Child Care Resource and Referral at John A. Logan College Back to JALC

Choosing Child Care

The time a family spends finding and choosing the right care and education program will be worth the effort.

There are a number of things a family should do when choosing child care or other early learning program.

Plan Ahead

If possible, plan ahead. This will maximize the options available to you. Give yourself at least 4 to 6 weeks to arrange care. If this is not possible, don't panic. Try and make temporary arrangements with friends or relatives until you can find permanent care so you won't feel rushed in making a decision. Choosing care in a hurry might result in a negative experience for you and your child. It takes hard work to access the options available and make your decision.

Infant and toddler care can be especially difficult to find due to high demand and small group sizes. You may want to consider beginning your search for infant care from the time you learn you are pregnant or scheduled for an adoption.

Depending on availability of care, you might have to wait longer than you had planned, so having a back-up child care arrangement to cover you until a slot opens is important. Having a back-up plan is also a good idea to have if your child is sick, school is cancelled due to weather, holidays or if your primary provider becomes unavailable.

Identify Your Child's Needs:

To narrow down your choices of child care settings, think carefully about your child's needs and how they would best be satisfied in various environments.

YOUR CHILD'S AGE: Very young children need to be in an environment that is nurturing and has a low child to provider ratio. On the other hand school-age children need an environment that fosters growth and independence. What are your child's development needs? What type of environment do they prefer, quiet or active? When making a child care decision, look for the best match for your child's developmental needs:

Infants need lots of cuddling, eye contact, and one-on-one attention. Signs of quality infant care programs include: a provider-to-child ratio that is usually one provider to two to four infants, special crawling spaces for infants, sturdy and safe infant toys, infants held and snuggled during feeding time, as well as providers who spend most of their time playing with and nurturing the infants.

Toddlers are eager to explore the world and assert themselves, while still needing comfort, reassurance, and loving care from a provider. Quality toddler programs offer: materials for exploration, physical activity (climbing, jumping) hands-on experiences with careful supervision, sensory activities involving sand tables, water tables, story times, music, movement activities; and a language-rich environment.

Preschoolers are focused on developing friendships with peers, understanding their families and world; as well as developing many new skills. A quality preschool child care program offers a wide range of activities, including art, music, science exploration; activities designed to strengthen physical movement and hand-eye coordination; encouragement of "pro-social" behaviors such as sharing and taking turns, (Plus pre-reading and prewriting activities during play without pressure to perform).

Your school-age child will have some strong interests of his/her own (e.g., arts, music, sports, reading, or science). A quality school-age care program encourages your child to pursue his/her interests, while exposing him/her activities in a fun, unpressured way. School-age children should have plenty of social time with peers. They need time and quiet space for doing homework, as well.

Regardless of your child's level of development, you will want to choose a program that seems suited to his/her needs and a provider that genuinely enjoys working with children of your child's age group. Whether you choose a cozy family child care home or a large, well-run child care center, finding the right match with your child will and in his/her growth in a loving, safe, and stimulating environment.

YOUR CHILD'S TEMPERAMENT: An outgoing verbal child is more likely to thrive on the stimulation provided in a group setting. On the other hand, a quiet, shy child needs an environment where his/her needs will not be overlooked.

  • Where will your child feel more confident?
  • In which environment will his/her needs be met?
  • Does she do best in a small group or in a larger group with a lot of activity and contact with other children?
  • Does your child have special scheduling needs, is he/her toilet trained, does she need lots of room to run around?
  • Does your child bond with others easily or handle separations well?
  • Would your child benefit from having one provider vs. a group of teachers in her daily life

Be sure the provider you select has an approach compatible with your own guidance and discipline. Meet with the provider to see how she / he interact with your child. Discuss your child's strengths as well as any concerns you might have.

If Your Child Has Special Needs
The Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees children with disabilities the opportunity to participate in all activities of community life, including attending child care. But just because child care programs are available to your child doesn't mean that all child care settings will work for you.

You need to look for a setting that suits your child's individual needs and a provider with whom you are comfortable. Contact us to get a list of providers that have experience caring for children with various disabilities. You can also talk with your Early Intervention provider and other parents to see whom they have used.

If your child has significant medical needs, you should also look closely at the setting. Is there a good adult-to-child ratio? Will there always be an adult available to care for your child? Will they take the time necessary to work with your child? If your child has sensory issues, make sure the environment isn't overly stimulating for him. Some children may need a smaller group to thrive, while others will do best with lots of peer interaction. You have to decide which environment will optimize your child's potential and participation.

You need to consider other factors as well, including the provider's communication system. Will you get the kind of in-depth information you're looking for every day? Check into the discipline policy and make sure the center is willing to work within a special behavioral plan, if your child needs one. Ask about the center's rate of staff turnover. If your child requires a consistent routine or has trouble with transitions, you need a center with a stable staff.

If there is a child with special needs in the class, go to the center to observe how the child is included in activities. Bring your child in and see how she is accepted by the staff and children. The most important thing is to find a teacher who is willing to learn about your child's needs and is open to making adaptations, if necessary.

Consider Your Family's Needs

Your choice of child care will depend not only upon the age and developmental stage of your child, but also on your needs as a family. Think about your schedule and the location of your workplace. What can you afford? If you need early drop-off times or late pickups, make sure you ask about the program's hours and late policies. The more flexible your schedule, the more choices you will have.

Visit the Program Before You Make Your Final Decision

It is very important for families to visit potential child care programs before making a decision about child care. Programs vary widely in quality, environment, and how they handle children's developmental needs. You should see the program for yourself and meet the person(s) who will be caring for your child before you choose care.

(Before You Visit:) Interview by Phone

During the telephone interview, try to gather basic information about a program. Ask if it is a good time for the director, teacher, or provider to talk. (If you feel comfortable with the responses set up an appointment to visit. Here are some questions you may want to ask:

  • Are there vacancies for when you need care to begin?
  • What is the total number of children attending the program?
  • What is the general philosophy of the program?
  • How is discipline handled? How are conflicts between children handled?
  • What snacks or meals are provided, if any, and what kinds of foods are offered? If parents provide snacks or meals, what are the guidelines?
  • How long has the program been in business?
  • What are the fees? What do the fees include, and when is payment due?
  • What are the hours of operation?
  • Are there scholarships (subsidies or voucher programs) available?
  • What kind of training do the providers have in first aid and CPR?

Center-specific questions:

  • Does the center keep a waiting list? Is there a fee to get on it?
  • How are the children divided into age groups? Which group would your child be in?
  • What is the teacher-to-child ratio for your child's age group?
  • Do children need to be toilet trained before entering the program (if applicable)?
  • Is transportation available?

Family Child Care Home-specific questions:

  • What is the adult-to-child ratio? Who are the other people who might provide care to your child (e.g., aides)?
  • What are the ages of the children currently in care in this program?
  • Does the provider have children of her own as part of the group, either during the day or after school?
  • What kind of training has the provider received in child development and/or early childhood education? Is she receiving ongoing training?
  • What happens if the caregiver gets sick? Does she have alternate providers who can care for your child, or is it your responsibility to find back-up care?
  • Are there pets in the home? What kind and how many? Are the children in contact with the animals?
  • Does anyone in the home smoke?
  • Are any firearms kept in the home? If so, how are they stored?
  • Are there teens or other adults who will be present when your child is in the home? Who are they and when will they be present?
  • What is the vacation and holiday policy?
  • Is transportation provided?

School Age Program-specific questions:

  • What are the hours of operation?
  • Is transportation provided?
  • Does the program keep a waiting list?
  • What is the adult-to-child ratio?
  • How many children are enrolled in the program?
  • How are the children divided into groups? What group would your child be in?
  • What types of activities are offered?
  • How is discipline handled?

Special Needs Program-specific questions:

  • What activities will the child do during the day?
  • How flexible is the daily schedule?
  • Would the provider be willing to make reasonable adjustments to the schedule and / or environment to meet the needs of your child?
  • Has the provider cared for children with special needs in the past?
  • What training/qualifications does the provider have to care for children with special needs? Has the provider completed the special Care training or other special needs specific training?
  • Is the provider trained in CPR / First Aid?
  • Is the provider able to spend time with you or others to learn techniques to better serve the child?
  • Is the provider willing to administer medication, if required? Is provider willing to learn how to use equipment needed?
  • Does the provider have two or three parents you can call for references?
  • CCNC

Summer Camp-specific questions:

  • How long has the camp been in business?
  • What are the hours of operation?
  • Is it a boys, girls, or coed camp?
  • What is the total number of campers attending during the summer?
  • What is the ratio of counselors to campers?
  • What type of training do counselors receive?
  • What are the ages of the campers?
  • What sessions are offered during the summer?
  • Is transportation provided?
  • Do the children travel on field trips? How are they transported?

What to Look for in a Provider

There are many factors involved in choosing the right child care situation -- and a lot of it is subjective. After all, one family's dream situation might be another family's biggest challenge.

Some factors, though, are objective. They're the characteristics that mark a safe, stimulating, and nurturing environment for your child. Although some of the following factors apply more to child care center programs, others can be adapted to any child care situation.

Here's what you'll see in a quality child care program:

The Classroom or Play-space: Room are arranged so that children can explore freely and safely.

  • Toys, art materials, cubbies, books, etc., are all within the reach of little hands.
  • Furniture (and ideally bathrooms) are child-sized.
  • The room has adequate space where the children can spread out and play on the floor.
  • There are cozy corners for quiet times, reading, listening to music, etc.
  • The classroom is inclusive of children with any special needs.


  • Are attentive to children, carefully supervising them and quickly responding to their needs in a positive, loving way.
  • Set limits about behavior that they convey clearly to the children.
  • Encourage children to talk to each other -- both to solidify friendships and work- out disagreements.
  • Are prepared to step in, if necessary, so that aggressive behavior does not escalate.
  • Help the children get the most out of their play experiences by asking questions about what they are doing, offering encouragement, and redirecting children as needed.
  • Have training in child development and update their training periodically with courses and seminars.
  • Always show a respectful attitude towards the children, parents and each other.

Child/ Provider Relationship:

  • The children remain with a primary caregiver for a long time so that a strong child/teacher relationship is developed.
  • The provider gets to know each child's learning style, needs, and cues, and is able to respond to each child in a satisfying way.
  • Providers are affectionate with children, offering hugs, pats, and encouraging words as needed.


  • Just right for the ages of the children: challenging enough to allow children the thrill of mastering something they first find difficult, but not so challenging that children are continually frustrated.
  • Toys and learning areas (e.g., the block corner) are designed to encourage children to try out different kinds of activities.
  • In addition to focusing on learning areas, activities sometimes relate to themes such as the seasons, holidays, health, family, feelings, etc.
  • Circle time is age-appropriate: toddlers participate with songs, finger plays, etc.

Child Development:

  • Providers understand different ages and stages then handle children accordingly.
  • Teachers create environments where they can direct children to positive activities and minimize conflict.
  • Teachers praise children frequently and offer them opportunities to develop confidence and independence (e.g., toddlers work on dressing and feeding themselves; older children get help writing their names).

Safety: Look around to make sure that safety precautions are being taken.

  • Outlets are covered.
  • Wires or cords are out of reach.
  • Bookshelves and other furniture are secured to walls and floors.
  • Cleaning products are locked out of reach.
  • Furniture is child-friendly (no sharp edges, rough surfaces, or pointy corners child size).


  • Surfaces and toys are frequently washed and disinfected.
  • Frequent hand washing is required.
  • There are clear procedures for safe diapering and diaper disposal.

The Schedule:

  • Teachers plan so that there is time for free play, group play, individual play, structured activities, outdoor time, and quiet time.
  • Time periods are appropriate to the age of the child: not so long that children become restless and bored -- and not so short that they feel they've been interrupted in a chosen activity.
  • They give warnings before changing activities.
  • Teachers leave adequate time for transitions between activities so children don't feel rushed.

Accreditation: First, find out whether the program is licensed by the state or accredited by a national organization. Some accreditations are NAEYC, QRS, CDA, etc.


  • Teachers read to the children, both individually and in groups, pausing to ask questions along the way ("What do you think happens now?" "Does Curious George look happy about what just happened?").
  • They encourage children to discuss the story afterwards, relating it to events in their own lives.
  • Books are sturdy, age-appropriate, multicultural, free of stereotypes, and expose children to new ideas or situations.

Parental Communication:

  • Teachers communicate freely and often with parents, both at drop-off and pickup, in conversations in notes, and/or with occasional conferences.
  • Parents encourage to communicate with teachers regarding questions, concerns, and conflicts in priorities goals.
  • Parents feel free to visit the classroom or volunteer in the classroom.
  • Parents feel they are partners with the provider -- working together for their child's healthy growth and development.

Outdoor Space:

  • Outdoor play equipment is safe and age appropriate.
  • Smaller children are separated from bigger children (who may be unintentionally rough or intimidating).
  • The outdoor area is fenced-in with child safety locks on gates.

Continuity of Care:

  • Children stay with their groups as they advance from one level to another (e.g., toddler to preschooler).
  • Same teacher or aid for multiple years (low teacher turn over; teacher or aid progresses with children).
  • Children are introduced to new teachers and classrooms slowly, to give them a chance to adapt comfortably.
  • Classroom rules consistant from room to room, consistency.

Use a Quality Checklist

Use the following checklist during your visit to assist you in making an informed decision regarding child care for your children.

Home Alone

At some point during the school years, parents begin to consider the possibility of having children care for themselves before or after school rather than being cared for by others. Self-care can be a rewarding experience for children who are ready for it. However, children mature and develop at different rates, so the decision should be made on an individual basis. Furthermore self-care can help children develop independence and responsibility that can give them confidence in their own abilities. Yet, if the child is not ready, self-care can be a frightening and potentially dangerous situation.

How can you tell if your child is ready?

Unfortunately, there is no magic age at which children develop the maturity and the good sense needed to stay alone. Some signs that show your child may be ready are:

  • Desire - The child should be the first one to indicate a desire and willingness to stay alone. Children who are easily frightened or express an unwillingness to stay alone are probably not ready.
  • Responsible - He/she will be showing signs of accepting the responsibility and being aware of the needs of others.
  • Makes Choices - The child must be able to consider alternatives and make appropriate/good/wise decisions independently.
  • Communicates Openly - He/she should be able to talk easily with you about interests and concerns. Good parent-child communication is needed to ensure that any fears or problems that arise because of staying alone can be quickly discussed and dealt with together.

Children, who are able to get ready for school on time, solve problems on their own, complete homework and household chores with a minimum of supervision, and remember to tell you where they are going and when they will be back are demonstrating some of the skills they need to care for themselves. For some children these abilities begin to appear between the ages of 10 – 12yrs.

If your child is showing such signs, you may want to consider self-care. However, several other factors must also enter into your decision:

  • Safety - the neighborhood in which you live
  • Help - the availability of adults nearby, by phone (proximity) location
  • Time - how long your child will be alone.
  • Companion - will child be alone or with another child. Will their relationship build ability to self-care or lead into trouble.

If your neighbor is unsafe, if there are no adults nearby to call in case of emergency or if your child must remain alone for a long time, it is best to continue to use some form of child care even if your child seems ready to stay alone.

Preparing Your Child to Stay Alone

The following information is from the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services publication “Preparing Children to Stay Alone”.

If you and your child agree that self-care is appropriate, the next step is providing your child with the knowledge and training needed for this new responsibility.

Children who stay alone need to
Know how to react in situations such as:

  • being locked out
  • being afraid
  • being bored
  • being lonely
  • arguments with brothers and sisters

Know house rules about:

  • leaving the house
  • having friends in
  • cooking and use of kitchen equipment
  • appropriate snacks and meals
  • talking with friends on the phone
  • duties to be completed while home alone

Children who stay alone need to have:
Good telephone skills:

  • a list of emergency numbers
  • knowledge of what to say in an emergency situation
  • how to respond if someone calls
  • understanding of appropriate and inappropriate reasons for calling parents or other adults for help

Good personal safety skills:

  • how to answer the door when alone
  • how to lock and unlock windows
  • what to do if approached by a stranger on the way home
  • what to do if they think someone is in the house when they get home
  • what to do if someone touches them inappropriately

Good home safety skills:

  • kitchen safety (use of appliances, knives and tools)
  • what to do if they smell smoke or gas, or in the event of a fire
  • what to do during severe storms
  • basic first aid techniques and how to know when to get help

Providing your children with this knowledge gives them confidence in their abilities and will help them deal with any emergencies that may arise. When teaching your children, give information gradually rather than all at once. Too much information at a time is difficult to remember. Present your children with a number of situations and have them act out their responses.

Establish a Trial Period

After you have helped your child acquire the skills and knowledge needed to stay alone, set up a trial period of self-care in order to see how your child adjusts to the situation. Initially presenting it as a temporary arrangement lets children know they can choose not to continue if they are uncomfortable staying alone and also allows parents to more easily end the arrangement if they feel the child is unable to handle the situation.

Children who are mentally and emotionally ready to stay alone, who have been taught the skills and knowledge needed to deal with this new responsibility and who are able to talk easily with their parents about fears or concerns that may arise, can gain much from the opportunity to care for themselves.

When is it legal to leave children alone?

When thinking about leaving children alone, whether for a short time or long time, it is important for parents to consider all the risks involved. There are many potential risks to children that need to be considered. It is also important to understand that parents and other persons responsible for a minor's welfare also face risks.

Parents are legally responsible for their children's welfare until they reach adulthood. Part of caring for children is providing adequate supervision. Under some circumstances a parent can be charged with neglect for leaving children unattended.

The children may also be removed from their home and placed into the state's care for their protection until a judge decides that the home is safe for the children to return to. Illinois law defines a neglected minor, in part, as “any minor under the age of 14 years whose parent or other person responsible for the minor's welfare leaves the minor without supervision for an unreasonable period of time without regard for the mental or physical health, safety or welfare of that minor.”
Juvenile Court Act, 705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(d)

How long may a child be left alone?

What is appropriate under certain circumstances may be considered child neglect in other circumstances.

While recognizing that many factors may apply, Illinois law lists 15 specific factors to be considered when deciding whether a child has been left alone for an unreasonable period of time.

Putting The Child's Best Interest First

Parents and other persons responsible for a minor's welfare must think carefully about many things before leaving their children alone. This is important, even if a child is left alone only occasionally or for short periods of time.

If you always put the child's best interest first, you will be making decisions that will benefit your child. When children are placed in situations of independence that they can handle successfully, it can help them learn responsibility. However, asking too much too soon can produce frightening and potentially dangerous consequences for both the child and the parent.

(courtesy Child Care Resource Services (CCRS) , University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ,Urbana, Illinois 61801)

When the right decision is made, families can relax knowing their child is well cared for in a safe, nurturing, educational environment. Children can build strong relationships with their caregivers, so they can develop and grow in a safe, loving environment.

Children and an adult working together

BE INFORMED - Finding a quality, convenient, and affordable child care or preschool program is not an easy job. Your child's development and well being are at stake.

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