That's how much we've talked about this daycare situation. Til we're blue in the face.
Pretty shortly after our babysitter told us she's closing, I came to the conclusion that I did not want to go the home babysitter route going forward. Nothing against her or the experience we've had there. To the contrary, actually. For one, she has been unbelievably reliable and has exceeded all of our expectations. She doesn't turn the t.v. on and sit them in front of it. EVER. She has had a schedule/routine and planned-out days since the boys were both infants and has tailored learning activities to their level ever since. I don't expect to find any of that with another home babysitter. And there's the obvious possibility of another babysitter deciding that this is something she no longer wants to do. I don't want to risk putting ourselves in this situation again. We accepted that we were vulnerable to that possibility when we chose a home babysitter, but I think that it had worked out so well up to this point that we never considered her closing a potential problem.
But. She is doing what she has to do for her family as they move forward to the next stage of life. So, since the decision has been made for us, it seems like the appropriate time to make the transition to a daycare/pre-school center. We visited and toured 5 centers on Tuesday. Two had waiting lists. One of those two was immediately off the list because... well, it was disgusting. I don't know how or why any parent would feel good about dropping their child off there. It was fine from the outside. Nice-looking brick building and playground in a fenced in area behind the building. The inside was gross, the staff seemed did not seem friendly, professional, or knowledgeable. The director's office was repulsive. I wanted to leave as soon as we walked through the front door. So that was an easy cut.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the one that was probably our first choice was obviously the most expensive. I don't want to sound like a big cheap-o because OF COURSE their care, education, safety, and happiness is paramount and worth all the money in the world. However, we do not possess all the money in the world and if we did, I sure as hell would not be working just to pay for their damn daycare. Okay, got that out of my system. So, that place is pretty much off the list.
Down to three.
One is an "educational center." It has an official pre-school program, before and after school care, and summer care for children up to age 12. The kind of place where there is a sense of peace of mind just because it's regarded in the community as a quality facility. We were not overwhelmed with warm fuzzies for the building or the director. Upon further consideration, I think we decided the building was fine. The hang-up we had was that the 3yr olds and up basically shared one large open space that was more or less divided by coat racks and bookshelves. Doesn't seem like the most conducive environment for 3 year olds. Aside from that, they have a waiting list. The problem with the waiting list is that they can't seem to be able to tell us how long the waiting list IS. Are we talking weeks, months, or years? That's all I want to know, so we can decide if this is even a real possibility. We don't have 6 months to decide. Obviously if we decide to go there, we will be on a waiting list so we need to figure out care in the interim.
The next viable option is an older facility that I have gotten a few mixed reviews on. A couple of people's primary concern was that the building is not secure. In other words, it was the only one out of five daycares that you can just walk right into and stroll through the building. Of course, they ask that you sign in when you get there but I had a friend who went there once and waited. And waited. Then wandered around the building looking for someone. I'm just kind of picturing this place being ran by hippies. There's a very different approach here. It's on 10+ acres, in the woods, and I think that makes it unique and special on it's own. They do take some really neat field trips. They have a pool and in the summer, the kids get to swim 40 minutes a day. They do have an official pre-school program during the school year. But the building. I don't know how else to describe it but dilapidated. I imagine that the place needs some serious repairs. Another parent took her child there 20 years ago and was not satisfied at all. Valuable information since the place is family owned and operated and has been this entire time, but a lot can change in 20 years. I wasn't super duper encouraged by my limited interactions with the staff/teachers. They have programs for kids up to age 12, so summer care would not be a problem there even after they went to elementary school.
And finally, the third place was kind of a spur of the moment thing that I remembered as we were heading back home after seeing the other four places. We were warmly greeted as soon as we walked in the door by the assistant director and she happily gave us a tour, was very knowledgeable, and spent a lot of time with us, explaining things and allowing us to observe the classes. The kids were eating lunch and transitioning to naptime while we were there so we didn't really observe any "teaching" but the staff were friendly and I liked the assistant director a lot. Every place we went, I asked "will the boys ever see each other?" Most commonly, the answer was "in passing" or "not really." Um? These kids have been attached at the hip since the day Dexter was born. I'm having a hard time with this. I know it's going to happen when Theo goes to Kindergarten but for Pete's sake, that's two years away. At this last center, the assistant director smiled and nodded and said she understood. That if either of them seemed to be having a rough day, they would pull both of them and let them have some "brother time" to just play or be around each other. Also, they would play together on the playground at the end of the day. Negatives? There's no pre-school. And there's no care after Theo goes off to Kindergarten. So after he finished Kindergarten, we'd have to find some other new place to take both of them. I know it's three years away and things might be different then, but it's something we think about and consider. The teachers are not degreed (licensed, I guess but don't have college degrees). I'm not saying someone needs to have a college education to be qualified to watch my kids, but this place was a little more expensive than the educational center that was accredited, etc., with degreed and licensed teachers that use specific curriculum in their classrooms. I liked their outdoor play area better than any of the other centers, aside from the one on the huge wooded lot. They don't do any field trips. I don't think field trips are super important to me, I guess there are pros and cons to field trips. I kind of get the creeps thinking about anyone but me or someone very close to me driving my kids around and fastening them in carseats, etc.
Anyway -- tough choices. I think we just need to go back and observe, interact, and spend some more time before we decide what to do. How important is the secure entry? Warm, fuzzy feeling from the staff? Official pre-school program? What are the requirements to call yourself a pre-school or can any facility say they have a pre-school? I have no clue. We're pretty lost. We just keep talking and pushing and pulling and trying to figure out which one of our high priorities is our number one priority.
We will have to figure it out, and figure it out soon. If not for the boys' safety, educations, and happiness, then for my own sanity. I didn't know one lady could analyze, obsess, stress, or worry about something like this so much in one day. For 5 days in a row. I need a resolution so I can rest a little bit. This not knowing is going to drive me mad.