I remember struggling to find information on childcare centres when I was first looking. And it’s not an easy thing to confront – leaving the person most precious to you in the care of strangers. In the end, I didn’t have a lot of choice in centres, being forced to go with the only place that had room for us. We have now moved to our second centre, and with that move has come some perspective. So, here are my seven tips on what to look for when you’re looking at a centre. If you’re in any way feeling the pain of deciding what is right for you, I hope this helps.

Trust your gut
Each person has their own idea of what they want in a centre. Just because your friend loves a centre, does not mean you will. That’s not a bad thing on either of you, you’re just different. So, make sure you feel comfortable, and take any web reviews or referrals as additional information, not gospel.

Check out their offices
This sounds odd, right? Surely you should be more focused on the space your child is spending their day in!  Yes. Absolutely. But, for me, an office tells you a lot about the centre. It tells you if they’re organised, if they’re structured, if they’re methodical or haphazard. Believe me, it can make a world of difference.

Related: My first childcare experience

Ascertain how they will communicate to you
I honestly believe a lot of this rests with you. Most centres will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable, but you need to be ballsy enough to ask for what you want. And that’s not always easy, so it’s best to be upfront from the beginning. For our first centre, I was the parent that wanted to be nice. I was deluded (scared?) enough to think that if I was even close to rude they would be mean to my child (how ridiculous!). With the second, I was clear what I wanted as far as communication went, and it has made a huge difference. It helps that there is always a carer from my daughter’s room to tell me about her day. Blogs, photo updates, emails and apps are also things to be on the lookout for.

Check out the menu
Not everyone is fastidious about nutrition. I am. So for me, knowing that my daughter was getting balanced meals was important. I also wanted to know that meals were prepared on site (most centres in my area have their own chef). Also, don’t be afraid to be specific. My daughter is not allowed any sugar or colourings, and they stick to it. Remember though, not every carer will be schooled in nutrition, so make sure you are really clear what your child can and can’t have – it helps if you look at the menu early and tell them your requirements – because what might be obviously sugar-laden to you may not be for them.

Understand how you play a part
What is expected of you as a parent? And how are you informed? Some centres are family-run and ask you to volunteer for them annually (don’t worry, you can usually pay your way out of this if you need to!). Make sure you know how you can help, and that you have visibility on when activities are coming up. I will never quite get over the time I dropped my daughter off one morning only to realise she was the only child who was not in a Halloween costume – to this day, I still don’t know how our former centre made those announcements to parents.

Related: Why I don’t give a f*&^ about Halloween

Find out what their fees include
Who would’ve thought that this would be different for each centre? It is!  Our old centre did breakfast, our current centre does not. They will do a snack if required – thank goodness, because our garbage guts can’t survive on five meals a day (seriously). A friend of mine had to bring her own nappies and bottles to her first centre. Some centres supply formula, but only certain types. Our new centre asks that you bring your own drink bottle. Make sure you’re 100 per cent certain on what is and is not included in your fees. First of all, it can make a difference in your decision-making process. Second of all, it saves you feeling like a douche when you rock up at childcare without the right stuff (trust me, it will happen at some point).

Understand their education program
I don’t know why this featured so late in the list. It is, after all, one of the most important points. For me, it’s also one of the main things a centre will focus on, and perhaps that’s why it appears so late in my list. It’s unlikely your centre won’t have a set curriculum. Each child learns differently, and what works for one might not work for another. Make sure their program aligns with what you want for your child.

There are some things you won’t know until you start a centre. You won’t truly know how staff will behave until you start. For the most part, my experiences have been positive. But there have been hiccups. Instances where documentation has not been read, wishes have not been adhered to, accidents have not been reported. The best thing you can do is be assertive.  If it helps, remember that you are paying these people to do a job, they’re not (just) doing it out of their kindness of their heart.

Related: The first hour of the first day I left my baby in care