Did you just have a baby? Found out you’re pregnant? Maybe you’re moving or going back to work. Whatever the reason, it’s time to start thinking about childcare options. Choosing a daycare for your child can be a daunting task but there’s no need to worry because I’ve got all the information you’ll need to make an informed and educated decision.
Right now childcare is a hot topic across Canada and in the United States. Constant talk of limited childcare spots and media coverage of deaths in daycare centers and home daycare is enough to make anyone’s head spin.
Even worse, you will find a great divide among other parents about what kind of childcare is best. Many moms and dads will sing the praises of their home daycare provider while others will be adamant that a daycare center is the only option.
If you are looking for some impartial advice then you have come to the right place. I am a mom of two who used to work in a daycare center and I currently run my own home daycare. I do not believe one type of care is better than the other but I believe that families should understand their needs and make an informed and educated decision.
Choosing A Daycare: Home Care or Center Care
There are two main options for parents looking for childcare: Daycare Centers or Home Daycare. In all states and provinces, daycare centers and home daycares have rules that they must follow. However, centers will often have more stringent rules and more oversight. Centers are bigger and are commonly run out of a commercial building, school or church. Home daycare is childcare that is run out of someone’s home.
On a side note, I currently reside in Ontario, Canada. While making this guide I have kept in mind that Provinces and States have differing regulations. The most important thing to note is that no matter where you live, please find out the rules that apply to daycare centers and home daycare in your area. I have included links through out this article to help with finding this information.
Starting Your Search
Childcare, especially for infants is in high-demand in many areas. It is highly recommended that you begin your search for the right daycare as soon as possible. Do your due-diligence. If you live in a big city you will want to call around when you find out you’re expecting just to see what the wait-lists in your area are like. Some waiting lists are years long, so find out what you’re dealing with so you know what to expect and when to start looking.
If it’s too late and you are in need of daycare immediately, don’t panic. Most people are able to make it work, so read through the guide for some helpful tips.
Choosing a Daycare- Making an Educated Decision
When choosing a daycare, there are several key-areas that you need to consider. Here you will find a discussion of these key areas in regards to what to expect in a center or a home childcare. Click the + sign to the right of each title to expand the information section.
Below each section you will find a box with some questions to ask any potential daycare regarding that topic. Do not feel that you have to ask every single question presented here (that could take a very long time!) Choose the questions that you feel are most important to you and your family.
Subscribe to The Ever Simple mom, below, to receive a FREE printable list of all the questions you need to ask.
I’ve put this one first because I know it’s often the big one on everyone’s mind. In an ideal world we would all choose childcare based on other factors, not just how much it’s going to hurt our pocketbook. But realistically, we need options that will work with their budget.
First, check to find out if you might qualify for government subsidy. If you are in the U.S. click here for information on childcare subsidy. If you are in Canada, this website has information on subsidy for each individual province. Apply for subsidy as soon as possible as it can be a long wait to be accepted and approved.
If you do not qualify for subsidy, start thinking about how much you can budget for childcare. In most areas, you are going to find a big discrepancy between daycare costs depending on where you live. Big cities typically have the highest rates. In addition, home childcare is often less expensive than a daycare center.
Before choosing a daycare, find out how many other children will be cared for alongside your child. Daycare centers are generally allowed more children per teacher than a home daycare.
For example, click here for the daycare center ratios in Ontario. In contrast, unlicensed home daycare providers in Ontario are allowed a maximum of 5 children (including their own children under 6-years-old). Additionally, home daycare providers in Ontario are allowed a maximum of two children under 2 in their care at one time.
The Teachers and Qualifications
Daycare centers are staffed with qualified people- Early Childhood Educators, Teachers and Assistant ECE’s. There are many home daycare providers with qualifications related to childcare. However, depending on your location you will find varying regulations pertaining to home childcare providers and their required qualifications.
Check the minimum qualifications for a home daycare provider in your state.
Check the minimum qualifications for a home daycare provider in your province here.
At the very least, any person caring for children should have a criminal background check and First Aid/CPR training.
When you are looking at home daycare I recommend that you ask the provider for at least 2 references. References can include parents with children currently or previously in care or a former employer.
Finally, do not be afraid to ask for evidence of credentials. If a potential home daycare provider says they are an ECE, teacher or have a degree related to children they should have proof.
Health and Safety
Make no mistake, your child will come home with the occasional bump, bruise or scrape from daycare. However, when choosing a daycare look for evidence that steps have been taken to ensure that the children are in a safe and healthy space.
Daycare centers are inspected regularly for health and safety concerns and many will have a staff health and safety committee. Some home daycares will be overseen by a licensing agency and they will also have some safety oversight. If there are cooks at the daycare who prepare lunches and snacks, there should be staff with a food handlers certificate. Nevertheless, with both centers and home daycare be sure to ask lots of questions and be sure to pay close attention to the environment when touring a facility.
Safety Look-Fors When Choosing a Daycare:
Are outlets and plugs covered or out of reach? Do cribs and furniture look to be in good shape or are they out-dated (such as drop-side cribs) or falling apart? Are blind cords tied back? Is large furniture secured to the wall? Are small, chokeable objects within arms-reach to infants? Do bedding, toys and surfaces look clean and washed? Are there baby gates in appropriate areas?
There should also be protocol in place for how parents enter and exit the building to ensure no strangers are allowed in. Similarly, if children are ever taken off property there should be safety measures in place (Some examples could include; wearing brightly colored t-shirts, frequent head-counts, Having a buddy-system, extra staff, carrying identifying photos/descriptions of children etc.)
Before choosing a daycare, find out how staff keep track of children who are dropped off and picked-up. A daycare center should have some kind of sign-in/sign-out system for keeping head counts and many home daycares will too.
I feel compelled to add a special note on sleeping here. Babies should NEVER be left in a car seat to sleep. Often, parents will drop off their babies IN the car seat as they have fallen asleep in the car. Parents, I urge you to TAKE THE CAR SEAT WITH YOU. Insist that your child be removed and placed in a proper crib. Babies have died in childcare (centers AND home daycare) from being left to sleep in a car seat. Always insist your child is placed in a crib. When choosing a daycare make sure to check that there are enough cribs for all children in attendance.
A Note On Home Daycare:
A good home daycare will have liability insurance in case anything happens to your child while they are in your care. You may wish to ask if they have appropriate coverage.
Additionally, some home daycare providers will transport children (on field trips, school pick-ups/drop-offs etc.) in their own vehicle. You will want to know if they do so and you will want to make sure they have proper car seats installed.
When you’re choosing a daycare for your child make sure to find out what kind of program they’re running. Afterall, your child will be there all day and you want them to be having fun and getting a little education in the process.
Current pedagogy for early childhood education stresses that young children need ample time for play. Play-based learning is a concept that is being brought to schools and daycares across North America as it is being touted as the most developmentally appropriate way for children to learn. Play-based learning encourages open-ended art and activities that foster children’s natural curiosity, creativity and desire to explore.
However, there are many options out there in terms of programming for children. There are Montessori preschools, Faith-based programs and programs with a strong academic focus. Decide what you want for your child. Aside from needing care while you go to work what would you like your child to get out of daycare?
Daycare centers, especially those that are not-for-profit and receive subsidy have programs that are regulated by the province/state or city. A home daycare will have less rules regarding to programming. So be sure to ask questions before choosing a daycare for your child.
Extracurricular Activities and Field Trips
Some daycare centers will employ specialty staff to teach children things like art, music, dance or even another language. Some will bring in guests or other professionals to work with the children to enrich their learning. Many daycare centers will also go on field trips throughout the year (especially in the summer months).
Similarly, some home daycare providers will take children on trips or will hire people to come do specialty programming. When choosing a daycare, it’s worth finding out about extracurricular activities and trips as these types of things can set one program apart from another. With both a home daycare and center you will want to find out how these programs are paid for (i.e. do parents pay extra or is it built into the cost already?)
This is another one of those factors (like money) that in an ideal world wouldn’t matter so much in comparison to other factors. Nobody wants to add excessive time to their daily commute. Therefore, having a daycare close to home (or work!) is worth careful thought and consideration.
Furthermore, virtually all daycares will charge you late fees if you don’t pick up your child on time. These fees aren’t cheap either. Childcare centers will charge up to a dollar per minute for lateness so it’s not something you should take lightly. Therefore, it’s important to choose a daycare in a location that is convenient for you and your family.
Often, daycare centers and home daycare providers will provide snacks and lunch to the children. If your child has special dietary needs you need to find out how they can be accommodated.
Daycare centers that provide meals will have a menu so parents can see what is being served each day. A home daycare may not have a menu but ask for examples of the foods children are given. It’s important that kids are served healthy meals that include fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean protein. A good daycare will limit juice and sugary snacks but expect that many will give treats here and there for special occasions.
If your child must bring a packed lunch there may be restrictions on the types of foods they can bring. Most schools and daycare are now nut-free facilities and some ban other kinds of common allergens.
The Interview Process
A daycare center will invite you to come to their facility for a tour and to ask questions. Normally, they will put your name on a waiting list or they will give you a spot if they have one.
With a home daycare, the provider will also offer an interview and tour of their home. Some providers may have pre-screening questions to ask you over the phone before offering a tour. Most home daycare providers are looking for families who have similar beliefs, values and ideas about childcare. Additionally, a home daycare provider often have less spots available for children. Because of this, they may interview several families and then decide which family is the best fit for them. Do not be insulted or take it personally if a home daycare provider turns you down; it happens.
With both home daycare and daycare centers you will want to ask a few key questions over the phone before coming in for an interview. For example, if you need care until 6:00 p.m. you will want to find out if the daycare is open that late before wasting time going in for tour. Similarly, if they don’t anticipate any spots until December and you need care in March, well, you may want to look elsewhere first.
Most of all, when you go for an interview take your child with you! You will want to see how they react to a daycare space and how the teachers interact with your child.
A Word on Home Daycare
I run a home daycare and there are many wonderful home daycare providers out there. If you are looking at home daycare, please familiarize yourself with the laws, rules and regulations that apply to your area. Unfortunately, as with most things, there are people who will not follow the rules.
If you notice any of the following “red flags” I strongly advise you think twice before choosing that particular daycare for your child.
The Bottom Line
When you are looking for childcare make sure you pay attention, know the law and ask lots of questions. If you do those things you will find the right place for your child. Never underestimate the power of your intuition either; if a place seems good but your instincts are telling you otherwise, go with your gut.
This is an important decision so please take your time when choosing a daycare. I wish you all the best and I hope you find the perfect childcare for your little one!
Is there anything I missed? Comment below and let me know what you would look for when choosing a daycare center or home daycare provider.