We have been so blessed that for the first year + of Miss T's life, we have had our amazing, awesome, super, wonderful, loving friend Colleen come to our house 4 time a week and watch over our precious little bundle.
We knew the time would come though, when we would have to give her up (Colleen, not T!) so that she could pursue her dreams and we'd be left trying to find day care that meets our standards. And my standards? My friends, they are set high, wicked high. To feel comfortable, I need a place that is clean (we've talked about our OCD issues before), safe (we live in a high crime city!), nurturing both emotionally and educationally, accomodating, in a desired location, and affordable. It seems these last two points are the major obstacles.
First off, we are limited by location. Most people conducting this search could look for daycare near their home or near their work. We are blessed/cursed to live two blocks from work and so we only have one area to look. Plus, for those who are city dwellers, the thought of traveling more than a mile or two is staggering. Between the traffic, the lack of parking, and the ridiculous amount of time it takes to go that one mile, the area that we are able to search shrinks dramatically.
Second, I'm not sure who could ever afford to pay this, but the few daycares that almost meet my standards cost the equivalent of four car payments per month! Seriously??!! There is one 4 blocks from my house (two blocks from work - perfect!), with great curriculum, great outdoor space, clean, healthy - but the cost is $1651 per month! That's more than I take home in a month on my student stipend! How is this justified?
Aside from all this, I think I've developed a strategic plan to research daycares online before going the route of in person investigations (those will be forthcoming).
In MD, we are fortunate to have the Maryland Child Care Resource Network. You have to register (it's free), but then you can search by type of care (family, center, or both), by age, and distance to a desired location. After looking for day care for over a month, I just learned today that no two searches are alike. Only 10 options are given per search and searches performed just minutes apart give very different results. The results list location, phone #, weekly fees, operation times, and total capacity. Good basics, but not enough to judge a center by any means.
From there I immediately enter the address into Google maps and check out the street view. I don't care what you say, when it comes to my child, I definitely can judge a book by its cover. If there is graffiti or garbage, if the street is a highway, if there are shady people walking by at that inopportune moment - then it's a no go. The beauty of using this tool is that the centers themselves don't have any control over when the Google vans drive by and thus, can't present their best foot forward. In these street images, you get to see them as they are on any given day.
(side bar: It seems weird to me that you can view daycares like this. Shouldn't they be protected from online weirdos? Granted, I can't ever see a child in these images, but still.)
(side-side bar: I'm clearly paranoid. Obviously every day care center in the world is a front for a sweatshop. They see a parent coming up the walk on their hidden cameras and the sewing machines are stowed away, the presses are hidden behind fake walls and the children are trained to smile and laugh when the doorbell rings to allow the parent inside. Obviously.)
While still on Google maps, I then check out the satellite images to see if there is adequate outdoor space, a must for city kids to get "fresh" air and sunshine.
This next step has proven a little fickle. Most day care centers don't have their own websites (seriously, get with the times people!). So, a little more google searching hopefully will provide some online reviews of each center. Like I said, it's hit or miss. In fact, the one center that had the most reviews online (all positive) is no longer in business! Go figure. In addition, I've found that there are an unlimited number of so-called daycare database resources. Each one required the daycare itself to register and as such each database has a different collection of centers. My advice is not to waste your time with these. Stick with the government sites that list all the licensed centers in your area.
At this point, I have to suck it up and call the center. I'm not a phone person. I don't like talking to people on the phone, especially people I don't know. I absolutely have a phone voice and I sound like I'm five years old. This one center I called, apparently I ask some weird questions because the poor director kept asking me who I was and why I was calling! I was asking her how many children they currently have enrolled. It seemed like an honest question for me to ascertain how active their center was. She must have thought I was planning a coup or something! Once we settled that I was a parent and overly protective and paranoid, she had no problem answering my odd questions. :) Anyways, I usually ask about availability, verify price, and address any concerns that I developed after seeing their street view.
So far, I've visited one center. I honestly had to hold back the tears throughout the visit. The center itself was beautiful, clean, and had well attended, happy children. It just wasn't home and it wasn't me. It was still a strange place with strange people. I'm going to have to get over this, I know. Someday, she is going to go to school, go to college, get married, etc. and leave me. Until that day comes though, I need to have as much control over her days as possible.
I do realize that this is a great opportunity for her! Being an only child, having few friends nearby, the poor child desperately needs social interaction! Just yesterday, we were visiting our friends across the street with H, a little girl 3 weeks older than Miss T. She is lightyears ahead of T as far as crawling and walking which I attritube to being a second child (we're such overachievers!). Just being in the same room as H for 30 minutes, T was standing and holding onto a bin of toys and testing out using only one hand at a time! Normally this girl is making both of my index fingers turn blue! It was a great step for her to develop initiative, courage, and independence and that only took 30 minutes!
I know we'll find the right place. I know I'll know it the moment we step inside. Next week, I plan to visit a couple of these centers and I'll let you know how it goes. I'd love to hear suggestions for questions to ask the center!