If you’re in the middle of a childcare hunt, we highly recommend you pay the centres a visit to get a better understanding of each one. You may already have lots of questions in mind, or you may not even know what to ask. To ensure you’re getting all the information you need from each centre, we’ve compiled a list of the most important questions to ask each centre during your visit.
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1. Has the centre been assessed? What rating did the centre get?
Most long day care centres in Australia are assessed and rated by their state or territory regulatory authorities. Each centre is assessed against seven key quality areas of the National Quality Standard, which sets the benchmark for early childhood education and care services in Australia. These areas cover everything including the centre’s educational program, physical environment, and collaborative partnerships with families and communities. Based on the results, a centre is given an overall quality rating. The five different ratings, going from highest to lowest are:
- Excellent Rating
- Exceeding National Quality Standard
- Meeting National Quality Standard
- Working Towards National Quality Standard
- Significant Improvement Required
All centres have to display their ratings for families to see at all times, so feel free to ask the director for this information.
2. Are meals, nappies, and sunscreen provided in the daily rate?
Aside from the fact that this may affect the way you look at the daily rate, you might also prefer having these things provided for convenience.
3. What’s the menu like? Is food prepared on-site or catered externally?
Some centres have in-house chefs who prepare the meals on the premises, while others have their meals prepared and delivered by a catering service. If food is catered externally, it won't hurt to find some information about the catering service. Don’t forget to also check the menu to ensure that the meals are full of the nutritional goodness that your little one needs!
4. Does the centre have an outdoor area? When do the children go outside for a play? How much time do they spend playing outside?
Make sure that the centre has an outdoor space and their routine promotes plenty of outdoor play. Your child needs sufficient time playing outside, and many studies have proven the great benefit of outdoor play for young children’s healthy development.
5. What is the general routine of the room? (Morning tea, sleep time, afternoon tea, outdoor play, etc.)
Although some degree of flexibility is needed around young children’s routine, a routine should nonetheless be encouraged. Young children thrive on repetition and routine, and love being able to expect what’s going to happen at various times of the day.
6. How many children and staff are in the room each day?
Compare the room size with the number of children in the room to ensure your child has enough space to explore and play. Also, keep an eye on the educator-to-children ratio to ensure the centre are following the requirements. This ratio is important as it affects the amount of individual attention given to each child. All registered childcare centres in Australia are legally required to follow the current educator-to-children ratio. The current ratio requirements in different age groups in different states are as follows:
7. Who are the staff in the room? How long have they been working there?
The staff members in the room are the ones who interact most frequently with your child, so it’s a good idea to get an idea of their personality, qualifications and experience. If they’ve been working at the centre for a long time and seem happy there, this means that your child will get to spend time consistently with the same educators. This is a big positive, as consistency helps your child settle more comfortably into childcare.
8. What is the educational program like? Does each child have their own portfolio?
If you’re looking for a centre that places a big focus on education, you’ll definitely want to ask these questions. An educational program outlines specific learning goals that the educators want the children to reach for the month or week. An individual portfolio documents all the proud moments that show your child achieving their development and learning goals when they are in childcare. The individual portfolio typically comes in the form of a book that’s available in your child’s room for you to look at any time during drop-off or pick-up, but many centres are now also using online/electronic individual portfolio.
9. Are there any additional activities, such as music classes or kinder gym?
The wider the variety of activities your child is exposed to, the better! This means your child’s interests are extended and supported. Some childcare centres also offer occasional excursions for older children, where they arrange an outing to go to their local park, post office, museum, and so on.
10. What happens when my child is sick? What is the illness policy?
Centres with a strict illness policy will be less likely to have parents bringing in sick children. This will more effectively combat the spread of illnesses among the children.
11. What is your policy and procedure for when a child has an accident in childcare?
Little people stumble and fall during play from time to time. When these minor accidents happen in childcare, your centre should be able to take the appropriate steps to ensure the health and safety of your child, and also communicate the incident to parents clearly and effectively.
If you have specific needs for your child, such as allergies, dietary requirements, or parenting plans, you’ll also want to ask some of these questions:
- How will the centre cater for my child’s dietary requirements?
- My child has an allergy. How does the centre manage this?
- My child has asthma. How does the centre manage this?
- My child is still breastfed. Can I provide expressed breast milk in the centre or come to breastfeed during the day?
- We have a parenting plan in place. Does the centre have a procedure or policy related to this subject?
Make sure you take these questions along to your next childcare visit. The answers to these questions may help you decide whether or not this centre is the right one for you and your family.