As a working outside the home mom, my world rises and falls with my childcare situation. I returned to work when Liam was 5 months old. My husband stayed home with Liam for a month, and then we had to find childcare. My "ideal" child care situation has evolved with time and Liam's age. As a young baby, I felt that he was best attended to by a nanny who was in our home. As a toddler, I think daycare is the right place for him.
At each of those points -- and many in between -- my concern was finding a childcare situation that was in tune with my parenting and child development beliefs, i.e. I was looking for a nanny or daycare that was attachment-parenting friendly. For me that meant finding a place where my child's needs would be attended to quickly, where compassion and empathy for my child would be without limit and where the childcare providers would seek to establish a connection to my child.
Disclaimer: Below is what I have found based on having several child care set-ups, interviewing numerous nannies and touring many day care centers, but there are always exceptions and each child and daycare is unique.
Tips For Finding An Attachment-Parenting Friendly Daycare
1. Small: After touring both the big name facilities and several "home" (or close to it) daycares, I found that the smaller daycareswere generally more in line with my beliefs. The smaller size meant that there was less bureaucracy, fewer ways things "had to be done" and more room for the individuality of the child. In my experience, the "at home" daycares also tended to be run by and employ moms. There is a comforting measure in someone caring for your child who has had his or her own children and then VOLUNTARILY choose to help take care of other people's kids. Our daycare also employs a college age woman who has the pep to keep up with some of the really rambunctious toddlers and preschools, so naturally Liam loves her. The other woman who spends a lot of time with Liam is a mother of FIVE boys. She is the most calm and calming person I know and nothing alarms her. She is wonderful.
2. Mixed Age: I found that I gravitated to places where the children were in mixed-age groups. I love dropping Liam off into a room with one baby that is still crawling, a preschooler who is setting up trains and another toddler who is potty-training. It feels like a big family. I found that in a mixed-age environment, the younger children are encouraged to develop their verbal and social skills. And, as a practical matter, the older children appropriately require a bit less attention from the caregivers and as a result, the younger children receive a bit more attention. I found that places where there were 10-15 children, exactly the same age, all in one room overwhelmed me. So many kids! At the same developmental point! With only three or four caregivers?! If I was overwhelmed, I could only imagine how my kid would feel. (As a side note: I found that I could get a sense of how much attention each child received when I walked into a daycare by watching how many of the children ran up to me. If the kids continued on with their activities, I felt as though the children were engaged in what they were doing and were not craving adult attention.)
3. Breastfeeding-Friendly: It has been important to me to feel like my choice in breastfeeding my baby, and now toddler, is respected and valued. I loved Liam's nanny, but she became less supportive of breastfeeding as time went on. I felt pressured by her to switch to cow's milk, well before he or I was ready for that change. Our current daycare is incredibly supportive of breastfeeding: the owner was a LLL leader and breast-fed her own children for two years each. As a result, I don't feel the least bit awkward or like I have anything to hide when I pick Liam up and he starts pulling at my shirt and saying, "Mommeeee" (the only time I say "mommy" as opposed to "momma" is referring to "mommy milk"). If Liam and I are going to run errands after pick-up, I will sit down on one of her couches and feed Liam before we head out. The fact that the daycare is breastfeeding friendly is widely advertised in the policy manual, and a quick question by a prospective parent would reveal just how breastfeeding friendly the place is.
4. Sleeping and Napping: In the smaller day cares, I found that the providers were willing to try whatever I wanted to help Liam sleep. "My child needs his blanket and his back patted." Totally fine. "My son is rocked to sleep." They were willing to do that too. But, I found the follow-up question even more important: what do you do if a child will not go down for a nap? Liam had a tough time adjusting to napping at daycare. For a couple of weeks, he would only nap for thirty minutes -- not nearly long enough. So, each of his daycare providers took turns sitting with him, reading him books, doing puzzles and other quiet activities while the other kiddos slept. He was never left in his pack & play to cry.
5. Being Held: After I received my current daycare's policy manual, I nearly started crying when I read a passage that said, "your baby will not be held all of the time." I completely freaked out, thinking that it meant that any baby would be left on their own and would not be held, even though that feeling was contrary to my sense when we toured the daycare (and that Liam was no longer a baby). Now that we have been at the daycare for a long while, this is what I have realized: She is right, the babies are not held ALL the time, but they are held ALOT. Every day when I go for pick-up, at least one of the babies is being worn by one of the providers. There are two pack and plays set up for the two babies, but they are only in there when they are sleeping. The rest of the time, the babies are being held or are in a jumper or are on the floor in the room with other children. They are interacted with, held and loved by the providers. My gut instinct about the place was right.
I think that is what it truly comes down to -- your gut instinct. I wish there were a checklist: find the following things in a daycare and it will! be! great! But I don't think it works that way. Instead, I think any parent can get a sense from information on the web and then you really have to go for a tour. Stay for a while. Linger in the room where your child would be. Talk to the providers that your child would be with, not just the person who runs the center. Watch the children. Watch the providers. Ask questions. And then, most importantly, trust your instinct. After all, isn't that what attachment-parenting is all about?