The following is a guest post from Denise Pelky, an infant teacher for the University of Michigan. Denise helped to start the infant program two years ago. She has a BS in Early Childhood Education. Denise also has been a childbirth educator through her local community education program for the last 30 years.
As you enter the child care center that you are considering, stop for a moment and take in the atmosphere. Your initial reaction to the sights, sounds, colors, and smell of the center should be positive. Is there someone to greet you pleasantly and show you the space and answer your questions? Is the Director available and are they able to discuss any concerns you may have?
When you enter the infant classroom, the room should be warm and inviting. There should be natural light along with soft electric light. The colors should be muted or natural and there should be natural materials, such as wood, instead of a lot of plastic. Look for comfortable rocking chairs for the adults and several well-chosen toys out for the babies to play with. It is important for your child's senses that the room not be too cluttered or noisy.
The teachers should be engaged with the babies, some should be on the floor with the babies either reading, playing, or singing with them. At least one teacher should greet you and invite you to come in and sit down (even though they may be busy with a child, they should be able to calmly answer questions and give you information about the program).
A quality baby program should include the following criteria:
- Several books available for the baby to hold and look at. The teacher should stress that books are read to the baby throughout the day. Ideally, there should be books that portray multi-cultural diversity.
- Music and singing should be on an ongoing basis. Songs should be sung to the babies, not just background music played during the day.
- Babies should be allowed to set their own schedule and be fed when they show signs of hunger. The sleep schedule should be according to the baby's rhythm.
- Activities should be geared toward the baby's age and ability. There should be sensory experiences and small/large motor skill activities along with art, cognitive, and language development activities.
- An activity plan for the week should be posted and include the above criteria.
- Teachers should include infant massage, baby yoga or Brain Gym in their plan. They should be well versed in these important sensory activities for babies.
- Signing with babies should be an ongoing language development skill that teachers use with babies. It should be used consistently and for the many daily routines that go on in the baby room. Baby sign language promotes literacy, language development, communication and helps with frustration. It is a very important activity in a quality infant program.
- The infants should have some outside time every day (depending on weather), including playing in sand and water. They should be given rides in strollers so that they can be out and about in the neighborhood.
Ask questions about the ratio of teachers to babies. States have different licensing laws, but ideally it should be one teacher to three infants. Ask about what their plan is for fires and tornadoes. Do they have evacuation cribs and do they practice fire drills? What is their sickness policy and how do they contact you? Ask how often they sterilize the toys and how they sanitize the diaper area. Do they wear gloves during diaper changes? How do they assure that bottles do not get mixed up and how do they warm milk? Are they familiar with feeding babies pumped breastmilk?
Of course, the most important criteria to look for is the quality of the teachers in the room. Sit in the room for an hour and observe their interactions with the babies. Are the teachers warm and inviting? Does the teacher reach out for the baby and talk directly to him/her? Does the teacher smile and play games with the baby? Do they welcome questions and answer your concerns with patience? Are the teachers respectful of cultural differences? Do they stress the importance of building a relationship with the baby and with your family? Does the teacher ask you questions specifically about your baby and do they have paperwork for you to fill out so that you can detail information about your baby?
Remember that you are the parent and that the teachers will never take your place. However, you do want the teachers to bond with your baby and develop a caring relationship. Feel free to ask them questions and to listen to their suggestions; you can decide if their feedback works for you and your family. This should be a reciprocal relationship and both you and the teachers should be respectful and trusting. After all, you are leaving your precious baby and you should feel confident in knowing that they are being well cared for and loved.