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Everything You Need to Know About Choosing a Daycare Center
Updated on
March 6, 2023

Everything You Need to Know About Choosing a Daycare Center

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Everything You Need to Know About Choosing a Daycare Center.
Everything You Need to Know About Choosing a Daycare Center

Of the many different childcare options available, a daycare center is one of the most popular choices for families. They’re typically less expensive than hiring a nanny and more regulated than in-home daycare. At a daycare center, children are usually grouped into classrooms with children their age. Center-based daycare programs are also required to be licensed by the state and have strict guidelines the center’s staff needs to follow for things such as child-to-teacher ratio, building safety regulations and policies for immunizations, nutrition, diapering and teacher professional development.

Is daycare the right choice for you? Here’s why you might choose daycare and how to find the one that’s right for your family.

How to Choose a Daycare Center

Finding childcare can feel daunting. There are a lot of different options and the thought of leaving your baby with someone you don’t know can feel overwhelming. Preparing yourself by researching options and figuring out what kind of care you want for your child can help alleviate some of the stress.

Here are some steps to take when searching for a daycare:

Do your research

Chances are you’ve never had to put much thought into specific daycare details. There are different types of daycare centers and programs available. Determining what kind of care environment you want for your baby will help you figure out where to start your search and narrow down your options.

Start early

Many daycare centers will have waitlists, so it’s common for parents to begin their search before baby is born. When you find out you’re pregnant, call a few centers and see if they have a long wait list so you can get an idea of how soon you need to start your search. Lori, a high school teacher in the rural town of Durango, Colorado, started her search for childcare as soon as she knew she was pregnant. “I know that daycare is tight in this town,” says Lori, whose daughter is now two and a half and who is expecting a new baby in mid-April. “I was on three waitlists before I was 10 weeks pregnant. It was a little bit crazy.”

Interview the daycare center director

In talking with the center director, you’ll get an idea of the program’s policies and values. You should ask them questions about how they handle caretaking tasks such as naps and diaper changes. Do they provide meals and snacks or will you need to pack your child’s lunch? During this meeting, you can also get an idea of the program’s learning and discipline philosophies.

Tour the daycare center in person

First impressions are very telling, so it’s important to visit the daycare you’re considering. Does the environment feel welcoming? Are the teachers friendly? Do the children seem happy? These are the kinds of things you’ll only be able to glean during an in-person visit.

What to Look for in a Daycare

Cost that fits your budget

Childcare is expensive, so cost is a huge factor in many parents’ decision. Some centers offer financial assistance if you qualify, and you may be able to use a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (FSA) if your employer offers one. You may also want to explore a Head Start or Early Head Start program, “free, federally funded programs designed to promote school readiness for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers from families that meet income eligibility requirements.”

Proximity to work and home

You’ll also consider how the daycare affects your commute if you have one.

Engaging and developmentally appropriate curriculum

When you envision your child’s day at daycare, do you imagine plenty of child-led free play or are you wanting something with a little more structure and dedicated learning? Each center will have a unique curriculum and philosophy, so you can be sure to find one that aligns with your goals and values.

Low caregiver-to-child ratios

For some parents, worrying about a lack of personalized attention can be a point of stress in finding the right daycare. Typically the lower the caregiver-to-child ratio, the better.

A holiday schedule that works with yours

Familiarize yourself with the daycare center’s holiday schedule to make sure it aligns with your work schedule. Keep in mind that if the center has a holiday that you don’t get off from work, you’ll most likely need to take the day off or find alternate care.

Pros and Cons of Daycare

As with any decision in life, there will be pros and cons to weigh. Here are some of the pros and cons of choosing a daycare as your childcare:

Pros of Daycare:

Licensing and certification.

Daycare centers are all licensed by state agencies that verify they follow proper safety and childcare procedures. Some daycare centers are also accredited by private agencies. “The place is super professional in their communication and their standards,” Lori says of her center.

Socialization and shared mealtime.

Particularly as they grow, many kids like to be around other babies to watch them crawl, walk and talk. Also kids who eat in a group are likely exposed to a wider variety of foods; many (though not all) centers provide healthy meals and snacks. Lori says her center’s food program was a huge selling point: “It relies on local farms as much as possible, and is all cooked in-house (seriously, my toddler eats better than I do).”

Cons of Daycare:

“Germs, ugh.”

Babies and toddlers are notorious for catching colds, and being in a group setting seems to exacerbate the frequency of catching an illness. The worst of it was that first winter, she says. “It felt like my daughter was constantly sick. None of it was serious illness, but she had tons of low-grade fevers, respiratory yuckiness and a constant runny nose. This seems to have settled down now a little now that she’s older, but it really sucked for a while. I used up all my sick/personal days on her illnesses that first winter.”

Your kid, their schedule.

When your baby or toddler starts daycare, they’ll have to adjust to a new daily routine. “Our girl really struggled with napping at daycare for the first few months, which was kind of awful for all of us,” Lori says. “I also know parents who have later bedtimes than ours who have struggled with the adjustment. Our kid did eventually adjust, and since about 8-9 months has napped like a champion at school.”

Briana Engelbrecht

Assistant Editor

Briana Engelbrecht is Babylist’s Assistant Editor, where she brings her passion for early childhood development and the perinatal period, plus experience as a mom of two to Babylist articles and guides. A former preschool teacher, she loves children’s picture books, cats, plants and making things.

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