A child care parent handbook is the foundation of parent–staff communication and alignment. It should lay out all of the information parents need to establish a common understanding that keeps your child care running smoothly.
By reading your handbook, families should know what to expect — and what not to expect — from your child care facility. It should answer all of the questions that parents have about your policies, rules, and procedures and outline your approach to childcare.Handbooks must be well structured, comprehensive, and updated regularly. Creating or revising a handbook is a time-intensive task that may be out of your comfort zone if you are not a natural writer. That's why we have made this outline, which can serve as a guide. We have included key points to underscore in each section, and have structured the guide to make sense to parents.
1. Introduction and welcome
Begin with a welcome to families; it is a great way to stress your commitment to community and your excitement about what is to come. Keep this first section short and sweet, but craft it with care. This sets the tone for your center's relationship with parents.
2. Child care and teaching philosophies
Every child care has its own approach to teaching and early childhood education. Laying out your approach will give parents a good idea of what to expect for their children. Will you focus more on academic skills? Are you using play-based learning? Knowing this will help families contextualize what their child learns each day and how your teachers approach all the learning opportunities and development benchmarks that will come up throughout the year.
Be sure to use language that parents can understand: While you and your staff understand lesson planning and the intricacies of conflict management for 3 year olds, parents may not. One way to approach this section is to detail the specific outcomes you aim for at your child care and the best ways to get there.
3. Operating information
This section of the child care parent handbook is an important reference for parents and staff alike. Include facility hours, care schedules, a calendar, start and end dates, half days, and holiday policies. Parents should know which days they can expect care and which days are “off.” If you send parents a digital handbook, make the calendar page easy to print.
In addition to a calendar, include all of the contact information for your center: phone number(s), email(s), website, child care app(s), and physical address.
4. Enrollment, wait list, and withdrawing policies
Even if your child care parent handbook is made available only to families who have already registered, include your childcare enrollment information. Parents may want to reference it to reenroll their children or to refer another family. Include program costs and eligibility requirements for enrollment.
Include wait-list information so that returning families know, for example, whether they get preference for spots or whether there are early-enrollment windows. Also, can parents expect to get a sibling into care even when you have a wait list? And when should families on your wait list expect to hear back?
Both of those areas are vital for families looking to enroll. Your handbook is a great tool for showing prospective parents what your center is all about, and if you give the handbook to guardians on the search for child care, those sections are key.
And because families' best-laid plans can change, make sure your handbook includes withdrawal information as well. How should parents notify you if they have to move? How far in advance is best? Are families penalized for withdrawing a child? Although withdrawals may be infrequent, laying out this information can make ending a care agreement smoother because everyone knows exactly what the procedure is.
5. Sign-in and pick-up procedures
Laying out your sign-in and pick-up procedures will help make families — especially new families — feel safe and confident. Knowing how everything should run means parents can prepare their child for the process before they step through your doors.
Don't forget to include information about late and early arrivals/departures. Do you offer digital sign-in? How does it work? This is also the time to outline your policies on non-parent pick-ups.
6. Sample daily schedule
Let parents know what to expect from day-to-day care. For example, how many meals are served? At what times? When do children nap? When do they play outside? This information affects what children will do and need at home. If, for example, you feed the children at 3:00 p.m. and your pick up is 3:30, parents may not need to prepare an at-home snack.
A sample daily schedule is also a great way to help potential families understand how your center operates, if you provide a copy of your handbook to them.
7. Supplies and snacks rundown
This straightforward and comprehensive section covers the food you provide and lets parents know what they need to bring. For example, must parents provide wipes and diapers? What about painting clothes or other outfits?
If you provide snacks/meals for children, how do you handle allergies? What types of foods will children eat? Are parents allowed to send snacks with their child, or is that prohibited? If you don't provide snacks/meals, how do you handle food storage? Do you allow children to share food?
Parents are busy. If tuition doesn't cover supplies or snacks, can they pay additional fees to have them supplied?
8. Sick days and schedule interruptions
Although parents know their child best, what criteria can be used to determine if a sick day is appropriate? If a child has a fever, when are they allowed back to child care? Include how parents should notify you that their child will not be coming in.
What criteria do you use to call parents if a child is sick with, for example, a fever of over 100 degrees? Your handbook should include those guidelines as well as your protocol for contacting parents and emergency contacts if a child needs to go home. You can also include the types of over-the-counter medications you give to children if needed (e.g., Tylenol) for minor injury or illness.
Aside from sick days, how do you handle when parents need to interrupt their child's child care schedule — for example, if they are taking a family vacation? How should they notify you, and how far in advance? Does it affect their payments?
What are your policies on weather-related schedule interruptions, such as snow days or flood warnings? How will parents be notified? Include information on half-day or early pick-up procedures, if applicable.
9. Special classroom activity rules
Here is a chance for you to outline any rules about special classroom activities. Parents may have questions about birthday guidelines in particular, especially for older children. Can parents bring in snacks?
Another activity to cover is field trips. Do you have any trips on the calendar? What are the guidelines, including parent permissions? What happens if a parent doesn't give their child permission?
10. Codes of conduct and discipline procedures
Sharing your codes of conduct with parents sets the expectation for how the members of your child care community treat one another. By articulating your position, everyone comes in with the same understanding of mutual respect. Outline how you expect teachers to behave toward children and children to behave toward teachers as well as other children.
You should also outline any disciplinary procedures for children and staff. While this may be an uncomfortable topic, your community should know how you will handle a behavioral issue involving a teacher or a child. Include information on how parents should expect to be notified of any incidents.
11. Health and safety regulations
Here, provide all necessary information about health and safety at your child care. Be sure to include how you comply with state regulations, such as child-to-staff ratios or outdoor playtime, and where parents can check your certifications. If you are accredited by any group outside of a state agency, put that information here as well.
12. Emergency procedures
Being prepared for an emergency includes informing parents of your emergency procedures. Whether it is a weather alert or an accident, detail your procedures here. Be sure to give information on where your emergency meeting points are in the event that your child care's building is damaged, and be clear about how parents will be contacted.
This is also a good place to outline information on how parents of children with medical conditions, such as severe allergies, can work with teachers to create an emergency plan.
In this section remain factual. The likelihood of a true emergency happening at your child care is not high, and chances are that your next session will be relatively uneventful. While it is critical that teachers and parents are prepared for an emergency, nobody needs to be unduly alarmed.
13. Parent conferences and communications
You have already covered specific cases where parents need to contact you or vice versa, but it is worth including a section on general parent communication — your center will connect with parents far more than in the few ways outlined above.
In this section, include the following:
- How often do you expect to meet with parents over the course of a session, and when?
- What is covered in a parent conference, and what parents should prepare?
- How can parents expect to hear routine updates from you — do you have an app you use daily, or a weekly newsletter, for example?
- How can parents contact you with a nonemergency question, comment or concern?
- How can parents change or update a child's basic information, such as address? Do you have an online system they can log into, or do they need to fill out a form?
To make a childcare center run, a lot of family/staff communication is needed. Setting out the basics in your child care parent handbook is a good way to facilitate that communication.
14. Billing policies
Your child care parent handbook should be an exhaustive resource for parents to consult regarding payments. You must include the following:
- What your pay structure is
- When are payments due
- What happens when parents are late with a payment
- How parents can pay (e.g., by check or autopay)
- What variable charges a parent can expect to see, if any (e.g. for field trips)
- How sick days, holidays, and other schedule interruptions affect billing and payments
At the end of the day, your child care is a business, and detailing your billing policies will help it run more smoothly. Parents, too, will appreciate having all of the information laid out so they can avoid any surprises and be prepared when bills are received.
15. Forms to return
Make a checklist of any childcare forms that need to be returned before the session starts so parents have an easy way to see whether they have completed everything necessary for enrollment. You can include any relevant forms in your parent handbook, but even if you have a separate forms packet, this can serve as a nudge to get everything in.
16. Acknowledgment and signature
At the end of your child care parent handbook, include a small section that parents sign and return. It should state that the parents have read your policies and understand them and that they agree to any stipulations you set out in your handbook.
You get out what you put in
A well-constructed handbook will streamline your parent/center relationship and answer questions before parents even know they want to ask them. That builds trust between your child care and the families you serve because it sends a strong message that you prioritize building the best environment for children and the best community for families.
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