By Brandy Centolanza

When it comes to leaving children with a day care provider, parents want to be assured that their little ones are in the best of hands. So, what should moms and dads keep in mind when searching for day care? And how will they know if the facility is the perfect fit for them?

First off, there are two types of day care providers: out-of-home care (day care centers) and in-home care, or family-based care, in a private home. While Virginia does not require that all child day care programs be licensed, parents should consider placing their children with a day care provider that is licensed or accredited. They can start with with a quick Internet search with the Virginia Department of Social Services at dss.virginia.gov/family/cc/index.cgi.

Licensed day care programs are inspected at least twice a year and it is required that all providers undergo background checks and training. Licensed day care facilities are also inspected for health and safety measures. In addition, providers must hold CPR and First Aid certifications. During their initial day care research, parents should also check to see if a licensed day care center has been found in violation of any of these inspections and should be wary of any program that has repeated violations.

The next step is to visit any potential facility, whether it is a day care center or a private in-home day care provider. Moms and dads should plan to stay and observe for at least 30 minutes or more to get a feel for the place.

“Parents should be able to tour facilities at any time, and not be restricted to certain times of the day,” points out Rachel Wilson, a teacher and child care provider with Wiggle Worms, a day care center in Fredericksburg that offers hourly services (see below).

Children should be placed in a day care center that will promote healthy social, emotional, physical and intellectual development. The day care center or in-home care should be a loving environment with positive sights, sounds and smells. Can you envision your child there? Are there toys, books and educational materials that your child would enjoy? Would he or she feel comfortable there? How do the other children seem to feel there? Are they happy? Would you trust your child with the provider?

“Ask yourself how you generally feel about the place,” says Sherilyn Preston, owner of Minnieland Academy at Salem Fields, a child care center that has been serving Fredericksburg families since 1972. “Trust your instincts. You will know after your visit if it is a place that you are interested in.”

Location and affordability are also important. Some day care centers may provide discounts for parents who enroll more than one child.

Preston also suggests choosing a day care that:

  • encourages parental involvement
  • has a curriculum that is developmentally appropriate
  • has a low teacher turnover rate
  • has qualified teachers and providers who are genuinely interested in the children
  • has safe materials and equipment
  • has the proper security and emergency measures
  • provides nutritious meals
  • promotes healthy citizenship and support of the community

Child-teacher ratios should also play a factor. Some parents prefer in-home day care services due to a smaller ratio.

“Licensed facilities are required to adhere to state-mandated ratios, and parents should ask day care providers how they maintain those ratios throughout the day, and what procedures are in place if they happen to be over ratio on a certain day,” says Wilson.

Communication is also key.

“Teachers should communicate with parents daily, especially in regard to behavior both positive and worrisome, developmental milestones, meals and diaper changes,” says Wilson. “Parents should also be given a clear and direct line of communication to teachers, staff and administrators at the day care facility.”

Other things to consider are what the day care’s policies are with regards to discipline, soothing children, immunizations and sick children and educational programs. Wilson recommends a day care that offers a diversity of activities for children of all ages.

“Care givers should lead children in varied age-appropriate activities,” she says. “This encourages holistic development in all areas of intelligence.”


Wiggle Worms: Convenience-Based Day Care for Busy Parents

Not all parents need full-time day care for their children. Some moms and dads would prefer the option of a half a day, or even just a couple of hours, to run errands or attend a doctor’s appointment. That’s where the Wiggle Worms day care center fits in. Wiggle Worms offers hourly drop-off child care services for moms and dads.

“We are not a one-size-fits-all child care facility,” says Rachel Wilson, a teacher and child care provider with Wiggle Worms. “We acknowledge that every family’s situation is different. We provide flexible, part-time care without the commitment of contracts.”

Wiggle Worms owner Chrissy Gibbs, a mother of three, and another mother came up with the idea for a part-time drop-off day care center after experiencing how difficult it can be to find a babysitter for just a few hours. They wanted to create a fun, safe environment for kids while their parents briefly tended to other obligations. The premise is simple: moms and dads of children aged 16 months through 10 years old can drop off their young ones for a timeframe of anywhere from one to five hours and are charged an hourly rate for the services. The center is open seven days a week during the morning, afternoon and evening to meet the diverse needs of parents in the community. No reservations are required.

In addition to their standard hourly services, Wiggle Worms offers several other programs and classes throughout the week for children including sensory play for preschoolers; a music program for newborns up to age 3 and their parents; and a Parents Night Out. The day care center is also open during school breaks.

For more information, visit wigglewormsfxbg.com