Parenting: Day car redux

Monday, July 18, 2011
Parenting: Day car redux

The other day at my child's day care, I met a new parent and her 3 month old. During the chit chat, she mentioned she and her husband had a random stranger turn up on their door and offer to buy their house at a great price. The one hold up? She didn't want to move anywhere that would cause them to need to a find a new day care. "I love this place," she beamed.

Indeed, nothing beats feeling great about the place helping care for your child - and nothing will bring on worry headaches and stress like being uncertain or unhappy with your choice. It would seem simple to find a center with love and high standards, but most parents know it's a long Goldilocks quest - this place is too limited, this place is too expensive, this place is too rigid, this place is too loose - until you finally find one that is just right.

Most good day care providers will tell you your number one test is your gut: How does the center make you feel? What happens when you imagine leaving your child there? Do you like what you see from the other kids, teachers and directors?

But just because a place is beautiful or the director is charming, it may not be what you really want for your child. So I thought I'd write about what should be on your list to look for when you ring the buzzer.

And in that spirit, I went to visit a new state-of-the-art center in Center City. Owners John and Regina Reydler opened Right Steps a few weeks ago, adding this to two existing locations in Bucks County. They believe in group care, especially after watching their eldest child, now in her early twenties, have a hard time transitioning into school after being watched at home. "It was a big shock for her, being with the other children," says Regina. "Even if a child is great with adults, that doesn't mean they are going to be ready for other kids."

So when they added kids two and three a while later, the Reydlers decided to look into day cares - and were very unhappy with what they found. Some places were not clean enough. At some places, teachers seemed distracted - in one location, an infant teacher constantly seemed to be on the cell phone. And in another place, the kids spent a lot of time in front of the television.

The Reydlers ultimately opened Right Steps. While they've always pushed for high standards, the new location is a bit of a showpiece: The couple refurbished a former bank. The old teller's lobby is now a massive play space with a two story ceiling, decorated with a mural that shows world sites, like the Eiffel Tower, London Bridge and the Taj Mahal. The floors look like hardwood, but cover a comfy, fall-safe cushion. Numbers are small, teachers have education degrees, and security cameras abound. Older kids can practice their spelling on smart boards, while all the kids enjoy organic meals and snacks.

Right steps is a boutique experience, which is reflected in monthly tuitions that range between $1000-$1500, and the location may put it out of the range for some parents. But the Reydlers say there are some rules of thumb that all parents can use while making a choice:

*Look for teacher-child interaction. Is the teacher holding children, looking them in the eye, engaging them?

*What are the cleanliness procedures? "We wash hands all the time here," says Regina.

*Is there a curriculum plan? John notes that he hates the word "day care," seeing his centers more as a learning experience, and Regina points to curriculum plans on the wall, tied to state standards. In fact, the couple says they regularly correct parents that their teachers are not nannies, but certified teachers. And a good teachers read, teach and inspire; they don't plunk kids down in front of televisions for long periods of time.

*What are the safety procedures? The Reydlers have relationships with a medical expert, all their staff is being trained in first aid and CPR, and the kids go through fire drills.

*How are parents included? John recalls a daycare that would not allow parents into the center, forcing them to drop their child off in the lobby and leave. The center claimed it was for cleanliness, but John says it was upsetting. Right Steps gives parents key fobs and allows them free access.

*Right Steps is in the process of getting its Keystone Stars accreditation. Parents are recommended to look for center that do meat the Keystone Stars or National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) standards.

It may take you a while to find your place. But with a good sense of what you want and a little show leather, you too will hopefully be able to say "I-and my child-love this place!"

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