Do you know quality child care when you see it? It is not uncommon for parents in Utah to hold a dream of having a stay-at-home mom while their children are small.
In reality, nearly half of children 6 years old and younger in Davis County have all parents in the workforce. In Weber County, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the number is even higher.
So, where do you begin your search for great state-regulated child care?
Start first by understanding your values and your child’s personality. Do you want to pick up a perfectly clean child at the end of a busy day, or do you want her pockets full of sand from hours spent engaged in hands-on play?
Do you like the idea of a classroom setting where your child can interact with peers of the same age? Would her personality be better suited to a home setting where different ages can play and interact?
Whether you choose regulated child care in a home or center, there are some universal checkpoints to consider. Are both the staff and environment welcoming? Are there plenty of toys appropriate for your child’s age? Are children allowed to choose from a variety of activities? Look for soft cozy areas in addition to blocks, musical instruments and toys that use small muscles.
Has thought been given to outdoor spaces? Best practices in child care suggest that, unless weather is completely prohibitive, children should have outdoor time daily. Options for quiet individual play and noisy time with friends are as important outdoors as they are indoors.
Great child care has child-sized furniture, lots of activity choices and child-directed play opportunities. Children learn to communicate, create and solve problems when left in a safe and friendly environment with a variety of decision-making opportunities.
Remember that play is a child’s job. Little ones need to be moving around and doing things. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests no screen time (movies, TV, computers) for children under the age of 2 and strictly limited screen exposure for older children.
If you want to go above and beyond state regulations, there is a tool to help you search out additional best practices in child care. Utah now has a voluntary system for child-care providers in homes and centers to document their focus on physical, cognitive, emotional and social development for your child.
These are research-based indicators of quality that exceed licensing standards. Not all providers have opted to participate in this program, but you can go to careaboutchildcare.utah.gov to see what some regulated caregivers are choosing to share about their environments, practices and values.
Leslie Trottier is on the faculty of the Weber State University department of child and family studies. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of WSU.