Today, KinderCare asked me to share my thoughts on leaving my baby in someone else’s care for the first time. KinderCare is a nationwide daycare and learning center. Although my children did not attend, I can certainly relate to their philosophy of helping both parents and children feel confident while they are apart. 

I remember when we first started looking into childcare facilities for Mazzy. She wasn’t even born yet. I like to joke around that eight years later, we are still on the waiting list for our first choice, but it’s not a joke. Finding good childcare is pretty competitive in NYC!

Since we didn’t get the place we wanted, we ended up hiring a nanny that my mother had met through her job in residential real estate. The family was moving and so their current nanny needed to find something new. We liked this woman immediately and hired her. She started three months after Mazzy was born, shadowing me for a week before I felt comfortable going back to work. In those first few months, she would often meet me in the park for lunch so that I could nurse Mazzy and then I’d head back to the office. It felt too good to be true.

Turns out, it was.

Three months after she started, she called me while I was on a business trip in Vancouver and told me that she would not be returning to work when I got back. It was a Saturday and I was planning to go back to work on Monday. I had taken both my mom and Mazzy on my trip so that I could continue nursing while I was gone. My mother was looking forward to a break when we got back. I was dumbfounded. How could anyone leave a new mom like that on a moment’s notice? How was I going to continue to prove to my boss that I was just as dedicated to my career, when my nanny had suddenly abandoned me? How, after this, would I be able to trust someone new?

We ended up striking a deal with her to come back two days a week until we found someone. To fill in the other days, I would take off one day, Mike would take off one day and my mom would come in for the last day. We put a lot more thought into the interview process this time. We interviewed tons of people, called multiple references for each and had a list of questions and rules a mile long.

When Ruth walked in the door, a few weeks into our search, I knew almost immediately that she was the one. She was caring and attentive and kind. She washed her hands when she entered and was so gentle and nurturing when she took Mazzy from my arms to hold her. Ruth helped me build trust in alternative caregivers again, so that the next year, when I applied to Toddler Transitions classes at local preschools, I knew what I was looking for.

I wanted caring teachers, a clean environment, a schedule that was complimentary to the one we had already established and a small class size. There are lots of preschool options in Manhattan but obviously, you won’t get into all of them. We toured about six or seven, applied to four and got into three. We ended up picking a Jewish school that had a new modern facility and practiced the Reggio Emilia approach to teaching. Most importantly, the school just felt like a small nurturing environment.

Mazzy and Harlow are incredibly different kids and while many of you know that Harlow has struggled with drop-off, Mazzy never had any issues. We knew walking into Toddler Transitions that first day, that she would be confident, curious and excited to meet new people and try new things. I remember all the other kids were crying and running back to their parents, while Mazzy just walked in without blinking an eye. They had all sorts of activities laid out at each table. She went straight for the easel and began to paint. The teachers looked at us with a smile and said, “I think she is fine. You can leave.”

Her first class was only an hour long and the whole first week was built as a transition period. They had Mazzy with half the class and then gradually the full class. She did great. And although she couldn’t communicate that much of what happened while she was there, the school had a website that updated us on the goings-on. Each class had it’s own daily update with photos and they called out the kids by name, mentioning specific things each child did and things they said. They also had numerous events to help create community for the parents and a teachers’ nights to help us understand the curriculum. And I loved that they had all the kids wash their hands before entering the classroom. This is a Jewish thing, but I think all schools should put this in action.

We had a great experience, but I don’t think I really understood how lucky we were to find that school until we sent Harlow there a few years later.

Harlow has separation anxiety and I was much more nervous about dropping her off on the first day. But I think the transition period they have in place helped her a great deal. Also, the hand washing ritual worked for her because it was a familiar way to ease into the start of the school day. The other thing I loved was that every kid had to sign-in while sitting with the teacher, while a second teacher attended to the rest of the class. This one-on-one attention as soon as Harlow entered, really helped her say goodbye to me at the door.

And even on days when Harlow was more uneasy, I always felt confident knowing she was in safe, caring hands.

I asked Kindercare to share their Top 5 things to look for when evaluating a new childcare and early education facility or preschool for your kids…

1) Watch how the daycare providers are interacting and playing with the children.

Are they warm and nurturing? Down on the ground playing? Responsive to the baby/toddler’s needs? Talking in an engaging fashion? Make sure your daycare is giving your children the same kind of loving attention he/she is receiving at home. 

2) Consistency with children is key.

You want the person your baby is with on day one to be there for awhile. Find out how long the current caregivers have been working there and how much turnover the center usually experiences. 

3) Make sure the daycare provider is interested in communication.

They should ask questions about your little one when you arrive and give you information about how the day went when you come to pick your child up. They should be responsive over email and answer daytime phone calls. Their responsiveness during the application process is a good indication of their communication skills in general. 

4) Check out the facility.

In addition to making sure the space is clean, baby proofed and stocked with age appropriate toys and books, make sure there is significant space for babies to crawl around and do floor exercises.

5) Trust your instincts.

The most important thing is that you feel confident leaving your baby in someone else’s hands. Your confidence will help your baby/toddler feel confident while you are away. 

Harlow is now in kindergarten and still struggles with drop-off, I think partially because she is still getting used to the larger class size. But I know she is cared for and enthusiastic while she is in school. We get emails from the teacher, updates on their daily blog and can tell how much Harlow loves her teachers by what she tells us outside the classroom.

She comes home happy, and that is what is most important.

To find out more about KinderCare and if there is a facility near you, click here.