License #02-157947

Policy Handbook


These policies are not being issued to scare you away or to frighten you but to assure you that your child is being provided the safest best possible care. This is a professional and well ran in home business. Some of these policies have been formed from previous experience and some are in accordance with the MD State regulation requirements.

Policy Handbook

Welcome to A Happy Bear Child Care. To help ease the transition into our child care program, the following policies are provided. I hope that these policies will help to avoid any misunderstandings between the Child Care Program and the parent(s). If you have ANY questions or concerns please do not hesitate to ask.

Child Care Philosophy
Children are our most precious resource, we owe them the safest, most loving and educational environment available. You can also make them very happy by spending as much one on one personal time with them as possible. The pre-school years are part of the most important time in a child’s life. How children feel about themselves and how the perceive the world around them will have a profound impact upon the way they meet challenges and experience life as an adult. I want to help build a good
solid foundation within each child, so they may reach their fullest potential as a child and an adult. I want each child to develop a good self-concept; to learn about themselves, to express their feelings, to cooperate with others and most of all to make new friends.

Children learn through play, therefore I provide a variety of experiences to expand their cognitive thinking. I provide needed time to explore, and the opportunity to express themselves creatively. And, above all, I provide love, respect, a safe environment and fun.


A substitute is someone who fills in for me if I need to go on an appointment during child care hours. I make every effort to schedule my appointments in the evenings or Saturdays; however, that is not always possible.

An emergency backup is another childcare professional, friend or family member that agrees to provide care for your child if I am closed. It is imperative that you have a backup. Closings that require your backup normally comes as a surprise for a number of reasons; my own family illness, family emergency, inclement weather or bereavement.

If you are interviewing for a spot and request the spot be held for you at a later time. There is a required two week NON-REFUNDABLE deposit. This is to guarantee you the spot and it also assures me that the spot has been filled. The Parent(s) shall pay the amount charged per child as an initial registration fee when this Contract is signed. This registration fee will then be applied toward the final time of service when this Contract is being terminated.

Your hours are indicated in the contract. Please remember that your fees are based on your contracted hours, NOT the hours I am open. You may not bring your child early or have your child stay late because my hours are flexible. You are paying for the hours agreed on in the contract. NOT my hours of business. That time frame on those days is your spot, it is to be paid for even if your child attends or not. I will enforce the fees to all that are late or early.


Licensed providers are not, by law, allowed to care for sick children. If a child becomes sick during the day, I will call the parent to pick the child up immediately. If your child has a fever of 100 degrees or above (before Tylenol) or they have vomited or had diarrhea after midnight the night before, they MAY NOT come to child care. Diarrhea and vomit are serious sanitation problems and children must leave the child care immediately. I am permitted to administer medications to the children only if I have written permission/consent from the parent. If the medication is required more than once per illness, the doctor must sign a medical form with instructions. If a child must take medication they have never taken before the parents must give the first two doses to the child to be sure there are no side effects.

On snowy or icy days, when the roads are not passable child care may be closed. The parent is required to call child care, in the morning, to find out if there will be a closing or late opening.

Children may bring toys from home to sleep with, but I cannot be responsible for lost or broken toys. I do not encourage children to bring their own toys.


o Diapers
o Wipes
o Formula
o Bottles
o Special Dietary Foods
o Wash Cloth
o Liquid Soap
o Powder
o One Light Blanket
o Bibs
o Crib Sheet
o 3 changes of clothes
o Child rain coat and rain boots
o Under Garments & Vinyl Covers
o Winter Attire - snow suits, hats, mittens/gloves, boots
o Summer Attire - shorts, tops, bathing suit, towel, beach shoes (the kind you can get wet)
o Non prescription diaper cream

During the spring and summer months all children must have sunscreen applied prior to arriving. In the spring, their faces and arms must be covered. Once they start wearing shorts, their legs must be covered. On very warm days when we will use the sprinkler, please cover their entire bodies so they are no exposed to the sun’s rays. Your child MUST be dressed according to the weather each day. Proper outer wear daily is required. NO open toed shoes at all. All of these items will remain at the child care home and MUST be marked with the child's name on each item. When these items are low, you will be informed with plenty of time to replenish them.
In addition, AHBCC may request that Parent(s) provide a specific item for the benefit of the child(ren) from time to time. If Parent(s) fail to supply the requested items in a reasonable timely manner, then AHBCC may choose to purchase the item and the Parent(s) agree to reimburse the Provider for the reasonable cost of the item.

It needs to be established who will provide meals, snacks and drinks for the children. If I provide all meals and snacks for children over the age of the parent must bring with them the first day of care each week: a gallon of milk and a sugar free juice of some sort. However if you chose to provide meals and snacks, they must be nutritional. NO sugar products (candy), NO lunchables, NO chips. Meal and snacks must contain protein, fruits and vegetables. If I am providing meals and your child arrives after a meal is served you ARE required to feed the child.

Many parents send a special treat (cupcake, cake, cookies, etc.) and/or goodie bags to celebrate a child’s birthday. So that no child gets their feelings hurt, please do not bring gifts.

Each parent is required to specify on the emergency card who will be responsible for picking up the child from care. If someone other than your self will be picking up the child, they must have photo ID and a written notice must be received the morning this is to occur. I will not allow your child to go with anyone unless I am made aware of this. If your child is not picked up by the departure time, the late fee will be applied.

The first two weeks of enrollment in “A Happy Bear Child Care” is considered a “Trial Period”. Child care may be terminated by either the Provider or the Parent(s) during this trial period without any advanced notice. After the trial period has passed, childcare may be terminated by the Provider or the Parent(s) only by providing the other party with a THREE WEEK advance written notice. If the Parent(s) fail to provide a written three week advance notice, the Parent(s) agree to pay the regular scheduled fees for the three weeks minus the registration fee, immediately after such notice during which the Provider had no notice of sucH termination.
A Happy Bear Child Care retains the right to terminate this Contract without any notice for the following reasons:
*The child(ren)s behavior is destructive, uncontrollable, violent, or threatening to the other children or Provider at the facility. The determination is made in the sole discretion of the Provider. *A Parent(s) behavior is threatening or abusive to the other children or the Provider at the facility. *Child care fees are 10 days or more delinquent. *The child(ren) is absent for 5 days or more without reasonable explanation or payment from Parent(s). All terminations of this type can be made effective immediately. There will be NO REFUND of deposit.


Indoor and outdoor, imagination station pre-school activities, arts and crafts, storytelling, computer time (coming soon) and educational entertainment such as listening to CD’s and tapes, dancing, exercise and watching television shows like, “Reading Rainbow”,” Dora the Explorer”,” Magic School Bus”,” Sesame Street” “and Arthur”.


AHBCC’s facility will be closed three weeks a year for vacation/sick days. The Parent(s) is responsible for arranging alternate care during the Provider’s vacation. Fees will not be reduced for these personal/vacation days. The Parent(s) shall provide AHBCC with a one month advanced written notice for expected family vacations. The child care fees will not be adjusted for the time period that the child(ren) does not attend because of family vacation.


Conferences and Workshops that I must attend are also paid days. These are required of me in order to remain licensed. Enough notice will be issued in order for you to arrange proper child care for your needs if there is a scheduled class during business hours. These classes are normally done evenings and weekends so the probability of being closed for workshops is unlikely.


If a holiday falls on a Saturday than I will be closed that Friday, if the holiday falls on a Sunday than I will be closed that Monday.

The parent(s) agree to pay an overtime fee of $1.00 per minute if the child(ren) is not picked up by the scheduled time noted above. If the child(ren) is not picked up within 5 minutes after the scheduled time, the per minute overtime fee will start accruing from the scheduled time. There are extenuating circumstances, if you are sitting in traffic and have a cell phone, please call me. This overtime fee shall be paid in full when the Parent(s) arrive to pick up the child(ren). If your child arrives before the agreed time you will be charged a $1.00 early arrival fee per minute per child. These fees are to be considered overtime pay.

No child will be allowed on the 3rd floor for any reason.

I require a year contract be signed and agreed upon before care is provided. (January to December) I renew each contract yearly and reserve the right to make changes as I see fit. All contracts will begin the renewal process in December to go in effect January of the next year. No matter which month you start care, you will be required to renew your contract in December and make all forms current and updated.

Payments are due the last day of care for the week to come. Payment is due when you drop your child off for care. If your payment is not received the last day of care there is a $40.00 per day late charge that will be added to the amount owed. Saturday and Sunday are also included. I will not resume care until this has been paid in full. I accept cash and checks for payment. If your check is returned to me three times I will no longer accept that form of payment from you. You will be charged $50.00 for a return check fee plus any fees I may occur from the bank for the return item.

There will be no unscheduled child care.

Occasionally your child will be transported. Parents are to provide the proper car seats or booster seats. We go on field trips throughout the year and parents are occasionally asked to volunteer their time and assist with the field trips. Parents are responsible for the cost of the trip and the meals for their child and themselves if they attend the outings. Special permission forms will be given for such trips, if parent(s) decline the field trip, they ARE responsible for alternate child care.


I ask that the children follow some basic rules while in my care. They are pretty simple:
Have a positive attitude.
Be respective of others, property and our environment.
Be polite and show good manners and respect for others.
No yelling - use a voice that is appropriate.
No hitting or rough housing of any kind.
No name calling or teasing of others.
What I am basically saying is treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. If your child should be disciplined at home for any reason please do not ask me to with hold any activities or keep the child from playing with others. I do also ask that you work with me on the manners! I've found if we as adults use manners with the children they'll pick it up with ease. Consistent by all is very important. I am trying to redirect the child in a positive way to prevent TIME OUTS! When I see a child is getting aggressive I may ask that child to come read a book with me or to do an activity alone until they can correct themselves instead of hurting another child. I believe in allowing a child to express their feelings in a safe healthy manner. If I am not successful I will contact you and request the child be picked up for the rest of that day. Courtesy and respect of others and their property is a big factor in my daily teaching. I promote sharing, helping of others and I offer praise for doing it well. It is the sole responsibility of the parent to replace or repair and properties damaged or broken by your child. Except but not excluding normal wear and tear. Keep in mind accidents do happen however I should not be responsible for your child's accident. I do NOT allow violent play or rough housing of any kind. You are required to have the item replaced or repaired within a timely manner. Three weeks.

While attending child care your child(s) picture will be taken for scrapbooks, website, CD memories, activities, advertising and postings in newsletters. You the parent grant permission for their participation.

Parents have the right to be informed of their rights to regulated child care. You can find all the information at.

The child care provider may change any of the terms in this Contract, including but not limited to fees, by providing the Parent(s) with 30 days advanced written notice of such changes.

At AHBCC there lives a 3 year old cat. Her name is Bella. She is up to date on all of her shots. She will not be allowed to interact with the children at any time.

Arts n Craft Ideas

Supplies needed:
Shoestring (long, thin) licorice, cheerios, fruit loops, marshmallows, and/or any other stringable food
*Thread the cheerios or whatever stringable food you've chosen onto the licorice string. Tie the licorice strings together in a knot and there you have it!
Supplies needed:
2 cups baking soda
1 cup cornstarch(cornflour)
1 1/4 cups cold water
optional:food coloring to color clay
*Stir together baking soda and cornstarch in saucepan. Add water and cook over medium heat stirring constantly until mixture reaches consistency of moist mashed potatoes(approximately 6 to 10 minutes). If clay is cooked too long, finished crafts may crack.
*Remove mixture to plate and cover with damp cloth. When play clay is cool enough to handle, pat until smooth. If you find the clay crumbles when working with it, add a few drops of water at a time to soften. If you find clay sticks to the hard, smooth surface you're working on, use clay on wax paper. This is great for making and saving your child's hand or footprint impressions as a keepsake.
*You can color on the inside of the tub with these.
Supplies needed:
1 cup grated Ivory soap
1/4 cup warm water
4 to 6 drops food coloring
Plastic cookie cutters
*Mix water, soap and food coloring together in a medium sized bowl. Stir the crayon mixture until it begins to stiffen. Remove the mixture from the bowl and knead until it is the consistency of a very thick dough. Spoon crayon mixture into plastic cookie cutters. Place the cookie cutters in the freezer for 10 minutes. Pop the crayons out of the cookie cutters and allow them to dry overnight or until hard.
*Make a scented sachet
Supplies needed:
1 Charmin Scents toilet paper tube
Construction Paper
Your mixture of scents

Paint tube with different colors and let dry.
Cover one end of the tube with construction paper and seal it with glue. Fill the tube with your scented mixture. Cover the other end of the tube with construction paper and glue shut. Place your sachet in a drawer to give everything a special scent.
Supplies needed:
2 Tbsp pure lemon juice
cotton swab

Pour lemon juice into a small glass or plastic dish. Soak one end of the cotton swab in the lemon juice. Use the lemon juice soaked cotton swab to draw a picture or a secret message on a piece of paper. When you're ready to see your finished drawing, hold the sheet of paper near a light bulb or over a toaster. The heat source will slowly turn the lemon juice dark brown and reveal your drawing.

Referral Bonus

Dear Current Parents:

I am currently offering a referral bonus. If you refer someone and they sign on to my program, I am offering you ONE WEEK FREE. They will need to remain on with me for at least 2 months before you will receive the bonus.


***ONE opening for a child under 2 yrs PART TIME.
Days are Tuesday & Friday ONLY. Fee is $95.00

***ONE spots available for children 2 yrs through 5 yrs.

***ONE spots for BEFORE & AFTER school care

***ONE Infant opening available mid May 2012

Sample of questions to ask your provider during your interview or even when calling.

1. Do you have any openings? This should always be your first question, because if the answer is no and you need care in the near future, this provider probably isn't going to meet your needs. However, if you really want this particular provider, be sure to ask about a waiting list or other contingency plans...just in case.

2. Where are you located and what is traffic like during typical morning and evening pick-up times? It's one thing to drive by a potential facility on a Sunday afternoon; it's another to try and turn left into the center across a sea of cars during rush hour. If keeping an on-time schedule is important to you, you need to know what you're facing.

3. What are your operating hours? Typical hours with most institutional day care facilities are 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. or 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Others partnering with corporations or educational institutions may have hours more like 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Know your operating needs, and how long you'll need from the time you leave work (and assuming you leave on time every day) to arrive at the center. You might also ask about what happens if you are late, and how is care provided for your child.

4. Are there key holidays or dates that the facility closes? Is this schedule firm or might there be adjustments as needed from time to time? Some facilities close for all key holidays; others offer care arrangements, but often at an additional charge. A few centers may close during summer months, or for longer periods during winter break periods. Make sure they'll be open when you need care, unless you have other options during those times.

5. What do you charge and are there additional fees or supplies I will be required to pay? The key is to have no surprises, and know exactly what you'll be paying for up front. Some centers offer discounted rates for certain employers. It never hurts to ask!

6. How are children organized? Find out the ages of the other children, ratio of adults to children, and any special room arrangements.

7. Do you offer part-time or flexible care? Part-time jobs may only need part-time care. Some families may only need occasional care. Some centers offer transportation to and from school, and especially kindergarten.

8. What is your turnover rate? While a new provider shouldn't necessarily deter you from picking a provider, excessive turnover of staff might.

9. What backup care is provided in case of provider illness? Larger facilities often have backup plans in case, but if it is a home provider, a backup plan may be a little difficult.

10. Are you certified and/or accredited? Why or why not? What training do you have? Parents should know whether a provider has basic First Aid and CPR or behavior management training, for example.

11. Are background checks conducted on all staff members? It's not enough to just know they are. Ask whether they are state or national checks and how often they are run on employees. Make sure you are comfortable with the response.

12. What is the daily schedule? Most caregivers should be able to provide parents with details about planned activities, thematic units, or a schedule by hour.

10 Guidelines to choosing care for your children

1. The child worker you choose for your child should genuinely love working with children.
2. The child worker should be an effective communicator, capable of communicating well with you and your child.
3. The child worker’s hours should be flexible enough to match with your schedule.
4. The child worker should be able to engage your children in activities regardless of the child’s age.
5. The child worker doesn’t need to be a nutritionist but should have basic nutrition common sense. For example, the child worker should know that Coca Cola and doughnuts for breakfast is not a nutritious meal.
6. Be sure to check the experience background of the childcare worker. While it is not necessary that they be degreed in any particular area, it is important that they have a background dealing with children.
7. Be sure your potential childcare provider makes it clear to you up-front what she expects.
8. If you are considering a childcare option where you need to leave your child in another facility, be certain that the facility is up-to-date on all safety checks.
9. Monitor your child’s attitude after the first couple days of care to make sure they have adjusted well to their care.
10. A criminal background check for your childcare worker is an unfortunate must. Looks can be very deceiving and you can’t afford to take any risks where your child is concerned.

What are the advantages of home daycare?

Many home daycares can boast a small group of children, something most centers can't guarantee. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, home daycare providers shouldn't take more than two babies under 30 months, five kids under five, and two additional school-aged children (though they can add more children if they have an assistant). A smaller group means your child is more likely to get the one-on-one interaction he needs and deserves.

The opportunity to play and learn with other children is something both home daycares and centers offer that nanny care can't. But unlike centers, which tend to group kids by age, home daycares usually have mixed-age groups, which more closely mirrors most families and may help your child learn to feel comfortable around older kids. "I like the fact that there are other children my son can play with and learn from," says Cindy Goral, a BabyCenter user from Palo Alto, California. "Since he's an only child, he really enjoys this social interaction."

Though daycare centers, no matter how child-friendly and welcoming, can sometimes seem institutional, home daycare can be the next best thing to your own home. If you're lucky enough to find a good home care provider in your neighborhood, so much the better — your child will feel even more at home.

"My favorite thing about home childcare is that it's a homey environment, and my children get lots of attention and hugs," says Phyllis Hodson-Hutsell, a BabyCenter user from Rossville, Indiana. "Plus, our caregiver is located in the same small town where we live, so she's close by, and my daughters will get to know neighborhood kids whom she'll likely know all her life."

Plus, a home daycare is often the least expensive childcare option next to relative care. While some home daycare providers charge as much as centers, that's not the norm.

Finally, most home daycare providers are moms themselves, so you know you're leaving your child with someone familiar with the basics of baby and child care and who probably has a healthy dose of the mothering instinct. Of course, you and your provider may differ on some childrearing issues, but as long as you find someone with whom you share basic care philosophies, the "mom" factor can be a definite advantage.

What are the disadvantages of home daycare?

If you're looking for a caregiver with a formal childcare background or early education training, home daycare probably isn't for you. Unlike most of the employees in a childcare center, Mrs. Johnson down the street probably hasn't taken any development classes lately. Some states do require home daycare providers to have a certain number of hours of basic health, care, and safety courses under their belt, but that's no substitute for college training.

Licensing requirements for home daycares are usually less than stringent. Some states and counties do require licensing, but most don't. If you live in an area without licensing requirements, you'll have to rely on your own judgment — and eye for safety and sanitation hazards — to make sure the environment is acceptable for your baby.

Another drawback is that no backup may be on hand if your caregiver gets sick or takes a vacation, unless she finds a substitute. If you don't have an understanding boss or somewhere else to turn, you may end up using all your own vacation and sick days staying home with your child, which may make the extra costs of a center — with its guaranteed care — worth it for you.

Signs of GOOD/BAD Home Providers

Choosing a home daycare for your child means asking a lot of questions and being observant. Start your search about six months before you'll need childcare (the best places fill up fast) — and use the following list as a guide. Keep in mind, though, that you likely can't have everything. A licensed provider with a safe, clean home who loves kids and interacts well with them, and who offers a wide range of appropriate activities — but who doesn't have an educational background in early childhood development — is still probably a good bet.

Ideally, a good home daycare should have:

A good reputation
A good home daycare should have a welcoming, friendly atmosphere and be well known for its nurturing environment. Ask the provider for names and numbers of current clients and call them for references. Also, your own first impressions definitely matter here.

Bottom line: If you don't hear good things, and it doesn't feel right when you're there, keep looking.

Established ground rules
It's important for a home daycare to be flexible — letting you pick up and drop off your child at different times, for instance — but it should also have clearly established regulations for everything from operating hours to how to handle emergencies. That way you know the provider takes her responsibility — your baby — seriously. Along the same lines, look for a provider with a strict sick-child policy. Find out which illnesses mean your child has to stay home and for how long (See When is my child too sick for daycare?). A tough policy may inconvenience you if your child is ill, but keeping sick children (and adults, for that matter) away from each other makes sense. A good home daycare helps cut down on illness by requiring all children to have current immunizations and regular checkups. If the provider doesn't boast an open-door policy and encourage parents to stop by unannounced, chances are she's got something to hide. Keep searching. A great caregiver will go beyond merely letting you in and invite you to become almost part of the "family" by helping with activities, coming along on field trips, and so on.

Bottom line: If a home daycare is poorly organized and has lax or nonexistent rules, it's not likely to be right for you.

A stimulating curriculum
The best home daycares have structured schedules that include plenty of time for physical activity, quiet time (including daily reading sessions for groups and individuals), group programs, individual activities, meals, snacks, and free time. Television and videos should play little or no part in what your child does all day. A well-thought-out curriculum stimulates your child's development and makes daily life more fun. Also, look for a home daycare that offers regular outings; as long as they're well supervised, stimulating, and age-appropriate (trips to the park, the museum, etc.), these are good for your child and are often something a large center can't offer. Look for a provider with a wide range of age-appropriate toys that will encourage your child's development and, as she gets older, stimulate creative, imaginative play. See our lists of the best toys for each age group. Children should also have the chance to play outside every day (weather-permitting, of course) — running, jumping, and skipping are good for them physically, mentally, and socially. As with outings, make sure children are adequately supervised while they play outside. If you live in a city, where many houses don't have safe outdoor play yards, make sure the home daycare has the next best thing, a spacious indoor area. If you have to bring your child's food, find out the provider's guidelines. Some may require you to pack only nutritious foods; that's okay — caregivers who don't restrict candy or other sweets may not have your child's best interests at heart. If the provider does offer food, find out what she serves at meal and snack times (and make sure she's aware of your child's allergies, if he has any). Does she encourage healthy eating habits and cover all the food groups? If not, keep looking.

Bottom line: If your child won't get a wide range of age-appropriate activities, move on.

A qualified, committed caregiver
Anyone who makes a career out of caring for and teaching children should be educated and experienced. At least two years of college and a background in early childhood development (though many states don't require this) are ideal, as is CPR and other emergency training. However, you may soon realize that this standard is harder to achieve in home daycare situations than in center care. Home daycare providers do tend to have more hands-on child raising experience than nannies or center employees, as they're usually mothers themselves. Ask about a provider's experience and training when you interview her. If you really like her, but she doesn't have all the emergency training you'd like, consider paying for a course yourself.
Home daycare providers should genuinely enjoy being with children and love to help them learn and explore. Note how the provider interacts with the children. Providers should be responsible, enthusiastic, and well-prepared. If you see her getting down to eye level to talk with children as individuals, consider that a promising sign. Look for a provider who shares your philosophy on sleep, discipline, feeding, and other care issues. A good provider will ask detailed questions about your child's health and care requirements to help determine if it's good match. Make sure the provider is caring for the right number of kids. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, home daycare providers can't take on more than two babies under 30 months, five kids under five, and two additional school-aged children at once. Any more than that and your child is likely to get less attention than he needs and deserves. Besides, small groups encourage interaction and development.

Bottom line: If the provider seems bored, overworked, or inexperienced, keep looking.
Clean, safe facilities

A good home daycare is clean and sanitary.
Floors, walks, and the kitchen should be kept clean, trash shouldn't be left sitting unemptied, the caregiver should wash her hands after every diaper change, and the house should have adequate heat, light, and ventilation. A plan for emergencies should also be in place and exits should be clearly marked. Just because it's a private home doesn't mean it shouldn't meet these standards; know your state's licensing regulations so you can be sure the provider is meeting them. As far as safety is concerned, toys and play equipment should be in good repair, upstairs windows (if any) should have screens or bars, all medicines and other hazardous substances should be out of reach, bedding should be fresh and firm (to reduce the risk of SIDS for babies), and the outdoor play area should be level and secure. Smoke detectors should be in place and working, radiators and heaters should be covered or otherwise protected, a first-aid kit and fire extinguisher should be close at hand, and all standard childproofing techniques should be followed (covered outlets, safety gates, door latches, etc.). If she's going to drive your child in her car, make sure your car seat will fit. Keep an eye out for security as well so strangers can't just walk in off the street.

Bottom line: If the provider's home seems rundown or poorly kept, skip it.

A current license
A license isn't a guarantee of quality care (that's why you have to evaluate the caregiver herself), but you really shouldn't consider any home daycare that doesn't have up-to-date state credentials. Unfortunately, many states have less than stringent licensing requirements, especially for home daycares; some require only that the provider mail in a self-certification form or to add her name to a list. Nevertheless, ask any potential provider to show her your license (and call your local social services department to double-check) — it's certainly better than nothing. Providers must also meet state licensing regulations for health and safety. A very few home daycares have been accredited by the National Association of Family Child Care; if you find one, consider yourself very lucky.

Bottom line: A license isn't everything, but if the provider doesn't have one, keep looking.

Be picky when you choose childcare for your baby or toddler. Home daycares run the gamut from outstanding to, well, much worse. When you're making the rounds — which you should start doing about six months before you need childcare (good daycares fill up fast) — watch for the warning signs listed below; if you see any, keep looking.

A so-so reputation
Don't hesitate to judge a daycare based on what you've heard from other parents. This is the kind of situation where word of mouth comes into its own. If you're even the slightest bit reluctant to leave your child at a home daycare, you should probably pass.

Bottom line: Go with your gut — if parents aren't wild about it, or it feels wrong, it probably is.

Lax or nonexistent rules
Rules and regulations are important for any institution, whether it's the federal government or the home daycare next door. Providers without clearly established guidelines for everything from operating hours and to they handle emergencies are likely to have other organizational problems as well. Before you leave your child at a home daycare, you and the caregiver should sign a contract outlining sick days, vacation days, and so on. Similarly, you should cross centers with a loose sick-child policy off your list. If children who come down with a fever or earache don't have to stay home for at least 24 hours, for example, your child is much more likely to catch something. The provider should require children (and her assistant, if she has one) to have current immunizations and regular checkups; this is a good indication of how seriously she takes health and cleanliness concerns. If you run into a closed-door policy, keep looking. Any caregiver who balks at having parents drop by unannounced is probably hiding something from you.

Bottom line: If a home daycare doesn't have rules and organization, it's not likely to be right for you. Keep looking.

A substandard curriculum
Skip daycares that either have no daily program or routine or offer one that is static and unchallenging. If babies spend most of their time in swings, infant seats, or other "baby holders," if the provider does not offer organized activities that change regularly, or if television and videos are a big part of the day's agenda, cross that daycare off your list. It's also a bad sign if the provider seems rigid, with an inflexible schedule that doesn't leave room for children to explore at their own pace. Don't linger at home daycares with a poor selection of age-appropriate toys. Having enough of the right toys not only encourages your child's development (and, as she gets older, stimulates creative, imaginative play) but may also help prevent kids from getting into too many tussles over who gets to play with what when. See our list of suggested toys by age group. As a general rule, be sure the toys don't have small parts that could choke a baby or toddler.

Bottom line: If the home daycare doesn't offer age-appropriate activities, move on.

An underqualified, irresponsible caregiver
While a home daycare provider is likely to have lots of hands-on "mom" experience, if she isn't educated — ideally, with at least two years of college and a background in early childhood development — you might want to think twice. If she isn't trained in child development, she won't be able to encourage your child appropriately. Caregivers should also be enthusiastic and well prepared, with CPR and other emergency training (though if this is the only negative when you're evaluating a provider, consider paying for an emergency course yourself). Look for a provider who shares your philosophy on issues such as sleep, discipline, and feeding. You can evaluate her by observing how she interacts with the children in her care. Two sure signs of a less-than-ideal situation are speaking to children only in baby talk and yelling at or hitting kids.
If a home daycare provider thinks it's reasonable for her to run to the mailbox or the corner store and leave any of the children in her care unattended, you don't want her looking after your baby. Similarly, if lots of people besides parents, the caregiver, and her charges are in and out each day, keep looking. Make sure the caregiver isn't in over her head and that she's experienced enough to care for the number of children she's taken on. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), home daycare providers can't take more than two babies under 30 months, five kids under five, and two additional school-aged children. Any more than that and your child is likely to get less attention than he needs and deserves. When you visit, watch carefully to see if babies are tended to quickly when they cry or if the provider, overworked and overwhelmed, lets them wail.

Bottom line: If the provider seems bored, overworked, or inexperienced, keep looking.

Dirty, unsafe facilities
Does the provider keep floors, walls, and the kitchen area clean? Is her home adequately heated, lit, and ventilated? Is equipment well maintained? If you answered "no" to any of these questions, keep looking. A good home daycare is clean and sanitary. If you don't see her washing her hands and sanitizing the area after every diaper change, or if her home generally seems poorly kept, don't linger. Skip home daycares with safety problems, too. Toys and play equipment should be in good repair, upstairs windows (if any) should have screens or bars, all medicines and other hazardous substances should be out of reach, bedding should be fresh and firm (to reduce the risk of SIDS for babies), and the outdoor play area should be level and secure. Smoke detectors should be present and working, radiators and heaters should be covered or otherwise protected, a first-aid kit and fire extinguisher should be close at hand, and all standard childproofing techniques should be in place (covered outlets, safety gates, door latches, etc.). Strangers should not be able to just walk in off the street.

Bottom line: If the provider's home seems rundown, unsafe, or unhealthy, skip it.

Expired license
In theory, almost all home daycares are required to meet state licensing regulations for health and safety to operate. But in practice, many get away without one, especially if the provider is taking care of only one or two children besides her own. While a license is no guarantee of quality care — some states' "licenses" are forms that providers fill out themselves and send in — you really shouldn't consider a daycare without a license, if your state requires one (some don't). Even though it's only a piece of paper, a license shows that your provider takes at least a degree of professional pride in her work. You can find out whether a center is licensed by calling your local social services department; also, ask to see a license when you visit — if the provider can't produce one, that's a sign to keep looking. You can also get a list of licensed home daycares by Zip code or city from your local childcare resource and referral agency.

Bottom line: A license isn't everything, but if a home daycare doesn't have one, it's not for you.

How do I make using a home daycare work for me?

Your relationship with your childcare provider is important, so communicate clearly from the start. Discuss everything that comes to mind — for a place to start, try our interview sheet. You won't want to deal with misunderstandings later. Also, stay open to her input and suggestions. Think about how you'd like your boss to treat you, and act accordingly.
Be responsible and prompt with payment. Says BabyCenter user Debbie Hayford, formerly a licensed daycare provider, "It's difficult to feel loving and close to a child in your care when her parents neglect to pay on time or complain about current rates."