At last tally, I’ve had a child in a mother’s day out program since 2003. Wow. Most of those years, I have a baby in tow, too. Having researched many a program, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned along the way.
HDYDI: Choose a Mother’s Day Out Program
1. Decide what you want. Do you want the program to be religious – or in my case, Catholic? Do you want the program to focus on academics or a specific foreign language? Are you looking for college prep or a few hours break a week while your children have an absolute blast? You have to figure out what’s MOST important to you. No one program has it all. If they tell you they do, they’re lying through those big, fat teeth. As Billy Crystal says, “What’s the one thing?” Only you can figure it out and it’s different for every person.
2. Once you figure out what you want, how far away is it? Do you have to fill up the gas tank three times a week or is it a short drive or walk away? We’ve done both and I would do it again. Trust me, when the school calls and your child is sick, you don’t want to be shlepping 45 minutes away.
3. Before you go on a site visit or interview the director, ask your friends. Where do they go? What did they like/not like about it? Ask your honest friends, those that sugarcoat need not apply.
4. What is the cost? Do they offer sibling discounts? Are there other fees involved? Can you pay tuition monthly, quarterly or in a lump sum – is there a discount for an EFT draft? All those are things you want to know up front.
5. Do your research. If the school or parish-based program has a website, stalk them for a bit. Find out what they have to offer, that way when you do a site visit, you know what questions to ask.
6. Call the school and set up an interview, preferably when school is in session the fall before you want to enroll your child. Many programs have a waiting list and if you don’t register your child in spring enrollment (sometimes as early as January), you may miss out on a really great program. Having said that, though, get yourself on the waiting list. The summer is notorious for change – students always drop out for one reason or another. It’s always great to visit during the session so you can really see what goes on during a typical day. Are the kids smiling? Are the teachers smiling?? Is the facility clean, friendly and inviting?
7. What paperwork is required? Sometimes they need birth certificates, shot records and/or a note from your pediatrician clearing your child to attend. Make it a priority to fill those things out and get the doctor portion done early. If you wait until August, you may have to wait more than a week. I mean, not that I’ve done that. Just a suggestion 🙂
8. Are they accredited? I’ve attended both and, for me, it didn’t make much of a difference. I mean, I was happy to hear when our current program became accredited, but I wasn’t looking for pre-SAT programs here. Again, refer to #1. You do, however, want to know how they screen their teachers. Because both of ours have been Catholic parish-based programs, the teachers must go through a background check and a three-hour course to be certified by the Catholic Diocese.
9. What special days/activities do they do with the children? Bike safety, visits from the police/fire department, color days, Western days, petting zoos, gardening, music, chapel, birthday celebrations – whatever. Find out what they do every month. If they have a newsletter or school calendar, ask to see a copy. Is there a parent group or other way to meet like-minded parents? MDO can be great ways to make friends. When we moved back to Texas, those girls were the first ones I met and we are still buddies today. We learned how to be moms back in the day.
10. Trust your instinct. For both of our programs, I immediately felt a connection with the school. First and foremost, I felt like my children were loved. Everything else fell into place. We have had amazing teachers and I still remember every one. My children adored their teachers and so did I. It is unbelievable to me that I just graduated my FOURTH child from a mother’s day out program. Those are precious years. Don’t just trust anybody with your child.