West Lafayette, Indiana - Children can experience excitement and anxiety when they have their first day at a new day care. But parents can also experience those feelings in trying to locate affordable, local and quality day care in many communities.

Sara Schmitt, an assistant professor of human development and family studies in Purdue’s College of Health and Human Sciences and director of evaluation for On My Way Pre-K, Indiana’s state-wide pre-K program for 4-year-olds from low-income families, provides some tips to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Quality, resources and new services: Indiana’s Paths to Quality – which monitors licensed day care facilities – has four levels, with Level 4 showing a day care center’s highest quality. On My Way Pre-K recently expanded from its initial pilot program and is now available statewide across Indiana. Day care providers are still applying to participate in the program. Those that meet the criteria are being approved, and the state’s website is updated on a continual basis.

Physical settings: Schmitt says parents should check to see if the room is bright and airy, welcoming and has age-appropriate materials, such as blocks, dramatic play props, displayed artwork and a library with a lot of books.

“These are things that help a child feel welcome and comfortable. It should feel like a  community,” Schmitt says.

Climate and culture: Teacher interactions and conversations with the children should be frequent, warm and responsive. Parents are encouraged to engage with teachers to talk about the needs of their child.

“One main question a parent should ask is: ‘Are the children busy, or are they wandering around?’ If the children are busy, it means they are learning,” Schmitt says.

The room should have a feeling of routine and predictability, groups should be engaging, and there should be a schedule on the wall. “Although there should be new activities every day, the general schedule across days should look the same,” she says.

Previous child care experiences: Schmitt encourages parents to take the child to visit the new day care center or new room and meet the teacher. Parents should talk about the positive aspects to the child, such as getting to make new friends, new experiences with toys, activities or other aspects of the day care.

At home: There are numerous things parents can do with their child to help them prepare for day care, Schmitt says. They can read and engage children by asking predicting questions, injecting math concepts during shared book reading, playing games, working on puzzles, or participating in music and movement activities.

“Early language development is a strong predictor on how children do in school,” Schmitt says.