Do homework before choosing day care

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HOUSTON - Homework is the most important thing parents can do when deciding where to send their child for day care, experts said.

First, find how day-care centers have been rated by the state.

"You can go to the state website and see," said Carol Shattuck, president and CEO of Collaborative for Children.

Collaborative for Children also has a comprehensive list of all center-based and home-based day cares in 13 Texas counties.

"We have every child care center in our region listed there with lots of information," Shattuck said.

She said the first question for day care operators should be "Who's watching the kids?" Parents should ask to see the teacher in action.

Shattuck said research shows interaction between the child and teacher is key.

"The way she talks with, the way cares for, the way she gets down on the floor and plays with the children. The way she reads to them, her tone of voice. All of that is very, very important for the child to be able to engage with the teacher," she said. "Who is the teacher? May I go observe the teacher? Tell me what kind of training the teacher has had."

Second, count the number of children in class.

"It is called teacher-to-child ratios and that is something the state sets -- minimum standards. So just count noses. Does this seem reasonable for the number of children in this classroom to be nurtured and cared for?" Shattuck said.

Ask about the daily routine. Then, check out the cleanliness of the facility. The rest of a parent's questions should be about security and field trips.

Dr. Adiah Franklin with Texas Children's Hospital said some red flags may be harder to nail down.

"Make it a habit to discuss your day," Franklin said.

To get a jump-start on problems, she said start talking because it can be in that interaction that a parent spots trouble.

"Anything that you notice, ask about, not in a scary way but, 'How was Ms. So-and-So? I saw there was a visitor. Did you have any visitors today?' Ask the open-ended questions that allow your kids to speak clearly about them," Franklin said.

But Franklin said don't depend solely on your child to alert you to a problem.

"Intuition is very important and parents should be able to trust their own intuition. Not paranoia, but intuition," Franklin said.

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