What should parents look for regarding good character and social skills development in a daycare center?
- Is there a formal virtue program or character program in place? Emphasis on acting right and treating one another with respect are behaviors every care setting should offer. Having a formal program or one that awards/recognizes good behavior can also serve as a positive reinforcement for kids. Don't just assume that a parochial program or in-home setting practices emotional and skill building better than any other program. The key is to ask about particulars: what is done specifically on a day-to-day basis, how are kids rewarded, and how is discipline handled when it comes to hurting someone's feelings, talking back or not minding, or other bad behaviors like biting or hitting.
- Ask whether parents can participate in the program at home. If there is literature to review with a child or a "caught you acting good" program that can be continued at home, that's all the better! Educators agree that the best way to model positive behavior is through a parent-teacher partnership at all levels of a child's upbringing.
- Review curriculum carefully. Of course, you want your child to learn things at daycare. The reality is, whether it is a formal academic emphasis or just through socialization and enrichment, your child IS learning already. Beware of programs where they may over-emphasize math and reading skills, especially at a young age. More importantly, a teacher should be working on a child's sense of community in a classroom, where making friends, being nice to one another, showing respect, not hitting or biting, taking turns, and not interrupting, are vital skills to learn.
- Observe teacher interaction with kids. Whether it is in-person, outside a viewing area, or even on the computer through a specially set-up camera in the classroom arrangement, take time to watch how a teacher interacts with youngsters. With pre-schoolers, teachers need to show children how to work with others and teach them how to be polite and respectful of others. Kids often don't "just know" how to do things like waiting in line or keeping their hands to themselves. Is your child's caregiver truly engaged? Does she maintain eye contact and an approachable demeanor? Does he encourage questions and take time for answers? Are you comfortable with what you see?
- Is the classroom under control? Sometimes it's a difficult balance between encouraging free play and social fun with order and a sense of things being under control. Too much freedom can evoke some overly-physical activities that leads to someone getting hurt. Kids need to learn indoor voices vs. shrieks and squeals they don't necessarily have to suppress outdoors.
- Are kids happy in daycare? Kids are going to act better when they are happy at daycare. If possible, go on a field trip or other longer-term outing and observe kids to see if they are mostly happy most of the time. Your gut feeling about your child's overall happiness and the quality of care being received may give you the greatest peace of mind. If you don't get that feeling of comfort, it may be time to seriously evaluate your options. There are countless qualified, loving and engaged providers who would love to care for kids!