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Daycare—are we ready?
Q: My husband thinks that the oldest of our three kids is ready for daycare. At 3, isn’t he too young? He isn’t totally potty-trained, either. I’m nervous and don’t know what to think, or what questions to ask to find a good daycare. He plays well with his twin sisters, who where born on his second birthday.
A: It sounds as though you really have your hands full, Tammy. I think your husband’s idea is a good one, as your son may well need some extra stimulation that, with slightly younger twins to take care of, you simply can’t provide. If your son has a good relationship with you, and if you send him to a high-quality childcare program, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Perhaps you don’t know that, in many programs, you can enroll a child for only half a day rather than a 40-hour week. As this will be a new experience for him, I would recommend part-time rather than full-time enrollment. Some centers will not accept a child who is not toilet-trained, so work on that while you are deciding about enrollment.

Now as to how you can know whether the care you obtain is good or not, every state has what is called a Resource and Referral service. Parents can use it to learn about the facilities available in their area and determine whether the available programs are of high quality. You can find your state’s service by logging on to the website of the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (naccrra.org). The state service will provide you with a list of state-approved programs in your area. All the programs listed there will meet minimum state requirements but some will have gone beyond the minimum in their efforts to guarantee quality. One of the best indicators is whether a given program carries the accreditation seal from the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Apart from these official indicators of quality, there are things you can look for when you visit in order to make your choice. Look for things such as how many adults there are for the number of children enrolled, the qualifications of the staff, whether parents are allowed unlimited and unannounced visits, whether the facility has enough space and a pleasing array of play materials and whether the children in attendance appear to be occupied and happy.

Let me mention another reason why I think it would be a good idea to enroll your son in either a half-day or whole-day early childhood program. It is because of those twins. Especially in their early years, twins need a little special help from their parents to keep up with singletons of the same age. I know this from personal experience, as I am the mother of twins. With three such young children to take care of, Tammy, you can’t possibly have a lot of time to concentrate on the twins. So enrolling their big brother in a childcare program will offer them the opportunity to be “top dogs” for a little while every day. That should be good for everyone.

Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education