I've been told that it pays to get in early when it comes to finding childcare, so I've started my search already. Despite the fact that I won't be needing it until next January at the earliest, I've already made up a tentative list of places near work or home, and I visited the first one this afternoon.
I really don't know what to expect from a childcare centre, or what kind of criteria to use when deciding on the merits of this place I visited, unannounced. It was smallish, but packed with toys, kiddie furniture and crafty stuff. All the staff had qualifications of one sort or another, in early childhood learning; the woman who gave me the tour said she had six grown-up offspring of her own, so she's obviously had a lot of practice.
Allergies and health-specific instructions are noted each time a child arrives, and I noticed on the whiteboard in the toilets that if a child needs all-over moisturising after each nappy change then it's all there for the staff to see. It's also five minutes walk from my house and, importantly, the daily fee is less than my daily earnings.
It's also kind of noisy - not the kind of place I myself would be happy to spend all day in - but then if I were a little child this might be exactly the kind of place I'd want to spend all day in. Kids seem to love expressing themselves at top volume, and the under 2s have a little noise-proof room to nap in.
One thing I really liked about the place was that each child has a scrapbook in which the staff record what the child's been up to - milestones are noted and photos and arwork are pasted in. I can imagine that would be bloody useful for parents who work full-time and would otherwise miss so much of their child's development.
I've already put my name on the waiting list (and yes, there already is one), but in the next few weeks I'll be visiting some more places just for comparison (in case there is such a thing as a childcare centre with sweet-smelling toilets, tons of room and low noise levels).
Anyone got pearls of wisdom to add?