By: Dr.Gwen Smith


There was a time not too long ago as I recall, when I was a working “married-single” mom with a toddler and two elementary school-aged kids. My kids are all adults now, but those memories remain indelibly etched in my mind; and in retrospect, I can’t imagine doing all the things I did then, now. I am thankful that they and I survived it and this post is to share my story with a goal of providing some insights to help with ideas just for you.

As a young mother, I worked as a Junior High teacher in Florida which dictated little to no flexibility in terms of my availability for my students and their education. I was simultaneously purposeful in causing my children to have their needs and health and well-being met, and this required that I found workable and stress-free conditions for child care that would facilitate.

Arranging everyone’s schedules was not a small task, especially as I had to drive my two older daughters to and from school daily. School start time demanded that they were in school by 8 AM each morning. It was a 45 minute trip to their school in the mornings, another 45 minutes from their school to my workplace, followed by 45 minutes to collect them in the evenings and 45 minutes back home!  I drove 180 miles round trip, every single day! With all of that traveling, finding a healthy daycare environment for my son was necessary to add to my peace of mind. The girls were able to stay with a teacher after school for a small fee until I got to them in the afternoons, and my son needed to be closer to me to cut down on extra travel time.

After carefully researching, visiting and interviewing daycare providers, I developed a gut sense of where my son needed to be. I finally found a great place near to my workplace where my son could be closer to me, and where I could check in sporadically during my planning and lunch periods on certain days of the week.  This worked beautifully.

As a parent, it is important to be able to get to your child quickly if needed; and most importantly, to have security in the thought that the environment is safe, loving and clean. Spending time to do the research is an absolute necessity in making this reality. For me, this type of environment was extremely important along with the proximity to my workplace.

Even later as my son started elementary school and all three had to be at the childcare facility after school hours, it was really important to ensure that the environment was right for them. When my son was 13 months old, I became an Assistant Director for a major national daycare provider. This experience taught me that larger chains are not always better, and that I needed to do some detective work on where my children are going to be.

First and foremost, and in no particular order of importance, is the cleanliness, organization and colorfulness of the place. Check crevices and corners to see how much dirt and grime has accumulated or moved. See if the same dirt is there on a daily basis. That should be evidence of how often or how well the place is being cleaned. It should be cleaned daily. Trust your nose. What odor do you pick up when you enter the facility? Is it foul, or is it fresh, or a combination of freshness masking foulness? Observe and smell. Kitchen utensils are cleaned washed in hot water and sanitized with chlorine bleach to kill germs. Find out what chemicals are being used, if any.

Are the walls colorfully decorated and attractive for children? Do they have different activity centers for playing, learning and relaxing or napping?

Next, ask about what is served for snacks and meals. Is this a part of the tuition, and if it is, do they provide for special diets? If not, is there an adjustment in the cost? If there are dietary preferences, packing your child’s food may be an excellent idea. Keep in mind that some facilities do not allow you to bring your own food. Check up during mealtimes to see if what they say is what they do. They could be providing Kool Aid instead of the juice that’s advertised. Confirm this for yourself.

If you are bringing food, ensure that containers and utensils are labeled with your child’s name. Be aware that making these special arrangements may not guarantee that another child will not swipe it from your child and use it. Ask what they do to accommodate or avoid that. The student-teacher ratio is important to adhere to and can ensure that greater supervision of the children is in place. The ratios differ by age groups. Here is a chart recommending the ratios:

Age of ChildrenGroup Size
(birth to 15 mos.)
(12 to 28 mos.)
21 to 36 mos. 1:041:051:06       
2 1/2- 3 year olds
(30-48 mos.)
4-year olds     1:081:091:10   
5-year olds     1:081:091:10   
Kindergartners       1:101:111:12 

OPM website:

Having too many children per teacher will impact the effectiveness of the caregiver, and consequently the safety of your child. Also check on discipline policies and how they are enforced with the children. Ask your child questions every day about their experiences. Ask what happens to children who get in trouble and listen. Don’t take anything for granted; ask about everything you have concerns about, then follow up with your own investigation. A provider with free open invitations to visit at any time is probably preferable over one that is restrictive.  

You also want to find out what the scheduled activities are throughout the day, and also for the evening activities with after-school-care children. Request that they are allowed to complete their homework assignments instead of or before watching TV or participating in “mindless” activities. After all it is your child’s well being that is at stake and as their advocate, you should leave no stones unturned. Please use the following resources to help you in your research.

To help in finding licensed daycare providers visit this site:  

Child Care Aware 
8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Central Standard Time

Ask for a free brochure and checklist to help you evaluate a child care center or home.


If you need resources to help in funding childcare visit your state agency:

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