If you send your little learner off to a licensed child care center, it's highly likely that you expect that the program follows health and safety guidelines. Although inspection items vary by licensing agency -- states and local governments typically relegate these tasks to child welfare, social services or health departments -- you can adopt your own mental checklist that goes along with standard requirements or at least learn about what to expect from the pros.
Most licensing agencies have strict ratio guidelines that determine how many adult staff members are needed for certain numbers of children. These typically vary by age and are slightly different from state to state or area to area. While it's unlikely that you have the time to stay put in your child's day care constantly checking to see if it is in compliance with ratio numbers, you can make a note of this during drop-off, pick-up and pop-in times. For example, in South Dakota, the Department of Social Services requires child care centers to have one adult present for every five toddlers as well as one adult for every 10 preschoolers ages 3 to 5 years. Learn the licensing requirements for your area -- you can always ask the day care director; she must know this information -- and put it on your checklist. This can help you to feel secure in the supervision and attention that your precious angel is getting during her time away from you.
Do you keep caustic cleaners and medicines in easily accessible places at home? Most likely, not. Similarly, child care centers should never keep hazardous materials within your little one's reach. During licensing and safety inspections, the pros will check to make sure that chemicals and meds are locked up and completely inaccessible to kids. You too can take a look around the day care classroom to make sure that hazardous materials are not out where your child, and his classmates, can get a hold of them.
Even if you aren't available to make sure that your child's pre-k teacher makes her wash her hands before meals, after using the bathroom, after sneezing or when she comes in from the outdoor play yard, you can still check to see if the proper hand washing items are available. Proper hand washing is a must to stop the spread of illnesses in the child care setting, thus most licensing agencies require each day care room to have running water -- or access to it -- along with paper towels and soap. When you visit the classroom, look for everything that your child will need to keep her hands clean.
Outdoor Play Area
Don't forget about the areas outside of the school building when you are making, or following, an inspection checklist. Licensing agencies don't just inspect the classroom or indoor areas. They also spend time to ensure that outdoor play areas are free from hazards and meet safety requirements. This may include checklist items such as a sturdy, tall enclosure (a fence, for instance), a shock-absorbing surface under playground equipment and adequate maintenance of climbers. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has a set of guidelines for public playground safety that fit with most child care centers needs. This includes items such as age-appropriate equipment and building materials to use and avoid.