BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - "I think the first thing is. Don't make an appointment."
Charlotte Orsborn says impromptu visits to child care facilities are the best way to see them in action.
"You need to just drop in, you know just check in to see what goes on at different times of the day. Not just your first visit. You need to come back a couple of times."
Orsborn is the director of Parent's Choice Learning Center in Biloxi. She's been caring for other people's children for nearly 40 years, and knows by now what parents should look for when shopping around for quality child care.
"When they go into the classroom, they need to look and see do the classrooms have a parent board," says Orsborn. "They need to look for menus. They need to make sure that the teacher is actively engaged with the children. Is that teacher on the floor with the children?"
Classrooms should be clean, and well stocked with age appropriate games and toys. Another important factor - student to teacher ratio.
Orsborn explains, "For the state of Mississippi, your ratio for your infants, is five to one. Toddlers are nine to one. Two's are 12 to one. Your three's are 14 to one. And your preschool is 16 to one."
She says that's actually high compared to other states, so it's even better if you can find lower ratios. Parents should also ask about the staff, and their educational background.
"That's another thing you need to watch," Orsborn says with a smile. "In the state of MS right now, in a licensed child care facility, you just need to have a high school education. You need to ask your director, 'Do you have anyone here that has their child development associate? How many do you have?'"
Also, look to see if the child care center participates in the Quality Rating Star system. It can be a useful tool for parents.
"That should be a heads up. That's great because with the quality star system that's in place through Mississippi State, that center is going above and beyond what the state requirements ask for," says Orsborn.
Lastly - security. Take time to notice if the center you're considering provides a safe and secure space for your children. Most centers have locked access to their classrooms.
"And then of course everyone needs to make sure, 'Do you have a written policy on pick up? Does the center have the parent handbook for you that goes over all the things you need to know?'"
Charlotte Orsborn also suggests bringing your child to the child care center you're considering, so they can get acclimated to the environment before they enroll. And parents should always be encouraged to drop by at anytime to see their child, and to stay involved.