Talking with a family child care provider

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Find out about the other children who come to the home for care. Are you comfortable with the mix of cultures, boys and girls, and ages? (Having children of different ages can often be a benefit that encourages an older child's caring skills and a younger child's development.) Talk with the provider about how she handles the flow of children during the day. The more children who attend part-time, the more disruptions and changes the group will have to face. There should be a manageable number of children at all times. Remember that children do better in small groups.

It's important to find out what a typical day would be like for your child. A family child care home should give children a choice of activities they can participate in at different levels. Will there be the right mix of activity and quiet time, of being with other children and playing alone, of predictability and routine, for your child? Will the children be able to play outside every day? Fresh air helps cut down the spread of sickness between children and the outdoors can provide a great place to learn. Will the provider be taking the children outside of or away from the home? Some providers drop off and pick up children at elementary school. Others may run errands during the day, or plan field trips to the post office or fire station. If your child will be staying with the provider in the evening or overnight, be sure to talk about bedtime routines. It's also important to ask about and make sure you and your child feel comfortable with any other people who may be in the home— older children, spouses or other relatives, assistants, friends, or neighbors who might provide backup care, someone who comes in to help with music or gymnastics, and so on.

When you ask about experience, find out why this person became a family child care provider. Someone who is providing care because it is work she likes and chooses to do is more likely to do a good job than someone who has been talked into it or who is doing a favor. Try to see whether the provider feels this is an important job and whether she plans to stay with it over time. Children do better when they can continue to be with care-givers they trust, so look for a provider you think you'll be able to stay with for a while.

Encourage the provider to tell you about some of the children she's taken care of. You may learn a lot by asking how she handles specific problems. Look for someone with clear rules, who encourages children by teaching them self-control and providing them with support and praise, rather than humiliating or embarrassing them when they misbehave. Be sure to ask about her experience with children who are the same age as your child.

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