What to Look for in a Childcare Program

child at preschool with finger paint on her hands

Whether you are expecting a baby or your child is already in school, if you are going back to work, you will be needing childcare. The choices can be overwhelming. Do you want your baby or toddler in a large daycare center, smaller family daycare setting, or with a nanny? Would your older child do better in school aftercare, with a sitter, or in private clubs and classes? Whether you decide to go with a loving nanny or a childcare facility, you know you need good references and a clean background check, or full licensing and positive feedback from other parents. Yet, how do you even begin the search? What should you consider to arrive at your ideal solution?

Location, Location, Location!

A place near work means you get to spend some time together on the way there, and maybe you can drop by for lunch (or to nurse). A place closer to home means your child doesn't spend as much time in the car and may make friends with kids who live in the neighborhood. If you have an older child who needs after school care, there are Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, and kids' gyms that provide transportation from school to their location. The school might also have sports, music, tutoring, or a homework club available after school. Of course, a nanny or sitter will be able to spend time with your child in your home—do you need someone who drives?

child at preschool

Child-Rearing Philosophies

Whether your child is with a nanny or at a daycare, you want to make sure you ask the right questions to ensure the best match for you and your child. For example, make sure the caregiver's discipline approach will work well with yours. What's your approach? Do you do time-outs, logical consequences, or punishments? How do you feel about television: yes, never, or only one hour of "screen time" per day? Consider if you do or don't want religion to be a part of the childcare experience. Do you want an academic-style of childcare, be it teaching letters and doing science experiments for toddlers to science enrichment, music, and other academic classes for school-age kids? Do you want your child to be exposed to another language? Also, find out if parent visits to a facility are encouraged or discouraged, especially if you want to be able to drop by to join your child for lunch, nurse your baby, or just to observe.

Medical Needs

If your child has asthma, food allergies, or any other medical concerns, be upfront about this during your search—if a provider shies away from discussing this topic, then that is probably not the right caregiver for your child. Ask your pediatrician for any leads, and let friends, neighbors, and acquaintances know if you need someone or someplace with special skills. Try to keep an open mind. A friendly and fun college student with limited babysitting experience but her own peanut allergy or asthma condition might be your perfect after-school sitter for a child with medical needs.


Cost is a big consideration, of course. Some workplaces provide on-site childcare as an employee benefit or offer discounts to local clubs or kid gyms. Also, many clubs and kid gyms offer sibling discounts. You can also join forces with a friend and arrange a nanny share or even a babysitting co-op.

child playing with playdough

Your Child's Personality

If your school-age child is an introvert, a babysitter might be the best option, because after-school classes or clubs might be too exhausting or anxiety-provoking for him. If your child is an extrovert, a kid’s club with lots of interaction might be the perfect fit. If your child has non-stop energy, an after-school sports program could fit the bill. For infants, you don't yet know their personality type, but consider if they need to be held a lot or need frequent interaction and seemingly never nap—these needs may not be met in every daycare setting.


Ask around—friends, neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances may be able to provide valuable insider experience about some of the places you are considering. And remember, the "best" place with the longest waiting list may not be the best for your child. Find out why somewhere is "the best" or "the worst." For example, if your 4-year-old needs a daily nap, a center that keeps preschoolers going all day long without a rest period will not work for your child, no matter how good its reputation.

Yes, the number of things to consider may seem overwhelming! But these are just things to keep in mind. Some of these considerations may not matter to you, while others may be vital. Making your own list of needs and wants will make the search process much easier.