Choosing a childcare centre for your child
Choosing a childcare centre for your child is a big and exciting step. It can also be a daunting one for a lot of parents as they leave their child for the first time.
Regardless which type of childcare in the Netherlands you are looking for, it’s important to start your search early, as most day care centres have limited space and a waiting list. Make sure you give yourself enough time to make this decision.
How to choose the right childcare centre
Here are a few pointers to look out for and to guide you in your search for a Dutch day care or childcare centre that suits both you and your child.
› Schedule an appointment
Make sure you schedule an appointment in advance so you can get a chance to talk to the day care location director and see the place first hand. Many chilcare centres may prefer to schedule parent tours at a "quiet" time, such as mealtime or when one group is napping, so the teacher can talk to the parent more freely.
Make a mental note of that and perhaps come back again during a more active time, such as outdoor or free-play time, to see how the child minders handle children in an active situation. Also, feel comfortable to stay as long as you wish during your tour, even after the designated time, to observe how the teachers interact with the children till you have all the information you need.
› See if it’s a "good fit"
What is the atmosphere like? Is it calm and warm? Is it active and loud? What do you think would suit you and your child’s temperament more?
› Check the school’s accreditation
Before you look any further, check out if the day care centre is accredited and approved. Every centre is issued a report stating how their evaluation went. This should be posted on their website for you to view freely. If not, you can always ask for their latest evaluation report.
› Find out about the teachers
Don’t be shy to ask what their teacher qualifications are. Child minders should have a background in childcare to work with young children; does this childcare centre meet those qualifications?
In the group your child is likely to join, ask how long has the teacher been working with children and at the centre. Is he or she a full-time or part-time employee? Who else will be involved in directly looking after your child?
Go ahead and spend a few minutes in their classrooms to chat and get a feel for the teachers who will directly be involved with your child.
› Understand its educational philosophy
Does the day care centre follow a certain educational philosophy? If so, read up on it before your visit so you know what to look for while you’re there.
Have the teachers received any training specific to that educational philosophy? Is there time for reading, puzzles, free play, etc.? Consider whether that way of learning suits you and your child. You can read up about educational philosophies for young children here.
The bottom line is: will your child be getting the time and opportunity to experience age-appropriate play during his or her day?
› Check its teacher-child ratio
This is an important point to consider. Teacher-child ratios are part of pre-school regulations to ensure that each child gets enough one-on-one attention and the centres comply with safety guidelines.
According to the Dutch CAO Kinderopvang 2014 guidelines (p.150), the regulations are that the ratio between the number of professionals and the actual number of children present is at least:
› one practitioner for every four children under the age of one year;
› one practitioner for every five children aged one to two years;
› one practitioner for every six children aged two to three years;
› one practitioner for every eight children aged three to four years.
› Find out about the day programme
Is there a schedule they follow for play, rest and mealtime? Will your child get enough outdoor or rest time? What kind of meals do they serve? Is there time for free play and structured play? What kind of activities does the teacher initiate with them?
› Discover their discipline policies
How do they handle discipline and misbehaviour? What happens if your child hits another child or refuses to eat lunch? How do they handle this and communicate these situations to parents? Discuss these situations openly and decide if their techniques match your parenting views and values.
› Learn how they communicate with parents
What is the day care centre’s policy on communicating with parents? Will you get a chance to speak briefly with your child’s teacher during pick up? Are parent meetings scheduled regularly for updates?
If your child has a minor accident or incident, do they inform you immediately or at the end of the day? When can you meet with your child’s teacher if you want to discuss something?
Day care centres should have an open door policy; can you drop in at any time to visit and observe your child in the environment? A provider that doesn’t have an open-door policy is a red flag. A good, confident provider will not only let you in at any time, but will also invite you to be part of the day care centre’s events and activities.
› Find out about safety
Are any of the teachers trained in first aid for young children? What is the procedure in case of an emergency? Does the centre have a protocol to follow? What if you want someone else in the family to pick up your child?
› Ask other people
Ask friends or family who go to the childcare centre what they think of it. Be precise in finding out what exactly they like and dislike.
It’s also good to get a chance to talk to parents who have left the day care centre. Leaving might mean that it just wasn’t a good fit, not that they had a negative experience, so it’s always important to get information first hand.
› Trust your instincts
If what you’re hearing and seeing looks good on paper and checks all the boxes but you still don’t feel good, trust your instincts. They are telling you something isn’t right here for you and your child. You need to feel comfortable and secure wherever you leave your child and if you are anxious every day at drop-off your child will pick up on that.