August 14, 2008 at 2:14PM
by Deirdre Dolan
Trying to navigate daycare in my corner of Brooklyn is probably ten times harder than dealing with getting into college 20 years ago. My older daughter is only 21 months, but Id like her to socialize a little with kids her own age come fall -- an idea much easier said than done. Her birthday is in November, so she misses the age 2 September cutoff and will probably have to wait a year to go to most of the daycares and schools that exist within walking distance. This means finding some kind of daycare-preschool alternative, usually an in-the-home situation with mixed-aged toddlers. I went to visit one such situation a few blocks away the other day and thought Id be pretty relaxed about how organic the environment was. Then I noticed I was holding my breath and not feeling relaxed at all. A lovely Russian woman showed me around and explained how Saoirse would spend her time, but I was counting the seconds until the tour ended and we could get back onto the street. I thought about the list of questions I wouldnt even bother asking, and that I will share here for your own daycare search. My advice is to email or get them out of the way on the phone before making the pointless schlep:
1. What is the ratio of daycare to babies/toddlers?
2. Can the infant/child nap when he/she wants, or does she have to nap with the group?
3. What kind of mattress or bedding will the child be sleeping on? If it is non-organic or contains PVC can you provide your own bedding?
4. What kind of ventilation is there for different times of the year?
5. Is there wall-to-wall carpeting?
6. If leaving a baby will the staff use a provided sling?
7. If you use cloth diapers will they too?
8. Will they feed the baby pumped milk?
9. If they are making formula for a baby, is the milk in the facility filtered?
10. If you have more than one kid going there is there any kind of discount?
11. What, if any, kind of field trips will they go on?
12. What kind of cleaning products do they use? (You could considering giving them some non-toxic versions.)
13. Are there any non-plastic toys?
14. Have they gotten rid of toys suspected to have lead in them?
Im not sure what well end up doing for our daughter., but since Im only looking for few hours a week of same-age fun for her Im starting to consider organizing a group playdate with a couple of friends who have similarly-aged toddlers. When I was a kid my mother organized her friends so that they could drop all the kids at a rotating house and go play tennis. Maybe its another easier said than done, but its also obviously much cheaper and if it happens that you know enough people who are flexible you can put the saved money toward some element of the experience.
The situation's a little nuts right now: a daycare opened a few blocks away at the beginning of the summer, replacing an expensive baby clothing boutique, and was filled to capacity within days. According to this recent Times story theres a major crunch for elementary education in New York because parents are choosing to stay in the city. Schools are expanding or starting from scratch to accommodate the boom. This weekend we went to the playground of a very exciting elementary school in Pocantico Hills. We stopped by the great Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a foodie paradise on the old Rockefeller estate just across the road, and hung out with the pigs and cows and baby turkeys. Not sure if we can afford the house that would allow us to go to the great school, but Saoirse sure liked those cows, which might mean our city days are numbered.