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How to Choose Your Child's Day Care

DIRECTORS ``make or break'' day-care centers, says self-styled child advocate Grace Mitchell. Parents should interview the day-care director and inquire about his or her qualifications, philosophy, and teaching style. Look for evidence that shows he or she really inspires the staff, Mrs. Mitchell suggests.

Visit the center beforehand. ``For heavens' sake, don't believe the brochures!'' exclaims Mitchell. If you enroll your child, drop in at different times of the day to observe a variety of activities.

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Most directors prefer parents to visit between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m., says Mitchell, ``because that's when the nice, cute, nursery-school things are going on.

``But day care is at 7 in the morning,'' she says. ``Who is going to greet your child when he arrives then? Day care is at lunch time - eating with children. Day care is getting them down for naps. ... Day care is after 4:30 when some of the kids go home and the others are kind of resentful because their mothers haven't come yet.''

Every hour is important, she explains. Make sure the staff can manage all the demands of the day.

``And parents should listen to their children,'' she says. ``If a child cries continually and doesn't want to go, don't let the staff say that all children cry and he'll get over it. Follow through. Find out what's really going on.'' She adds: ``A child's second language is his behavior.''

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