Choosing a child care program for your child is one of the most important decisions you will make. Take your time, ask questions and visit several programs before you decide.

You can use the questions below to evaluate a child care program or preschool.

Child Care Checklist – Informal Care (Friend, Family or Neighbor Care)

• Child Care Checklist– Preschool

Is the space warm and inviting?

When you walk into the room, what kind of feeling do you get?  Does it feel inviting for children?  The furniture should be child-sized and displays on the wall should be at the children's eye level.  The room should be colorful and full of children's artwork and pictures.  However, the room shouldn't be so crowded with stuff that it feels overwhelming for children.

Is there child-size furniture?

Tables, chairs, shelves, sinks, toilets and all other furniture should be sized for children.  Children will feel safe and comfortable in a room that they fit into and will be better able to participate in activities.

Is there a variety of age appropriate materials available at all times?

Preschool children should have a variety of materials available to them.  There should be books, building materials, fine motor activities, dramatic play materials, and art materials.

Is there space for children to be alone?

We all need to be alone sometimes and so do young children.  The classroom should have a space where a child can go when they need some time to themselves while still being supervised.  This could be a small reading area with some pillows or small table with one chair.  Child care providers should enforce that the area is only for one child and not allow multiple children in the space.

Do children go outside twice a day?

All children (including young infants) should go outside twice a day for at least 30 minutes as long as the weather permits.  During hot temperatures, children should be offered water as needed.  During cold temperatures, children should wear jackets, gloves, and hats when needed.  Cold/hot weather should not prevent child care providers from taking children outside unless temperatures are below freezing or so hot that the air quality levels are dangerous for young children.  Outside areas should have plenty of equipment that encourages children to learn and develop skills such as jumping, balancing, swinging, running, pushing, and pulling.

Are children supervised at all times?

The indoor and outdoor areas should be set up so that the child care providers can see the children at all times. There should not be any areas that can hide children from view. Providers should be consistently moving around the room/playground so that they can see all the children. The children should never be left unattended or with someone who is not a qualified staff member, even while the children are sleeping.

Are medications and cleaning supplies locked away?

All medications, cleaning supplies, and anything labeled “keep out of reach of children” must be locked away, it’s not enough to be put on a high shelf or cabinet. Medications that must be refrigerated must be kept in a locked box inside the refrigerator.  Under NC child care rules the only exception is the stray bottle of sanitizing solution which must be at least five feet off the ground but does not have to be locked.

Are linens washed once a week?

All sheets, blankets, bibs, soft toys and any other linens should be washed daily for infants and toddlers and at least once a week in preschool classrooms.

Are allergies posted?

All allergies and special diets must be posted where all child care providers can see it. If there are currently no allergies or special diets in the classroom that should also be noted and dated as to when it was last updated.

Do children and teachers wash hands at all appropriate times?

Children and providers should wash their hands before/after handling foods, after toileting, upon entering the classroom, after coming in contact with bodily fluids, and before/after water or sand play. The child care providers should be monitoring children to ensure they are properly washing. The instructions for hand washing should be posted near the sink. If there are two sinks, one should be used for hand washing after toileting and the other should be used for hand washing before and after food prep (they should be labeled). If there is only one sink, it should be cleaned and sanitized after it’s used for toilet-related handwashing.

Are meal times generally pleasant?

Interactions between providers and teachers should be pleasant during meal times. Providers should allow children to eat at their own pace. Providers can encourage children to eat and try new foods but should not be force them to do so. Children may be allowed to serve themselves and pour their own milk.

Are dietary restrictions observed?

If it’s posted that a child is a vegetarian or doesn’t eat a specific food, it should be respected by the child care facility and the child should be given an appropriate meal replacement. If the child care facility is on the Child and Adult Care Food Program, the replacement must meet dietary requirements. Whether the replacement is provided by the parent or the child care facility is up to each individual facility’s policy.

Are children treated with respect?

All child care providers should be respectful to the children, speaking with kindness and not yelling, embarrassing or belittling the children.

Do teachers use positive guidance techniques?

Teachers should use positive guidance techniques instead of negative punishments. Positive guidance techniques include using reward charts, praising appropriate behaviors, redirection, and modeling how to work through conflicts.

Do teachers model appropriate behaviors?

Teachers should model appropriate behaviors for the children. They should avoid behaviors that they don’t want the children to use - for example, yelling.  Young children are more likely to copy things that they see instead of doing what they are told.

Are children encouraged to learn self-help skills?

Teachers should help children learn self-help skills such as putting on coats, zipping coats, buttoning pants, putting on shoes and serving food. Teachers can help by giving children verbal guidance and encouragement and can step in to help if the child becomes frustrated.

Do teachers get on the child’s eye level when speaking to them?

When teachers get down on the children's level it makes the children feel more comfortable and important, and the child is more able to listen and understand what the teacher is saying.

Do teachers interact with children and encourage them to learn through play?

The majority of the children's day should be spent playing.  Teachers should interact with the children while they play and encourage learning through play.  For example, teachers should ask children to count blocks as they stack them, ask them questions about the book they are reading, point to letters and numbers on toys, or ask the children to sort small toys by color.  This is how children learn and develop.  If teachers simply supervise children while they play, they will be missing lots of learning opportunities.

Do teachers help children learn about other cultures and encourage them to respect diversity?

Lots of cultures, ages, and abilities should be represented in the classroom.  There could be play food from other cultures, pictures of people of all ages and ethnicities, books showing people with disabilities, or dolls with different skin tones. Showing examples of diversity and talking about them frequently with children  will help children learn to respect diversity.

• Child Care Checklist – Infant and Toddler

Is there enough space for each child?

Infants need a lot of space to roll around, crawl, and safely explore.  There should be plenty of space in the room for all the infants and toddlers enrolled.  The area should be free of safety hazards and should be able to be easily supervised.

Is there a variety of age-appropriate materials available at all times?

There should be a variety of materials available for the children to play with.  These materials should be appropriate for the children in the classroom.  Infants and toddlers should have a variety of soft toys, books, rattles, and other safe materials.  Preschool aged children should have lots of books, puzzles, blocks, home living props, science and math materials, small interlocking toys, and plenty of art materials.  Materials should be accessible to the children through out the day.

Is there a soft/quiet area?

Infants and toddlers should have access to a soft/cozy area where they can be alone if they want to be, while still being supervised. The area should include some of the following: soft toys, soft books, puppets, pillows, soft mat or carpet.

Do teachers attend to each child’s needs in a warm and positive manner?

Infants and toddlers cry quite often when they need certain needs met since they cannot yet use words.  Caregivers should respond kindly to crying infants and toddlers as quickly as they can instead of telling them to stop crying.

Are children supervised at all times?

The indoor and outdoor areas should be set up so that the child care providers can see the children at all times. There should not be any areas that can hide children from view. Providers should be consistently moving around the room/playground so that they can see all the children. The children should never be left unattended or with someone who is not a qualified staff member, even while the children are sleeping.

Are electrical outlets covered?

All outlets in the classroom should be covered by child safety covers at all times when not in use.  Outlets not accessible to children should still be covered.

Is the area free of dangling cords and other safety hazards?

Dangling cords from radios/CD players, bottle warmers, small refrigerators, etc can pose a safety threat for infants and toddlers who may grab onto things to help pull themselves up.  Look for any other safety hazards such as unstable furniture, exposed outlets, or anything that could cause pinching.

Are medicines and cleaning supplies locked away?

All medications, cleaning supplies, and anything labeled “keep out of reach of children” must be locked away, it’s not enough to be put on a high shelf or cabinet. Medications that must be refrigerated must be kept in a locked box inside the refrigerator.  Under NC child care rules the only exception is the stray bottle of sanitizing solution which must be at least five feet off the ground but does not have to be locked.

Is there a safe sleep policy?

Every child care provider that takes care of children under a year old should have a safe sleep policy for prevention of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).  This policy should include what steps the facility will take to ensure that they provide a safe environment for sleeping infants and how they will train staff members.

Are infants placed on their back to sleep?

All children under a year old should be placed on their backs to sleep to prevent SIDS.  Once an infant can roll over, they can be allowed to do so after being laid down; however, there must be a label on the crib to say that the infant can roll over.

Are toys and linens cleaned daily?

Since infants and toddlers frequently put toys in their mouths, toys should be cleaned and sanitized at least once a day.  As toys are mouthed by infants and toddlers, they should be set aside to be cleaned.  All bibs, crib sheets, soft toys, and other linens should also be washed daily.

Are allergies posted?

All allergies and special diets must be posted where all child care providers can see it. If there are currently no allergies or special diets in the classroom that should also be noted and dated as to when it was last updated.

Are all bottles labeled, dated, and safely stored?

Bottles should be required to be labeled with the child’s first and last names and the date and should be stored in a refrigerator whose temperature does not exceed 45 degrees F.

Do teachers and children wash hands at the appropriate times?

Children and providers should wash their hands before/after handling foods, after toileting, upon entering the classroom, after coming in contact with bodily fluids, and before/after water or sand play. The child care providers should be monitoring children to ensure they are properly washing. The instructions for hand washing should be posted near the sink. If there are two sinks, one should be used for hand washing after toileting and the other should be used for hand washing before and after food prep (they should be labeled). If there is only one sink, it should be cleaned and sanitized after it’s used for toilet-related handwashing.

Do teachers hold infants while being bottle fed?

Teachers should always hold infants while feeding them.  This helps create a warm connection between teacher and child and also provides an opportunity for one on one time.  Infants should never be left to drink out of a bottle that has been propped up.

Are children’s dietary restrictions observed?

If it’s posted that a child is a vegetarian or doesn’t eat a specific food, it should be respected by the child care facility and the child should be given an appropriate meal replacement. If the child care facility is on the Child and Adult Care Food Program, the replacement must meet dietary requirements. Whether the replacement is provided by the parent or the child care facility is up to each individual facility’s policy.

Are infants allowed to nap and eat on their own schedule?

Infants should be allowed to sleep as needed and not forced to adjust to one naptime.  They should also be allowed to eat on demand.

Do teachers talk with the infants and toddlers during routine times? (diaper changes, feedings)

As infants and toddlers hear language, they learn language.  Therefore it is important for teachers to be constantly talking with them.  Routine times, such as diaper changes and feeding, are great opportunities for one-on-one talk.

Do teachers read and sing with the children?

Infants and toddlers love reading and singing.  Both these activities should be done on a daily basis to engage the children and help them develop important language and social skills.

Are diapers changed every two hours or whenever soiled?

Diapers should be changed as needed when they become soiled and children should not go over two hours without a diaper change.

Do all teachers have SIDS training?

According to NC child care law, all teachers who are in an infant classroom must have SIDS training ever three years.

Do children go outside twice a day?

All children (including young infants) should go outside twice a day for at least 30 minutes as long as the weather permits.  During hot temperatures, children should be offered water as needed.  During cold temperatures, children should wear jackets, gloves, and hats when needed.  Cold/hot weather should not prevent child care providers from taking children outside unless temperatures are below freezing or so hot that the air quality levels are dangerous for young children.  Outside areas should have plenty of equipment that encourages children to learn and develop skills such as jumping, balancing, swinging, running, pushing, and pulling.

Do teachers communicate to parents about the child’s day?

Communication between parents and teachers is important in all age classrooms, but especially for infants and toddlers who can’t tell their parents about their day.  Teachers should record when children were fed, what they ate, when they were changed, and how long they napped and share this information with parents.

• Child Care Checklist– School Age

Is the space warm and inviting?

When you walk into the room, what kind of feeling do you get?  Does it feel inviting for children?  The furniture should be child-sized and displays on the wall should be at the children's eye level.  The room should be colorful and full of children's artwork and pictures.  However, the room shouldn't be so crowded with stuff that it feels overwhelming for children.

Is there a variety of age appropriate materials available throughout the day?

School age children should have a variety of materials available to them.  There should be books, building materials, board games, fine motor activities, dramatic play materials, and art materials.  Toys and materials should cover a variety of abilities.  For example, there should be simple beginner books and more advanced chapter books.

Is there a space for children to be alone?

We all need to be alone sometimes and so do young children.  The classroom should have a space where a child can go when they need some time to themselves.  This could be a small reading area with some pillows or small table with one chair.  Child care providers should enforce that the area is only for one child and not allow multiple children in the space.

Are children supervised at all times?

The indoor and outdoor areas should be set up so that the child care providers can see the children at all times. There should not be any areas that can hide children from view. Providers should be consistently moving around the room/playground so that they can see all the children. The children should never be left unattended or with someone who is not a qualified staff member, even while the children are sleeping.

Are cleaning supplies and medications locked away?

All medications, cleaning supplies, and anything labeled “keep out of reach of children” must be locked away, it’s not enough to be put on a high shelf or cabinet. Medications that must be refrigerated must be kept in a locked box inside the refrigerator.  Under NC child care rules the only exception is the stray bottle of sanitizing solution which must be at least five feet off the ground but does not have to be locked.

Are allergies posted?

All allergies and special diets must be posted where all child care providers can see it. If there are currently no allergies or special diets in the classroom that should also be noted and dated as to when it was last updated.

Do children and teachers wash their hands at the appropriate times?

Children and providers should wash their hands before/after handling foods, after toileting, upon entering the classroom, after coming in contact with bodily fluids, and before/after water or sand play. The child care providers should be monitoring children to ensure they are properly washing. The instructions for hand washing should be posted near the sink. If there are two sinks, one should be used for hand washing after toileting and the other should be used for hand washing before and after food prep (they should be labeled). If there is only one sink, it should be cleaned and sanitized after it’s used for toilet-related handwashing.

If children are transported, do teachers bring a list of the children and their emergency contact information with them?

Many afterschool programs have vans or buses that transport children to and from school or on field trips in the summer. These programs should always bring a list of all children who are being transported and their emergency contact information.  Teachers should check off every child as they are dropped off/picked up.

Are meal times generally pleasant?

Interactions between providers and teachers should be pleasant during meal times. Providers should allow children to eat at their own pace. Providers can encourage children to eat and try new foods but should not be force them to do so. Children may be allowed to serve themselves and pour their own milk.

Are children treated with respect?

All child care providers should be respectful to the children, speaking with kindness and not yelling, embarrassing or belittling the children.

Do teachers model appropriate behaviors to the children?

Teachers should always be modeling appropriate behaviors for the children and should not be doing things that they don’t want children doing- for example, yelling.  Young children are more likely to copy things that they see instead of doing what they are told.

Do teachers encourage children to learn problem-solving skills and responsibility?

School age children should be encouraged to learn responsibility and independence. They can be allowed to make decisions (within reason) on what activities they do.  They can also be allowed to serve themselves at meal times.  Teachers should encourage them to be responsible for their own belongings.  They can learn problem-solving skills through board games, team activities, building sets, and puzzles.

Are interactions amongst the children generally positive?

The interactions between the children are a good indicator of the overall atmosphere in the classroom.  Children should have mostly positive interactions with each other.  When conflicts arise, teachers should help the children learn how to work out their problems.

Do the children have time to work on homework if they want to?

Some child care programs provide homework time. Whether they do or not, be sure the children have some free time to play and rest after a long structured day at school.

• Other Questions to ask & consider

What are the staff/child ratios?

These are the maximum staff/child ratios allowed by the state of North Carolina by age group in licensed child care centers:

0-12 months        1:5
12-24 months      1:6
2 years old          1:10
3 years old          1:15
4 years old          1:20
School Age          1:25

Some child care centers might run lower voluntary ratios.  Ask each child care center what their staff/child ratios are for each age group.  Ratios should be posted in every classroom where they can be seen.

Family Child Care Homes can have 5 children preschool age or below and three additional school age children.  If the provider has children of their own they will only count in the ratio if they are 5 years old or younger.

Is the program licensed?

Most child care centers and family child care homes will have a star-rated license.  The star rating is from 1 to 5 stars.  For information on how star-ratings are determined click here.

Other types of licenses you might see are:

GS-110-106- Religious sponsored center
Temporary- Child Care Centers are issued temporary licenses for the first six months after opening.
Provisional/Special Provisional- If there has been a problem such as abuse or neglect or sanitation issue, a provisional or special provisional license can be issued for a period of time.  During this time there will be more frequent visits by licensing consultants and new enrollment may be limited.

What is the program’s star rated license?

The star-rated license for child care helps parents evaluate the quality of the child care program. One star means that the center or home meets all the state's minimum requirements for operating child care. Two to five stars means that the program voluntarily meets higher standards. Star ratings are earned through the college education of the staff members and through "program standards" (space, ratio, materials, interactions, and more). Read more here. Even if a program has a good star rating, be sure to visit and evaluate it yourself.

What is the education level of the teacher?

To be a qualified lead teacher in a child care center in the state of North Carolina a person must be at least 18 years of age and obtain the North Carolina Early Childhood Teaching Credentials.  However, teachers may have an associates degree or bachelors degree in Early Childhood Education, Child Development, Education or another related field.  A teacher with more education and knowledge of child development will have a better understanding of how to help children learn and develop.

What is your child allowed/required to bring?

Be sure to find out what the child care provider requires you to bring as well as what they will allow you to bring.  Many programs will ask that your provide your child with diapers/wipes (if necessary), a blanket for naptime, and a few changes of seasonal clothing.  Also find out what the provider's policy is on items brought from home.  Many will not allow you to bring in food or toys from home since these can cause conflict in the classroom.

Do you agree with the program’s general policies?

Ask to see a copy of the provider's parent handbook and read what their general policies are.  They may have policies about issues such as sick children, vacations, discipline, children with special needs, or parent involvement.  Make sure you can accept all the policies of the child care provider that you choose.

Does the program follow a curriculum?

Find out if the program follows a curriculum.  Every 4 and 5 star child care center or family child care home that serves 4 year old children must follow a state-approved curriculum.  Other programs may also choose to use a curriculum. For a listing of approved curricula click here. Each classroom should have currently weekly lessons posted and they should be following those lesson plans.

If you have any questions about child care licensing, what options are available, or how to choose, call Child Care Search at 1-855-231-8717. We have information on child care in Pittsboro, Selma, Smithfield, Sanford, Siler City, Goldsboro, Lillington, Erwin and Dunn.

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