Daycare Dreams and Realities
How to find a preschool that fits yours and your child's needs
My daughter is seven now. Silly and sunny-natured yet acutely alert to the machinations of the world around her. These precious seeds of her emerging personality were evident even when she was a baby, but there I was, handing her over to be nurtured by paid strangers.
Despite the easygoing, hip-parent facade I was trying to cultivate back then, secretly I believed that the only suitable caregiver would be an exact clone of myself. Given that science had at that point only managed to successfully duplicate a sheep, there was no recourse but to cautiously scope out local daycare options.
While some preschools accept infants, other programs only admit children who are two or three years of age. Generally, if a school has both infants and toddlers, babies are kept in a separate area. A center of any size should be licensed with the State of New Jersey. Additionally, compliance with all state regulations is essential (fire safety, handling of food, diaper changes, ratio of adults to children).
Scheduling is a make or break issue and is unique to each caregiver. Some preschools offer a day comprised of two separate, short sessions for the youngest children. Some offer care for the entire day to assist the working parent. Be clear about what your needs are verses what each center offers.
Ideally a preschool keeps your child safe, clean and content. But it must also encourage language and socialization, provide good modeling for sharing, respecting others and listening. When quarrels arise between children (and they DO), employees should not simply scold, but use these opportunities to teach conflict resolution, fairness and forgiveness.
Fortunately, choices for the RiverDell preschool set have grown steadily over the years. A varied menu is available in our area, each with something special to offer:
Stepping Stone Learning Center/ 201-488-4905 http://www.steppingstonelearning.com/index.htm
340 Bogart Road, River Edge
More than 95% of their students are personally referred by current or prior students. The center cares and instructs two year olds, preschoolers and additionally offers a private kindergarten, as well as an "after-school" program for kindergartners who attend public school.
Reformed Church Nursery School/ 201-261-0258
641 Church Street, Oradell
Offering group sessions for preschoolers, this nursery school splits the day into two halves, permitting children to have a few hours of concentrated socialization per day. Recently the school has begun extending the option for children to stay through lunch and into the afternoon, affording for a longer day.
That's My School/ 201-599-2920
109 Continental Avenue, River Edge
Admits infants all the way up to pre-k. In addition this school offers a kindergarten enrichment program especially for kids whose birthdays missed the kindergarten cut-off day. This level accurately prepares kids for starting kindergarten the following year.
Kozy Kids Home Child Care/ 201-574-1369
119 Elizabeth Street, Oradell
Infants through 4 year olds are accepted into this small home child care group. Director Nicole Anderson takes pride in utilizing only "green" products for cleaning and preparing her home for the children in her care.
The Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey/ 201-986-1414
666 Kinderkamack Road, River Edge
An early childhood learning program for preschoolers in association with the Yeshiva.
Growing Garden Nursery School/ 201-265-9787
230 Woodland Avenue, River Edge
Infants to 2.5 year olds are accepted at this school, which has another location in Paramus that takes older children.
Before making your choice, a visit (or two, maybe even three) is the first order of business. Meet with the director of the facility and take the tour. Prepare a list of questions and ask them all. How often (and with what products) do they clean the tables, toys, floors, food prep areas? How do they approach discipline? What activities are planned for each day? Is there a monthly calendar? Do the activities stimulate a broad range of beginning skills (identifying colors, shapes, letters and numbers). If your child is an infant, is there a daily plan for feeding, naps and otherwise engaging babies?
Find out a bit about the staff and spend some time watching them interact with their charges. Ideally staff members will have had some training in early childhood education. Your child (and you) will form a connection with the people who support your lives on a daily basis, so inquire about the turnover rate of staff members. What are the arrangements if a caregiver calls in sick? Is there an additional fee if you are late picking up your child?
Take a deep breath while you are visiting each facility. Does it smell like a mixture of chicken nuggets, diapers and despair? Then this is not the place for you.
In the end this decision, like all decisions relating to our children, is a deeply personal one. If you find the choice you made is not a good fit, move on. Children are fluid, their needs always changing. As parents our best response is flexibility.