I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve been avoiding daycare like the plague. I love my money. I don’t want to give thousands of it away each year for childcare.
So I piecemealed free activities for my 1-year-old son, Donovan to have social interactions with other children. I picked up temporary work-from-home gigs to float me financially while I build this here blog. I even scoped out a few part-time, low-cost childcare programs.
But there’s just no getting around how stressful it is trying to keep up with a toddler while working.
I’ve been drowning.
I need help, and I’m willing to work to get it.
So I dived head first into finding a daycare near me on the Southside of Atlanta.
Luckily, I didn’t have to start at zero.
I started a running list of daycares when I was pregnant with Donovan, and I kept adding schools after his birth. I’d made a note in my phone if I saw a particularly well-behaved and diverse group of students at the children’s museum. I’d make another note if I passed a preschool with a beautiful learning garden. I only started a more exhaustive search after weeding out all the schools on my impromptu list, mostly because they were too expensive.
Using state resources to find best daycare near me
I started with the state’s child care search tool.
I didn’t even know what Quality Rated meant when I determined my child’s daycare had be a part of that network. I just knew it used a three-star rating method that seemed pretty obvious. One star is horrible, and three stars are great.
There’s actually more to the program than that.
Although it’s voluntary, when a school is Quality Rated that means it has at least met the state’s minimum requirements for a quality childcare facility. If a school gets three stars, it has exceeded those minimums.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Just because a school is Quality Rated three stars doesn’t mean you’ll be walking into a state-of-the-art facility.
What I got from the program was a clearer picture of how to evaluate schools, which questions to ask, which rules to hold them accountable to and how to determine which school is right for my family. I had to do the rest of the work myself.
I only wanted to consider schools away from the heavy flow of traffic. So I was able to eliminate a lot of facilities just by Googling them and clicking street view. I wanted to see some kind of barrier between the school and busy streets nearby. That barrier may be a gate or parking lot and landscaping. I just wanted to see something.
Mistakes happen. And if my child somehow makes it out of the front door, I want to make sure he’s not stepping right onto a busy street.
I also wanted to get the general feeling that the school is in a safe neighborhood. To me, safety means there are other people of color around. Shootings and armed robberies don’t happen frequently in the area, and the school staff is diligent about following safety protocols. I could tell two out of the three without even leaving my laptop.
First impressions start on the phone.
By the time I finished weeding out schools because of location, I was left with a short list of two-star and three-star Quality Rated preschools near me. I called each school and asked for tuition rates and availability. If I liked what I heard, I scheduled a tour. While on the phone, I also made a note of my first impressions, how polite the receptionist was on the phone, if I heard loud kids and crying in the background and if the school could answer my basic two questions about enrollment and cost. Did the staff give me the run around? Did the administrator call back when I left a message?
These questions may seem inconsequential, and maybe they are to some. But communication is extremely important to me when I am entrusting my child to someone for eight hours everyday. I needed to see effort on the facility’s part.
Visiting schools was actually the easiest part.
I printed off a list of questions recommended by the state for each school. I made sure to ask each question, and I took notes of my general observations. I have to say the smartest choice I made during the search was to take Donovan with me on the tours. When he ran into an office room randomly or whined waiting for an administrator, it gave me a great opportunity to see the staff in action. I got to see how the educators redirected him and how they managed a new face in classrooms. I also paid attention to the playground and toy selection to make sure there were enough options around to keep Donovan engaged even if the staff didn’t interact with him at all.
As much as I wanted a program that offers quality education, I also wanted a facility that was bright, clean and felt like a fun place to be. I wanted to see the artwork hanging on the walls. I wanted to see toddlers learning through play and exploration, and I wanted to feel invited and welcomed as a parent.
I’m so happy I found all of those things. Here’s to hoping what I found will truly turn out to be the best daycare near me. I’ll keep you posted.