How To Choose A Childcare Provider

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Whether you’re entering the workforce, ending your maternity leave, or you need a minute to yourself, quality childcare is a must. After all, you aren’t going to want to trust just anybody with your child.

There’s so much that goes into deciding where to send your little one. What type of childcare interests you? Do you like structure or more of an open play concept?

These are just a few questions that contribute to how you choose a childcare provider.

Types Of Childcare

Before even starting your search for a childcare provider, you need to figure out what type of childcare you need. Whether you need full or part-time care and what environment you want your child to be exposed to play a critical role in choosing a quality care person.

In many cases, parents use more than one childcare arrangement to fit their needs.

Care From A Parent At Home

Some parents may have alternating schedules, which will allow one parent to be home at all times. This means whoever is home each day can take on childcare duties.

Having a parent at home will certainly help alleviate the costs of raising children as well. This isn’t as easy for single parents for a few reasons, though. It may be more challenging to line up schedules to accomplish this, and in some cases, the other parent isn’t in the picture at all.

Care From A Relative

Another way to pinch pennies a bit is by relying on childcare from relatives. Not only is this convenient for saving money, but your children are less likely to bring home illnesses than they would at a childcare center.

However, this may prove to be an issue if you have flaky relatives or you don’t have any family near you. 

Nannies, Babysitters, Or Friends

Another route you can take is hiring help to come to you. Whether it be a close friend or a professional, it’s likely to cost less than most quality childcare centers. Some nannies and babysitters may also work with your child to help them develop appropriate skills for their age.

The only major downside to this is that it can be hard to find consistent help. Babysitters can be flaky, and you need to think about what you’ll do if they need to cancel at the last minute.

baby with relative

Childcare Centers

If you rely on consistent care, a childcare center is probably your best option. Most quality childcare centers are open during regular business hours throughout the week, and some may offer weekend care as well. 

These are going to be pricier than hiring a babysitter or a nanny, but you pay for consistency and a little bit more structure as well. The curriculum will vary depending on the center as well as the age of your child.

Special Needs Care

If your child has special needs, you have a little more research to do. A typical childcare center may not be a good fit for your kid, depending on what they can offer. There are childcare centers that offer inclusive classrooms that mix special needs with non-special needs kids.

You may also consider hiring a professional who can come to your home depending on what needs your child requires.

Where And How To Find High-Quality Childcare

As parents, we want only the best for our children and childcare is no exception. There are plenty of factors that go into choosing the best quality of care. Consider this checklist while you search:

Hours Of Operation

If you choose to go with a childcare center, make sure that their working hours line up with what you need. Similar hours will prevent you from having to line up extra care options when the center isn’t open.

Some places may also offer different options for extended care, so it’s worth asking to make sure your child is covered.

Certifications And Accreditation

A quality childcare provider will have the proper certifications for keeping your child safe. When you’re searching, narrow your choices down to a person or place with CPR/First Aid certified staff members.

If you’re looking into a center, check for accreditation as this will tell you which centers have gone through the necessary tests to ensure the best quality care to their kids. Accredited schools are also regularly evaluated to keep their accreditation status, which helps reassure parents that the quality never fades.

A childcare center that has NAEYC accreditation will be your best option. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), is the leading organization for teacher training. They promote high-quality learning for children from birth to eight years old and provide valuable information for parents and teachers through their website.

Overall Cost Of Care

Your budget is going to play a significant role in your decision too. As important as it is to find the best care, it won’t be worth it if you’re throwing your entire paycheck into tuition. Prices for childcare can get pretty steep, but you shouldn’t let those numbers scare you.

In many cases, childcare providers will give you different payment options. Rather than paying for everything upfront, you might be able to set up a monthly payment plan to help offset costs.

Aside from tuition costs, bear in mind that there may be additional fees as well. Extra fees usually apply if you have a child who isn’t potty trained or if you need extended care.

Policies Similar To Those At Home

As you progress with your search, really hone in on the providers whose policies line up with your lifestyle at home. Do they use the same, or similar, discipline practices? What type of meals do they provide, if any?

If a specific provider doesn’t follow similar practices as your family does at home, this doesn’t necessarily make them bad. However, you’ll be much more comfortable sending your child to a place with the same values as you.


If you have a school-age child, or you’re sending your kids to a childcare provider that takes them on field trips, ask about their transportation. Make sure they have the proper child safety seats for your child and ask them about their procedures.

A high-quality provider will keep parents informed when field trips take place. Keep in mind; they may ask for your child’s car seat if they aren’t able to provide one.



Just like accreditation with childcare centers, references are essential if you plan on hiring a nanny or a babysitter. These people will be able to tell you about your potential hire’s character and overall personality.

Family references are fine, but they can be a little biased for obvious reasons. Look for references from previous teachers, employers, or families the person has provided care for before.

Visiting Policies

“Open-door” providers are typically more transparent in their business. To help keep your heart at ease, check if a provider has an open-door policy. It’s nice to be able to check in on your child whenever you feel the need to without making an appointment.

Child To Teacher Ratios

For parents who plan to utilize a childcare center, pay attention to their classroom size. The smaller the ratio, the more individualized attention your child will get. Depending on your state, the numbers may vary. 

A typical ratio in a daycare setting will consist of two adults in the room, along with the following:

  • Infants: No more than 3–4 babies per adult.
  • Young toddlers (ages 1–2): No more than 3–6 children per adult.
  • Older toddlers (ages 2–3): No more than 4–6 children per adult.
  • Preschool (ages 3–5): No more than 6–10 children per adult.
  • School-age: No more than 10–12 children per adult.

Overall Demeanor

Last, but not least, take note of the overall demeanor of the staff. Make sure the workers are kind, welcoming, and willing to answer all of your questions. You can typically tell the behavior and attitude of the staff by reading the body language of the children enrolled there.

Childcare Is A Game Of Trust

Choosing a childcare provider doesn’t have to be stressful. The most important thing is to be prepared with an idea of what you want and to start your hunt as early as possible. Many centers have waitlists, so if you plan on going back to work soon after birth, touring places during pregnancy is a must.

Having a list of questions and things to take note of will also help relieve some stress of finding the right place for your children. Above all, take a deep breath and relax. Don’t work yourself up and overthink things. You’ll know when you’ve found the right fit.

Howard is a co-founder of Smart Parent Advice. When he isn't spending time with his wife, Kristin, or his two children, he can often be found running around on the tennis court.