How to Choose a Daycare

Daycare, whether center-based or home-based, come in all types and styles. Learn how to choose the right one for your family.

Daycare, whether center-based or home-based, come in all types and styles. Some parents find choosing the right child care daunting while others may fall in love with the very first care center that they visit. However you find care for your child, it can take some time, but the following steps may help.

Ask Around

Friends and family can be your best resource in identifying a good potential. Personal references can be useful but keep in mind that a center that fits one family might not fit another, so ask a variety of people. You can also consult one of the many online resources. can provide you information about licensed programs in your area; this organization also has a hotline to call should you have any critical questions. For older toddlers who are ready for preschool, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has an online database of accredited preschool centers.

Gather Information

Don't be afraid to call, visit, ask questions and verify the information you get from each center. Before you begin your search, get some basic information about the types of care available in your area. For example, what are the licensing requirements in your state? How do you access information about violations and complaints made against a particular childcare program? Does your family qualify for any financial assistance?

Evaluate Each Program

When you have identified potential programs in your area, there are a number of school characteristics to keep in mind. You can gather some of this information online or by calling the center. Other times, it is advisable to schedule a visit to see for yourself.

Keep track of the following information on each of the centers you evaluate:

  • Adult to child ratio: How many adults work in the center? How many children do they serve across the ages? The younger your child, the more important it is to have individualized adult attention. NAEYC recommends a ratio of 1:4 for infants (one adult for every four infants), 1:5 for toddlers, 1:6 - 1:7 for 2s and 3s, and no more than 1:10 for preschool children.
  • Group size: While the adult to child ratio is critical, you may also have a preference for the overall size of the center. A center with a large group size of 25 toddlers might have 5 adults tending the children, while another center might have only 10 toddlers and 2 adults. Both centers have the same ratio but they would have an entirely different environment.
  • Qualifications and licenses: Are the centers you visited licensed? What are the qualifications of the caregivers? Are caregivers and teachers involved in any activities and/or continuing educational programs to improve their skills? Are they up-to-date with new techniques and approaches or have they applied the same practice for the last 20 or 30 years?
  • Accreditation: While all centers need a license to practice, many centers apply for voluntary accreditation by national organizations such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC). Accreditation is voluntary. Centers have to document and demonstrate that they have met a large number of requirements and standards in order to receive accreditation. However, please note that receiving accreditation is a strenuous and costly undertaking that requires paperwork and professional support. Many small family-based care programs may not have the resources to receive accreditation even though they would otherwise meet all of the standards and requirements. Some large centers also choose not to apply for accredidation for a variety of reasons. If a center that you are interested in is not accredited, you can ask whether or not they would otherwise satisfy the requirements and why have they not received or opted not to receive accreditation from NAEYC or NAFCC.

For more information, see the guidelines for choosing childcare at

Good luck!


As the children and media expert on the Learning Team, Clement primarily works on products related to social studies, creativity, life skills and early childhood development. Before joining LeapFrog, he was an early education consultant, a media literacy researcher at the MIT Comparative Media Studies department, a researcher at Children’s Hospital Boston, and a researcher and lecturer at the Tufts University Developmental Technologies Research Group. Clement earned his MA in Child Development at Tufts University and is currently completing his doctoral dissertation.

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