Look for an environment that encourages play

The physical environment of a licensed child care program serves a variety of functions. At minimum, it needs to be safe and clean. It should do much more than that, however, in that it is a key component of your child's overall learning experience. As such, the physical environment of a licensed child care program needs to be comfortable and appealing, and to offer children a range of play and learning options. When you walk through the door, the program should strike you as a place where your child will enjoy spending long periods of time. It should feel like a second home.

Some licensed programs are located in state-of-the-art buildings designed specifically for children. Other programs are located in relatively simple surroundings. Both can provide an exceptional level of care. In either case, the surroundings should be tidy, well-organized and clean. There should be a secure outdoor play area and all equipment, both indoors and out, should be well-maintained and in good repair.

While licensed child care programs must adhere to provincial regulations concerning safety and cleanliness, it's important to remember that these regulations set only the minimum standards required to minimize potential risks. Most licensed child care programs take great pride in the fact that they far exceed these standards. Some even offer enhancements such as toxin-free play spaces, secure online video surveillance for parents and menus featuring organic foods. The checklist below will give you some ideas about what to look for when you're visiting programs and shopping for child care, but you know your child needs better than anyone else. Always trust your own judgment.

  • Is the program's operating license posted and up-to-date?
  • Do all staff members hold current first aid & CPR certificates?
  • Is there a first aid kit easily accessible if it is needed?
  • Are there working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on the premises?
  • Are the fire exits clearly marked and escape routes posted?
  • Are fire drills conducted on a regular basis?
  • What security measures are in place to prevent strangers from entering the premises?
  • Is the outdoor play area securely fenced and in good repair?
  • Observe the temperature and ventilation--are they sufficient for your child's comfort?
  • Are electrical outlets capped?
  • Are cleansers, medications and other hazards securely stored?
  • If the children are to be transported in a motor vehicle, what provisions are made for car seats, safety belts, etc.?
  • If the children will be walking to and from other facilities or locations, how will they be supervised and their safety on the street assured?
  • If computers and the Internet are accessible to children, how is their use of these tools monitored and supervised?


  • When you first walk in the door, do you notice any odours?
  • Are the windows and floors sparkling clean?
  • Does the classroom equipment appear to be wiped down regularly and in good repair?
  • How often are the toys disinfected?
  • Are the children encouraged to wash their hands after using the washroom, sneezing or coughing and also before eating?
  • Can children easily reach the soap and paper towels in the washrooms?
  • Are wastepaper baskets and garbage cans emptied before they're overflowing?
  • Is the kitchen area clean?
  • Do staff members involved in the preparation or serving of meals or snacks have appropriate food handling certification?
  • What measures are taken to ensure the cleanliness of the sleeping area?
  • Is the outdoor play area litter-free?

The Physical Environment

  • Is there enough room indoors and out for the children to play without feeling crowded?
  • How is the indoor lighting? Is there at least some natural light in most areas?
  • Is the furniture the right size for the children? Is it comfortable?
  • Are the walls decorated with the children's artwork?
  • Are there seasonal or thematic bulletin boards and other displays that relate to topics about which the children are learning?
  • Is there evidence that the learning environment is continually being refreshed, so there is always something new for the children to see or do?
  • Are items from the natural world incorporated into the daily environment--for instance natural materials such rocks, wood or sea shells, or classroom pets or plants?
  • Are there books or toys on shelves or in bins where children can reach them?
  • Are there enough toys to go around?
  • Are the toys and equipment appealing to the children?
  • Do the children have to wait a long time before getting a turn on larger pieces of equipment?
  • Are there areas where children can play quietly, read or be alone?
  • Is the sleeping area quiet, relaxing and comfortable?
  • If you're seeking school age care, is there an appropriate homework area for your child?

What to do if you have a health or safety concern about your child care program

When children are involved, safety and cleanliness have to be everyone's top priority. If you feel uncomfortable with something you have observed at your child care program, be sure to discuss it with the owner, manager or supervisor. Most will appreciate you drawing the matter to their attention, so it can be corrected. If you'd like more information before speaking with your child care program about the situation, you are welcome to contact ADCO at 1-800-567-7075. If you feel what you have observed poses a significant health or safety risk to the children involved, please contact the Ministry of Education Child Care Quality Assurance and Licensing office in your area. 



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