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The work isn't over just because you found your dream preschool or daycare center. Your child's caregivers count on you to keep up your end of the bargain – they keep your child safe and secure while you're at work, and you agree to respect their time and effort.
"We're a team," says Elice Webster, founder and director of the Children's Cultural Center of Marin in Sausalito, California. If it takes a village to raise your child, she says, your village consists primarily of your family, your friends, and your child's daycare center or preschool.
Here are some pointers for building a good relationship with your child's caregivers:
Pick up your child on time. Emergencies do happen, and you're bound to be late once in a while, but make every effort to be prompt. Call the center or provider as soon as you think you might be late. "Caregivers have lives, too," says Webster, and when you're late, you make them late for their own commitments. She says teachers may have kids of their own that they need to pick up on time.
Turn in required paperwork on time. Even before the first day of school, you need to submit certain documents, such as immunization records and medical health release forms. State law mandates that all centers comply with this law, so do your part and hand in the forms on time.
During the school year, you'll need to sign permission slips for field trips or release forms authorizing teachers to give your child medication (such as antibiotics for an ear infection). Sign and turn in these papers right away.
Bring up any problems immediately with the preschool director or the lead teacher. "It's really the most efficient way to get problems addressed," says Webster. "You're doing me a favor when you point out a blind spot in my operation."
Read all notices and email you get from the center. When you see a sheaf of papers in your child's cubby, don't just automatically toss everything into the recycling bin. And make sure emails don't end up in your spam folder. You might miss out on valuable information about school closings, field trips, or special events.
"It's not junk mail," says Ron Lynch, owner of two daycare centers in Ann Arbor, Michigan. "We try to keep you abreast of all activities we'd like you to participate in." And while you're at it, periodically check the bulletin board at the school for other announcements.
Attend all mandatory meetings. If an emergency arises, let the staff know you won't be there as soon as possible. Whether it's a parent-teacher conference or a special workshop on discipline, your center coordinates events like these because the staff truly feels parents will benefit from them. And school events are a great way to meet other parents who'll gladly trade tantrum stories and playdates.
Make sure your child has the supplies she needs. Keep extra clothes in her cubby in case of spills and potty accidents. If your child comes home wearing the spare clothing, make sure you bring in a fresh set the next day. If your child's class is doing a special art project, be sure she has the tools she needs.
Report any illnesses to your center or preschool. Germs travel fast among children. The caregiver needs to know if your baby has been exposed to any highly contagious disease, such as pinkeye or chicken pox, or even just a more common ailment, such as a cold or cough. "Anything contagious has to be reported because we spread the word to other parents," says Lynch.
Let caregivers know if your child needs extra care on a particular day. Tell caregivers if your little one didn't sleep well the night before or if your partner is away on a business trip. That way, they can give your child some extra TLC if it's needed.
Let the staff know if your child has a different routine on a given day. If Grandma's in town and wants to pick up your child in the afternoon, tell the caregiver. Unless you give permission, centers and preschools are not allowed to release your child to anyone but you. If you'll be picking up your baby early for a doctor's appointment, let them know that too.
Show your support and appreciation. Even if you can't take time off from work to chaperone field trips, maybe you could donate needed books or art supplies. (Some classes even keep a wish list of items they'd like to receive.)
Discuss with other parents ways you can support the teacher or daycare center staff. Even writing a thank you note to let your child's teacher or caregiver know you appreciate her hard work means a lot.
And of course, pay your fees when they're due. It's only fair. Don't get caught with a zero bank balance when it comes time to write your center a check. It's bad form to keep them waiting for your payment.