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By: Ellen Galinsky

When evaluating your son or daughter's early education and care, start by asking yourself the following questions:

1. How does your child-care provider greet your child in the morning? Does she seem genuinely happy to see him? Or does she give a curt "Hello" while she busies herself with other things? Studies show that the warmth of the relationship between children and their providers is key to quality care. If children don't feel safe and cared about, they will have difficulties learning and growing.

2. Is your caregiver tuned in to your child? Pay close attention to how she relates to your little one. Does she squat down and talk to your child eye to eye? The provider who is responsive repeats the sounds your baby makes, or when your three-year-old gets excited about something, the provider asks questions, listens, brings a storybook on the subject, and encourages your child to know that he can learn and enjoy learning. Quality caregivers are responsive and able to read a child's cues - these characteristics are essential for promoting emotional and intellectual development.

3. What do you see at the end of the day? Is your child busy at play, engaged in art projects, reading books and interacting with other children? Or does she rush up and cling to you when you arrive? If it's the latter, she may be bored and starved for attention - and in need of a new daytime environment.

4. What is the adult-to-child ratio? Each state has different regulations for how many children a teacher can care for at once. Still, being in compliance with such laws doesn't necessarily mean that a center is a quality operation. Often, official standards are lower than what child-care experts recommend. In my experience, a group size of six to eight infants for every two adults, and six to 12 one- and two-year-olds per three adults, is ideal. For preschoolers, look for 14 to 20 children for every two teachers. Advertisement Quick Gifts Swimwear Books Music & Video Computing Electronics Toys & Games More . . .

5. What is the teacher turnover? Constant turnover can be disruptive and potentially disturbing for children. If you're hiring a nanny, look for one who doesn't have a history of job-hopping - one who can commit to at least a year or more. If you're investigating a child-care center, find out how well it retains workers. Good centers, which pay their workers reasonably well and treat them with respect, should have a turnover rate of less than 25 percent.

6. Do the teachers have advanced training? Don't dismiss the value of well-trained providers - they understand how children develop and are better able to meet their needs. They also tend to be more ‘intentional' - those who bother to learn how kids grow are more likely to put some thought into furthering your child's development.

7. Is the environment safe, clean and inviting? At a minimum, providers should follow basic health and safety measures, such as washing hands after changing diapers and keeping a list of emergency numbers so you or a doctor can be quickly contacted if necessary. Check to see that a variety of interesting and age-appropriate activities and toys are within easy reach. Finally, look for more subtle signs that all is well, like displays of children's work on the walls. This simple action shows that the kids' efforts and creations are praised and appreciated, just as they would be in your home.

8. Do you feel supported as a working parent? The best teachers should seem like part of your extended family. Does she help you to be a better parent? Or do her comments and actions make you worry and feel guilty about leaving your child all day? If she's doing her job well, a provider should help you feel confident in your decision to work or have time alone while your child stays with her.

9. Would you want to stay there all day? If the answer is no, then look for another arrangement. Your child shouldn't have to tolerate a situation that you would find unpleasant. After all, with the right provider, your child will thrive - and, in turn, so will you.

Ellen Galinsky is the President and Co-Founder of Families and Work Institute, a Manhattan-based non-profit organization conducting research on the changing family, changing workplace and changing community, and the author of the groundbreaking new book, "Ask the Children."

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