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Avoiding Day Care Nightmares

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It's also important for children to be challenged and stimulated mentally. This is especially true for infants and toddlers, because they are developing rapidly physically, mentally, and psychologically.

A measure of how well a child care facility handles this is whether youngsters are allowed to pursue activities they enjoy. Workman calls this "child-centered care" rather than teacher-centered. In other words, the children shouldn't all be forced to do the same activity at the same time for the convenience of the teacher.

These activities are an important way your child will learn socialization skills -- that is, how to get along with other kids, says Kim Cavender, MSE, a child life specialist at Children's Medical Center of Dallas.

"A lot of times, people don't think about what experience the child will have, just that someone is there to watch them," Cavender says. "They assume that if someone is there, and it's safe and affordable, that's enough."

But it's not that easy. Parents need to visit the center several times, at different times of the day, to see how the staff interacts with the children, experts recommend. Once your child begins attending the facility, you should still expect unrestricted -- and unannounced -- visits.

"Find out if you can come in unexpectedly. If you can't, this is a big red flag," Cavender says. You should be allowed in all parts of the center, including the bathrooms, kitchen, nursery, and outside play area. In these areas, you should check for cleanliness, appropriateness of toys and playground equipment, and condition of playthings.

In addition, learn how many workers are available for each child. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends one staff member for every three kids up to 2 years old, and says a group of about six is ideal. These recommended numbers increase as the children age; at age 6, for instance, the AAP suggests a staff/child ratio of 10 to 1 in a group of 20.

But no matter what the ratio, Workman says it's best if a child has one staff member who is the primary caregiver.

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