may be disappointed later.

“I remember this one parent actually had the audacity to drop her child off in the 1-year-old room, and then make her way over to the 3-year-old room and tell the teacher how she could ‘better’ do her job,” Levy says. “The craziest part of all is that her child wasn’t even in that teacher’s class.”

If a parent doesn’t agree with a school’s teaching style, then they don’t have to enroll (or keep) their child in that school. But telling a teacher how to do their job is a no-no, especially when you never asked about their approach to start with.

BAD: What race are your students?
BETTER: How diverse are your classes?

I was shocked to learn that so many parents make their choice of facility based on the amount of black, white, and Hispanic kids at a school.

I can’t lie, I was one of those parents concerned with the amount of diversity in the classroom. But it wasn’t because I didn’t want my child around one race, it was because I wanted my daughter to be in a classroom setting that was full of different races to prepare her for the real world.

According to The Children’s Trust, “Learning to develop diverse friendships is important for later in life, as these connections provide the road map for future relationships, teaching children to resolve conflict and get along with others.”

BAD: How old are you?
BETTER: Can you tell me about your professional experience?

“Because I look young, people feel the need to ask me how old I am,” Levy says. “To me, this is inappropriate and downright rude.”

“The first thing you see when you walk into my facility is my degrees on the wall,” she says. And there are advantages to youth, anyway. “If an emergency was to occur, I can run a lot faster than someone two or three times my age, so my age should never be a factor for parents.”

BAD: What’s your ethnicity?
BETTER: Do you teach students about various cultures?

Levy says this is the most annoying question she gets asked.

“Does it really matter what I am? Does it mean that your child won’t be able to learn from me even though I have a doctorate?” Levy says. “It’s downright disrespectful.”

We’re at a loss for why people would even ask this. Do you only trust cooks from France or accountants from Switzerland? Focus on experience, accreditation, cleanliness, atmosphere, and price.

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