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Recognizing Red Flags in Daycare Centers: Using Your Four Senses

Updated: May 15

Your five senses help detect red flags at daycare centers

Choosing the right daycare or preschool for your child is a significant decision that requires careful consideration. While reviewing credentials and policies is important, sometimes subtle cues can provide valuable insight into the quality of care provided. By engaging your senses—sight, smell, sound, and feel—you can better assess whether a daycare center is the right fit for your child. Let's explore how each sense can help you recognize red flags in daycare centers.

Sense of Sight:

The first impression of a daycare center often comes from what you see. Take a moment to observe the overall appearance of the facility. Does it look clean, well-organized, and inviting? Are the classrooms and play areas spacious, bright, and filled with age-appropriate toys and materials? Pay attention to the cleanliness of common areas, especially the bathroom. Signs of neglect, disorganization, or uncleanliness may indicate a lack of attention to detail and care. A good, high-quality childcare center will be well taken care of visually. If it’s cluttered or disorganized, you can almost guarantee the owners are not taking care of the important behind-the-scenes tasks, like paperwork, safety issues, and licensing guidelines that must be followed.

Sense of Smell:

The sense of smell can provide valuable clues about the cleanliness and hygiene practices of a daycare center. Upon entering the facility, take note of any odors present. Does it smell clean and fresh, or are there unpleasant odors lingering in the air? A clean and inviting scent suggests that the daycare prioritizes cleanliness and sanitation. On the other hand, foul or strong odors may indicate poor hygiene practices or inadequate cleaning routines. Do know that a childcare setting involves lots of diaper changes. So sometimes you may tour just the moment they are changing diapers, but the office and main school should smell good.

Sense of Sound:

Listen carefully to the sounds within the classrooms. What do you hear? Do you hear the joyful laughter of children engaged in play and learning activities, or is there chaos and excessive crying? The sound environment of a childcare center can provide valuable insight into the atmosphere and quality of care provided. A lively and positive atmosphere, with the sounds of children happily engaged in activities, suggests a nurturing and stimulating environment. Conversely, excessive noise, crying, or a lack of supervision may indicate a chaotic or stressful environment for children. Also, take notice of how the teachers talk to their students. They should be speaking in a kind and loving way to their class.

How You Feel About a Daycare Center

Lastly, pay attention to how the daycare center makes you feel. Trust your instincts and emotional response when visiting the facility. Do you feel welcomed, comfortable, and at ease, or do you sense any feelings of unease or discomfort? It's essential to feel a sense of warmth and connection when choosing a daycare center for your child. A caring and supportive environment should evoke positive emotions and & "warm fuzzies" that reassure you of your decision.

Recognizing Red Flags at a Daycare Center or Preschool

While engaging your senses can provide valuable insight into the quality of a daycare center, it's essential to be aware of specific red flags that may indicate cause for concern. These may include:

  • Poor cleanliness and hygiene practices

  • Overcrowded or understaffed classrooms

  • Unqualified or inexperienced staff members

  • Lack of age-appropriate toys and learning materials

  • Inadequate safety measures or emergency procedures

By paying attention to your senses and being mindful of potential red flags, you can make a more informed decision when selecting a daycare center for your child. Remember to trust your instincts and prioritize your child's well-being above all else. If you leave the center feeling the warm fuzzies, you’ve probably found your perfect preschool.


Amber Jayne is an early childhood education expert, creator of The Loving Start Learning Centers and The Loving Start Way Community, author of the ABC’s of Preschool, and host of the ABC’s of Preschool Podcast. With over two decades of experience under her belt, Amber is not just an expert – she's a visionary. Dedicated to empowering mothers, inspiring teachers, nurturing children, and elevating childcare centers, Amber leads with love at the center of all she does. Curious to learn more about Amber or eager to embark on your own journey in early childhood education? Visit to connect with this remarkable trailblazer and possibly become a part of her thriving community.

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