Finding Child Care Checklist

Preliminary steps


When looking for a child care center or preschool, there are two important components that go hand-in-hand: (1) atmosphere and (2) interactions. When a parent walks into a center, the atmosphere should be filled with joy and happiness. The teachers must enjoy their work; the children must enjoy being there. If the atmosphere is right, the interactions will be healthy, respectful and caring. With the right atmosphere and positive interactions, everything else will fall into place: Pro-social skill learning, relationship building skills, academics, assessment, family support, safety, health, nurturance, etc.

With this in mind, the information below should be of help in finding the right place for you and your child.

Begin the search process at least 6-9 months before the time you will need care. In some areas, the waiting list at a good center can be a year long, so be prepared to establish more than one child care option.

Ask for recommendations and visit the website of your state’s Child Care Resource and Referral Agency. Then take these recommendations to the internet. Several state licensing agencies have all licensed early childhood programs listed on-line; if not on-line, call the local licensing agency and ask about the program’s public record file.

After narrowing down the options, begin calling programs. Have a set of preliminary questions. Write down your initial response to the phone conversation as well as the answers to your questions. Some initial questions might include: Are they flexible to help you with your schedule?  Will they accommodate your special requests?  What is their teacher to child ratio?  Do they change activities frequently?  Do they have experienced teachers? Can you visit your child at anytime without notice?

After further narrowing the options, schedule a visitation and interview at each remaining center. (See below for a checklist of what to look for and ask about while interviewing the center.) Take your child to the program with you for the visitation and interview. How does your child act in the environment? How do the other children and teachers respond to your child? Is your child comfortable in the setting? Do you think your child would be happy, feel safe and accepted?


During the interview and tour


What do you see in the program?

Children and adults feel welcome when they visit the program. Teachers help new children adjust to the program environment and make friends with other children.

Teaching staff members engage in warm, friendly conversations with the children and encourage and recognize children’s work and accomplishments.

Children are encouraged to play and work together.

Teachers help children resolve conflicts by identifying feelings, describing problems, and trying alternative solutions. Teaching staff never physically punish children.

The learning environment:

Ask about the program’s curriculum and how it addresses all aspects of child development. The curriculum should not focus on just one area of development such as “play-based” only.

Children are given opportunities to learn and develop through exploration and play, and teachers have opportunities to work with individual children and small groups on specific skills.

Materials and equipment spark children’s interest and encourage them to experiment and learn.

Activities are designed to help children get better at reasoning, solving problems, getting along with others, using language, and developing other skills.

Infants and toddlers play with toys and art materials that “do something” based on children’s actions, such as jack-in-the-box, nesting cups and playdough.


What about the teacher and child relationships?

Teachers carefully supervise all children and demonstrate a supportive, loving atmosphere.

Teachers provide time each day for indoor and outdoor activities (weather permitting) and organize time and space so that children have opportunities to work or play individually and in groups.

Recent work by the children is displayed in the classroom to help children reflect on and extend their learning.

Teachers modify strategies and materials to respond to the needs and interests of individual children, engaging each child and enhancing learning.

Discipline is not punitive or embarrassing, but personal, private and focused.


Assessment is an ongoing process, but does not include formal testing:

The program supports children’s learning using a variety of assessment methods, such as observations, checklists, and rating scales.

Assessment methods are appropriate for each child’s age and level of development and encompass all areas of development, including math, science, and other cognitive skills; language; social-emotional; and physical.

Teachers use assessment methods and information to design goals for individual children and monitor their progress, as well as to improve the program and its teaching strategies.

Families receive information about their child’s development and learning on a regular basis.


Is there an obvious commitment to the health and safety of the children?

Teaching staff have training in pediatric first aid and CPR.

Infants are placed in personally assigned cribs and on their backs to sleep.

The program has policies regarding regular hand washing and routinely cleans and sanitizes all surfaces and toys in the facility.

There is a clear plan for responding to illness, including how to decide whether a child needs to go home and how families will be notified.

Snacks and meals are nutritious and varied, and food is prepared and stored safely.


What about the teachers?

Teaching staff have educational qualifications and specialized knowledge about young children and early childhood development. Ask, for example, how many teachers have Child Development Associate (CDA) credentials, associate’s degrees, or higher degrees.

The program makes provisions for ongoing staff development, including orientations for new staff and opportunities for continuing education.

Teaching staff have training in the program’s curriculum and work as a teaching team.

Teachers and administrators willingly share their love and trust in God both with the children and with adults.


Does the program collaborate and support families?

All families are welcome and encouraged to be involved in all aspects of the program.

Teachers and staff talk with families about their family structure and their views on child rearing and use that information to adapt the curriculum and teaching methods to the families served.

The program uses a variety of strategies to communicate with families, including family conferences, new family orientations, and individual conversations.

Program information—including policies and operating procedures—is provided to families.


The program fosters positive community relationships and uses available resources.

The program connects with and uses museums, parks, libraries, zoos, and other resources in the community.

Representatives from community programs, such as musical performers and local artists, are invited to share their interests and talents with the children.

The staff members develop professional relationships with community agencies and organizations that further the program’s capacity to meet the needs and interests of children and families.


Is the program facility a well-maintained, safe and healthful environment both indoors and out?

The facility is designed so that staff can supervise all children by sight and sound.

The program has necessary furnishings, such as hand-washing sinks, child-size chairs and tables, and cots, cribs, beds, or sleeping pads.

A variety of materials and equipment appropriate for children’s ages and stages of development are available and kept clean, safe, and in good repair.

Outdoor play areas have fences or natural barriers that prevent access to streets, bodies of water and other hazards.

First-aid kits, fire extinguishers, fire alarms, and other safety equipment are installed and available.

The children have access to the outdoor play area during both the morning and afternoon hours. Outdoor gardens and yards are provided and well maintained.


Knowledgeable leaders, sensible policies and procedures and effective management of daily operations provide for program stability.

The program administrator has the necessary educational qualifications and specialized courses in early childhood education and program management.

The program is licensed and/or regulated by the applicable state agency.

The program’s written policies and procedures are shared with families and address issues such as the program’s philosophy and curriculum goals, policies on guidance and discipline and health and safety procedures.

Appropriate group sizes and ratios of teaching staff to children are maintained (for example, infants—no more than 8 children in a group, with 2 teaching staff; toddlers—no more than 12 children in a group, with 2 teaching staff; and 4-year-olds—no more than 20 children in a group, with 2 teaching staff).