Stop being accommodating in relationships

A well-thought-out curriculum stimulates your child's development and makes daily life more fun.

Look for a center with a wide range of age-appropriate toys that will encourage your child's development and, as she gets older, stimulate creative, imaginative play. Bottom line: Your child needs a place that offers a regular curriculum with a range of age-appropriate activities.

For children between 21 and 36 months, the ratio should be 1:4 for a group of eight children, 1:5 for a group of ten, and 1:6 for a group of 12.

For children 30 to 48 months, the ratio should be 1:6 for a group of 12 children, 1:7 for a group of 14, 1:8 for a group of 16, and 1:9 for a group of 18.

Ask the center for names and numbers of current clients and call them for references, or stop by during afternoon pickup time and approach some other parents then.

Also, be mindful of your first impression: In this case it counts a lot.

Bottom line: Unless parents you like and respect rave about it, the center's probably not one you'll like either.

Good centers help cut down on illness by requiring all children and employees to have current immunizations and regular checkups.

The best daycare centers have structured schedules that include plenty of time for physical activity, quiet time (including daily reading sessions for groups and individuals), group programs, individual activities, meals, snacks, and free time.

TV and videos should play little or no part in what your child does all day; if videos are part of the curriculum, make sure they're age-appropriate and, ideally, somewhat educational, teaching about animals, other cultures, and so on.

If you find a center that scores a perfect ten, you've found childcare gold.

Of course, that goal is pretty lofty; only about 7,000 centers have been accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) – the highest standard around – so you'll have to decide what's most important to you and choose from among your best options.

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