a teacher reading a book to her students

The early years are crucial for development, building a sense of self, trust, social and emotional skills, a love of learning, and so much more. A negative experience in any of these areas can have lasting effects on children and their educational journey. This is why it is extremely important to make informed decisions about who you trust in the care of your child. 

Are you a new military spouse mom searching for child care for the first time? Maybe you just PCS’d to a new duty station and now you are tasked with finding child care yet again. Whatever the case, it is important to consider all of your options in order to make a sound decision as to where you will place your child or children in care.  

This is why I have put together a list of tips to help guide you as you search for a high quality program for your child or children. 

1-Do the research-Find out what the standards for quality are in your state. The standards may vary slightly but have many similarities. For example, every state has a licensing system and a star rating system for licensed centers. In Oklahoma, three stars is the highest level, while in North Carolina a five star center is the highest quality. The higher the stars, the higher the quality of that particular child care center. Go to the Department of Health and Human Services for the state you are living in and start learning what indicates high quality in your state. You can also search for child care centers and view their compliance over the years. Another resource for researching Early Childhood Education is the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children).

2-Define high quality. What does high quality look like to you? Now, that you have researched what your state deems as high quality, think about what high quality means to you. To some, that means having children in separate classrooms. To others, it means having a large space that is clean and well organized for children to play, explore, and learn in. Another thing to consider for high quality is the education level of the teacher and teacher assistant that will be working with your child. Write down what you envision your child’s preschool educational experience should look like and keep that in mind as you explore child care centers.

3-Take Several Tours. In order to make an informed decision, you need to take tours at different places, so you can compare the quality of them. Many times, you have to call and set these up ahead of time for both in person or virtual tours. I encourage you to look at different types of child care centers so you can make a comparison. This could include: a church preschool, a local preschool, a private preschool, a Montessori program, and a corporate chain. Do not just go on what people say is the best at your duty station. Take a tour and decide for yourself because everyone’s standards of quality vary.  

4-Be observant. When you take tours of childcare centers, pay attention. Look at the children in the classroom. Do they look happy? Do they look taken care of? Do the teachers seem responsive to the children’s needs? Does there seem to be adequate spacing for the amount of children in the room? Is the environment set up for learning? It is essential to pay attention during your tour. I was on a tour of a place at my duty station that everyone rants and raves about as the best and I did not see that type of quality during my tour. Two children had snotty noses with snot about to run into their mouths. This wasn’t clear teething snot, it was yellow and green sickie snot. Ick! The teacher did not seem responsive and children were running around wild. In fact, one child was sitting at the bottom of a slide and another one slid into that one making her cry, and no one did anything. That told me more than I needed to know that my child would not be in good hands there. In fact, I cringed thinking about tasking my baby and dropping him off there. So, be observant of everything during your tour.

5-Ask questions. It’s okay to ask as many questions as you want. Not sure what to ask? Here are a few suggestions:

  • How much time do the children spend outside each day? Most states mandate that they spend at least fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen minutes in the afternoon outdoors. 
  • What is the education level of the teachers that will be working with your child? If they don’t have a degree yet in Early Childhood Education, are they working towards one? How long have they been working at that facility or with children in general?
  • What are the Covid precautions that they are taking to ensure the safety of everyone?
  • What is the teacher to child ratio? This is another area that is mandated by the state. 
  • What are the security precautions for that center as far as access goes? This is important to know. How will you drop off and pick up your child? Knowing what security systems are in place may give you peace of mind too, as you can never be too cautious in today’s world.

6-Listen to your gut. You can never go wrong listening to your gut. If something feels off or makes you nervous, listen to your instincts. That little voice, aka your mama gut, is usually right so do not push it aside when it’s telling you something. 

I know firsthand how stressful and time consuming it is to find high quality care for your child. When I was searching for part time care for my son recently, I made over fifteen phone calls, six tours, and tons of research on the state Department of Health and Human Services page, to friends of mine who work in Early Childhood back home in NC, and seeing what military wives were saying on the local pages about different child care centers. 

What I learned through my own search for high quality care for my child is that it’s a decision that should not be taken lightly. Your child is worth the research, the many tours, and the stress in finding the right fit and a good situation to grow and thrive in. The early years are the most crucial for development physically, socially, emotionally, and mentally. My hope is that this blog post can give you some insight on how to make an informed decision about your child’s care. Do not just go on what others are saying at your duty station. Do the research, define what high quality means to you, take multiple tours, be observant, ask questions, and most importantly listen to your gut.

© Strength 4 Spouses LLC, 2021.

Wendi Iacobello and her son smiling
Photo by Rebekah Melancon

Wendi Iacobello is a graduate of Appalachian State University with a Master of Arts in Educational Media and a Bachelor of Science degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Mount Olive. Her professional career in education spans across ten years in the public education sector to include; middle and high school special education, adult education for incarcerated men, women, & youth, compensatory education, High School Equivalency instruction formerly known as GED, and community college instruction in Early Childhood Education curriculum courses. In addition to chasing around her energetic toddler daily and advocating for clean and safe playgrounds and parks in her area, she is a blogger, freelance writer, brand ambassador for Baby Pavilion, and instructional design assistant. Wendi became a published author in 2020 and her writing has been seen in multiple military affiliated websites and magazines. She loves encouraging others to develop their inner strength in military life and motherhood through her blog Strength 4 Spouses