When I quickly landed a new job as a digital reporter, I was ecstatic. I could help my family bring in money, benefit from working with an editor again and learn more about writing for the web in general.
The quickly part, however, meant I had days, not weeks to find an affordable daycare on the Southside of metro Atlanta.
I found one that really seemed perfect for my kid’s first daycare. Of the more than six school officials I met on my daycare search, this director was the only one who asked me what I was looking for in a daycare.
The program advertised a rotating Spanish teacher who would spend a few minutes in each class daily, and it even offered a water day each week for kids to splash around in the facility’s playground.
I felt my son would be safe and nurtured there, so we signed him up. So began the next round of evaluation.
What? You thought the research would end once I found the daycare? I think not.
I refused to just drop my baby off at daycare and never look back.
I wasn’t only looking for a great daycare for the moment. I want to also make sure my 16-month-year-old son, Donovan, won’t quickly outgrow the place as he transitions from daycare to preschool classrooms. Because I was up against the clock, the best way for me to really assess that was from enrolling Donovan, observing how he adjusted and evaluating how the staff operates.
On the flip side, I’m not an unrealistic parent. I don’t expect an affordable daycare to offer everything the pricier options do. My priorities are that my son is safe, facilities are clean and well-maintained, and he’s learning through playing and exploring not flashcards and iPads.
I don’t even expect daycares to complete tasks I’m not willing to do myself.
At home, we listen to music, sing nursery rhymes, water plants and play with percussion instruments. I read to him daily, play with him daily and feed him healthy, meat-free meals.
Bringing in a professional on the search for my kid’s first daycare:
My mom, Michelle Breland, is by far the most qualified person to help Donovan adjust to a new school.
Not only is she his grandma, she’s a former kindergarten teacher and current Chicago administrator. Her job is to help failing schools improve. That means she’s pretty much a professional school evaluator. I couldn’t find a more perfect resource if I tried.
As soon as I enrolled Donovan, my mom was on a plane to Atlanta the next week to not only help Donovan adjust but to help make the place better for all the students there. She’s not the kind of person to sit in a classroom and only help Donovan. Whenever she’s around kids, she tries to aid in their collective development, so she bent down and talked to any child in her vicinity eye-to-eye. She played with them and even attracted the attention of the class’ most spirited child. She says she always attracts the spirited ones.
What an educator knows to pay attention to at a daycare:
She noticed things like a shortage of toys readily available, a weak thread of communication between administrators and teachers and an inconsistent student-to-teacher ratio.
“At one point, there were 13 toddlers in a classroom with only two teachers,” she said. “Sure, that may meet the state minimum requirements, but that’s too many kids for that age group.”
Most teachers are focusing on cleaning, safety and managing kids, not as much on educating them and developing the whole child, my mom said.
She didn’t see teachers singing nursery rhymes with the children, using instruments or reading to them.
“Instead, many of the teachers focused on directing children. They would say, ‘let’s go over here, or sit down,’” she said.
That bothered me, but not as much as I think it would most parents.
My mom liked the teachers and got the general sense that they love children and want to keep them safe and happy.
I’m hoping I can work with them to improve, and I’m willing to because I really got a good feeling when I visited the school for the first time. I saw all shades of black, brown and white children, and I really like the staff.
But I won’t lie my mom’s general feedback about the school wasn’t positive.
“It’ll be fine for now,” she said. “But in three months or so, you’ll want to switch to a program with a better class size.”
Until then, I know my mom’s presence will probably put pressure on the facility to be more careful with Donovan, but I’m not looking for special treatment.
I’m looking for a program that treats every child like he’s special.