Choosing the right daycare for your child can feel like such an important decision–you want to spend extra time and effort to make the best decision you can. Choosing daycare in the Windy City–where there are so many choices–adds an extra layer of challenge that means even more research is required.
And that research can feel daunting! That is why we put together this list of the most important things to consider while looking at Chicago daycares. Each of these areas can be helpful to think about no matter what city you are looking in, but in Chicago they are especially important. Here are five things to think about when researching a Chicago daycare.
In real estate, they say it is all about location, location, location. The same can be said for picking a daycare in Chicago. A daycare is a big part of your everyday life. You have to get your child there in the mornings and pick them up in the afternoon or evening. Even if it’s not you doing the dropping off and picking up, you still want to make the process as convenient as possible. You also don’t want your young one snoozing (if they’re not supposed to) in the car or getting antsy and throwing a fit on the way to or from daycare either.
The good news is, no matter where you are in the Second City, there are good daycares to choose from near you. If you live in Lincoln Park, there is no reason you should have to trek to the West Loop to find a great childcare option. Thinking about the location of the daycare and how it fits in your life is a great first step in choosing the right place for you and your family.
2. Presence in the community
One of the best things about Chicago is that it gives residents a small-town feel in one of the biggest cities in the country. This is because wherever you live in town, you likely feel a true sense of community. When looking for a daycare, look for one that feels just as much a part of your community as your local deep-dish pizza spot or family diner.
Finding a daycare with a community presence will help you and your family grow into the community too. A daycare that values community will attract like-minded families that plan on being in the neighborhood for a long time. The kids your son or daughter goes to daycare with now could turn into lifelong schoolmates and friends. And, you and other parents may too. Plus, you’ll be supporting an important local business with ties to your neighborhood.
The ranking of safety on this list in no way reflects its importance. It is probably the number one thing to think about when researching daycares. Chicago is a relatively safe big city overall in most areas. Even if you send your child to daycare in the safest area of Chicago though, you still want to make sure the daycare itself has its security and child safety practices buttoned up.
When researching the daycare, you want to think about things like security cameras, sign-in and sign-out procedures, and other safety protocols. Some of this information may be available on the daycare’s website but most don’t want to advertise all their practices. This type of research is best done in person when talking to daycare staff or when observing morning or afternoon arrivals and departures.
Chicago daycares, especially the best ones, can be notoriously difficult to get into. It is not a bad idea to at least start your research before you even have your child. Even if you do though, you may have to think about what you will do if you end up on a waitlist.
After you find out whether there is a waitlist at the daycare you are interested in, you need to start researching what that means. Does the daycare stick people on the waitlist indefinitely or is there a clear idea of how long it may be before you get a decision? If you think you will get a decision in a reasonable amount of time, you need to consider whether it is worth the wait or if you need to look elsewhere.
5. Focus on the child
All the items above deal with things that matter to you as parents. Of course, these are all important as you want what is best for your child and your family, but don’t forget to take into account your child’s day-to-day experience. Daycares are an important part of early childhood development which is why asking about a typical day in the life of a daycare student is important.
All daycares will generally provide some balance of developmental curriculum and free play. Some daycares will weigh one more heavily than the other either due to their capabilities or philosophy. There is no single correct answer as to what the best balance should be; that is a personal choice. Just make sure that there is some thought given to the developmental plan for attendees and that you are on board with it for your child.
Daycare is an important decision for your family and your child. It may not be the most important decision you make for them but it will be one of the first. For this reason, you want to make sure you put in the research to make the best decision possible.
When looking for a daycare in Chicago, there are a few things you want to think about above all else. Location, presence in the community, safety, the waitlist, and the developmental focus are all things to consider. When you find a daycare that scores well in all these categories, this will be the daycare for you.
Sandra Chiu works as Director at LadyBug & Friends Daycare and Preschool.