Choosing a daycare facility

By admin
01 June 2014

Choosing the ideal facility for your child is no easy task. Make sure you choose the right one by following these practical tips.

Word of mouth

The first step in finding the ideal daycare for your child is to ask around. It will give you a good indication of the best facilities in the area and help you determine which ones mesh most closely with your own child-rearing approach, says Wilma Tindall, an early childhood development specialist from the Centre for Early Childhood Development in Cape Town.

Registration and training

Any centre that looks after six or more children must be registered with the department of social development, says Tindall. “The registration certificate should be displayed in an obvious place and needs to be renewed after five years.”

By law, those working in childcare must have a clearance certificate from the National Register for Sex Offenders, says Bev Wilson, director of the Johannesburg-based Professional Childcare College. “All staff should get this certificate when their daycare gets registered.”

Preschool teachers should have a Further Education Training certificate in early childhood development level four. Classroom assistants should have done child-minding courses, says Wilson.

“Every staff member should at least have level one first aid and there has to be at least one with level two,” says Wilson. She adds you should also ask if they have a first-aid box and where it’s kept. “It is a good idea to see how accessible gloves are to the staff as they are part of universal protection when dealing with blood spills.”

Activities, equipment and facilities

Daycares should provide age-appropriate resources for all age groups that will stimulate development and learning, says Tindall. For example, there should be educational toys, play dough, puzzles, books, paint and stationary, as well as outside equipment such as sandboxes and jungle gyms.

The daily programme should have activities that are educational, developmental and varied.

When visiting a daycare ask yourself: do the children look happy and busy? “Be wary of centres where children seem bored and unhappy,” says Tindall.

Are the toys, books and other play equipment clean and safe? For example, a rusted jungle gym with rotting wooden planks is an accident waiting to happen.

Are the toys, books and other resources within easy reach? “Some daycares store their toys and books away because they don’t want the kids to [get them] dirty, but what’s the point if they can’t reach the books or play with the toys?” asks Wilson.

Remember to check the kitchen, adds Wilson. “Are they wearing hairnets, is the food covered, are there any dust balls or flies?” Also, is the lunch they’re serving nutritious and balanced?

Child-to-teacher ratio

The staff-to-child ratio differs depending on age:

  • Birth to 18 months: one adult to six children
  • 19 months to three years: one adult to 12 children
  • Three to four years: one adult to 16 children
  • Four to six years: one adult to 25 children

The above-mentioned are minimum requirements and based on the assumption that there’ll also be a teacher’s assistant to lend a helping hand. It’s nearly impossible to run a daycare with just one staff member looking after a group of children. If there’s an emergency, or a nappy needs to be changed, it’ll be difficult to properly look after the other kids. It’s important there’s constant supervision, even when the children are playing outside.

Children of different ages can be mixed, but only if there’s appropriate supervision. Some centres prefer a mixed-aged approach as the older children help the younger children learn, however this approach requires enough staff to supervise effectively. “If the numbers are great, then the play area between toddlers and babies should be separated,” says Wilson.


Can anyone just walk into the daycare centre? Choose a school where the children are safely fenced off, outsiders can’t just walk in and there are security cameras.

The daycare also needs to have policies in place for the collection of children. If you can’t pick up your child because you’re stuck in traffic, do they have a system in place that allows a trusted friend or family member to collect your child? For example, they have to show their IDs or give a password.

What should set off alarm bells?

  • If it smells funny. “A daycare where nappies aren’t properly disposed of will start to smell sour. If a daycare smells strange, it should tell you that their hygiene standards might not be up to scratch,” says Wilson. Also, check if the bathrooms are clean.
  • There might be tears and tantrums when you first send your child to daycare, but if this persists you should be worried. “If your child cries every single day you drop them off, then there is a problem,” says Wilson. “Ask them about the daycare and listen to what they have to say.”
  • “Televisions have no place in a daycare centre,” says Wilson. “Maybe if it’s a rainy day, they can watch some TV, but children of any age shouldn’t sit in front of it the whole day.”
  • “Be cautious of centres that can’t articulate their policies or don’t have them written down,” says Tindall. Centres must have policies in place regarding sick children, accident reporting and dealing with emergencies.
  • “Avoid centres that have no space for physical play and are overcrowded,” says Tindall.

Unannounced visits

Just because a daycare passed your initial checks, it doesn’t mean your job is done. “Often parents have no idea what happens at the centre during the day,” says Wilson. You don’t know if your child gets the lunch mentioned on the menu, or whether they do any of the activities listed on the daily programme. It might be that the daycare just gives them a slice of toast and plonks them in front of the TV the whole day. “Visit the daycare unannounced,” Wilson advises. “Make friends with the other parents and take turns doing this.” It will bring to light any possible issues and keep the staff on their toes.

  • Any centre that only allows visits by appointment should set off alarm bells, adds Tindall. “They may have something to hide.”
  • When you visit unannounced, are the staff warm and welcoming or do they act like they have something to hide, asks Tindall.

Aftercare for older kids

Much of what’s mentioned above also applies to aftercare facilities for schoolgoing children. “Ideally there should be provision for a place where children can eat lunch in comfort, do homework, be assisted with homework if possible and be transported to extramural activities,” says Tindall. Not all facilities offer transport, but for those that do, the drivers will need PDP licences.

-Petro-Anne Vlok

PICTURE: (uploaded by jacarino)

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