How to Choose the Best Daycare for Your Child

person coloring art with crayons
Photo by Pixabay on

Looking for a daycare can be one of the most difficult things for a parent. It is overwhelming, stressful, and creates so much worry. You want to make sure that you are making the right choice for your child. Your mind is telling you that nothing is good enough and nobody will love them like you do. Trust me, that is not true. There are wonderful daycares out there. You just have to find them.

With four kids, we have had multiple kids in daycare and a couple of them started as really young babies. It always created anxiety for me and was such a stressful process. I will be honest; we have had some daycares we did not like and some we truly loved. We had some that we left within months and then there are some places who really treated our kids like their own and loved them dearly. To the point we were sad when they had to start school and leave.

In all of our searches, we have learned a lot along the way. Here are some of the ways that we have been able to narrow our search and zone in on the best facility for our children.

Note: You know your child best and should always go with your gut!

two children playing with lego blocks and other toys
Photo by cottonbro studio on

Check the State Website

This has been the start to all of our daycare searches and is so important. In North Carolina, the Division of Child Development has a wonderful site that maintains all of the “scores” for any daycare facility (including home centers). All states usually have a site. Just search your state and childcare laws. Daycare facilities have to follow certain laws and be registered with their state. The website typically gives you tons of information like their star rating, sanitization scores, license information, and most importantly violations against the facility.

I go to the NC website and find all the daycares that I am interested in. You can search by zip code or tons of other criteria. I check the daycare’s rating and then look at their recent visits from the state. In NC, it will openly tell you if there were violations during the visit and if there were, what was wrong. You can also request more information if actions have been taken against the facility.

The state websites also typically give a TON of valuable information about finding a daycare facility in general. They have checklists, the rules that need to be followed, and tons of documentation. It can actually be overwhelming but super helpful.

Ask Around

Social media tends to have tons of people who love to share their opinions. I personally, like to ask for them all. I am a member of several local mom groups on Facebook and my neighborhood on Nextdoor. So, when I narrow down my search to a few facilities that I want to tour, I throw the question out there. Understand, you cannot just go off what one person says, and you have to take these opinions with like a grain of salt.

Usually, you will get a few people who have had experience with the facility. I find that I usually get some bad and some good. There are some people that have sent me horror stories that raise a major red flag. In general, I urge parents to write reviews and that brings me to my next point.

Read Reviews

Usually, daycare facilities will have reviews out there. Whether it is a review on google or more specialized childcare websites. Read through all the reviews on the places that you want to visit. I do this by simply googling the name and location of the daycare. Again, take these reviews as a grain of salt because we all know that people love to write bad reviews. People usually don’t post the good stuff. But reviews can be helpful in creating questions for a daycare visit.

Call the Daycare

Once I narrow down my list and decide which facilities I want to tour, I call them. This is really your fist impression of the center. Here are some questions I ask in my initial call:

  1. Do you have a waiting list for my child’s age group? Most of the time, at good centers, there is one and it can be long. Not to say that is always the case.
  2. What is the pricing for my child’s age group? Check if activities and food are included and ask if there are sick or vacation days. Having to pay when you aren’t there isn’t fun.
  3. What is the ratio of kids to teachers in my child’s age group? There are standards set by the state, but you want to know theirs so that you can make sure they follow it.
  4. Do you offer part time care or only full time? Many facilities won’t offer part time for younger kids and babies. That means paying for full time when you don’t go full time.
  5. What are your hours of operation? You have to make sure it fits your schedule.
  6. Do tours need to be scheduled? Or can I drop in? I prefer to drop in but there are few centers that allow this.
  7. Do you have cameras in your facility? You want to know if your child will be on camera all day. You either agree or disagree with this one.

Visit the Daycare

Taking a tour of a center is probably one of the best ways to make a decision. In most cases, you just kind of get a “vibe” about it and know if it is a fit or not. But, in some cases, the daycare can put on a good show. So, have your questions ready and bring something to take notes. Personally, I like to drop in and not schedule a time, but most places now require you to schedule a tour.

Here are some great things to think about or ask as you take your tour.

  1. The friendliness of all the staff. Note how open and positive the staff and teachers are. From the front desk to the cook, to the teachers. If people seem not happy or willing to answer questions, you have to wonder how they will treat your kids. Places that do not treat their staff well, don’t usually treat the kids that well either.
  2. How clean is the facility? Now, I am not talking about having toys put away and organized. I am talking about actual dirt. Are the floors dirty? Is the kitchen clean? Do they make you take off your shoes in the rooms? Did they make you wash your hands?
  3. Interaction with the kids. Are the teachers interacting with the kids on the playground or in the classrooms? You don’t want to see teachers just standing around or on their phones (yes, I have seen teachers on phones during a tour). But also make sure the person giving you the tour is interacting and knows some of the kids by name.
  4. Are the toys and play areas maintained? Most of this is required by state laws but you want to make sure there are not a ton of broken toys and non-maintained areas. Is the playground maintained and safe? Look for old carpet, chipping paint, and anything that would indicate that they are not maintaining the property.
  5. Talk to the teacher in your child’s room. Do they have a degree? How long have they been there? Are they CPR certified? Look around to count and see if they are following the teacher to child ratio that the center told you when you called. Ask if there is an assistant teacher in the room and meet them, if possible.
  6. Are there extra activities at the center? Some places have outside companies that come in and teach things like soccer, music, yoga, and so on. The fact that they let others in is a good thing.
  7. Observe the classroom closely. Are there different types of play areas? Think rowdy play time versus when a child needs some quiet time. Does the teacher have the classroom decorated with projects? Do the kids in the class seem happy and in a good routine? Note, there are always going to be unhappy kids here and there. That is normal. So don’t freak out if a baby is crying during your tour.
  8. What is their protocol for foods and allergies? Especially if you have a child with allergies but also if you don’t. You need to know that you may not be able to pack lunch or send in items with peanuts, for example.
  9. How do they handle child conflict and discipline? It is important that you know how they discipline and agree with what they do. If you do not agree with time out and that is what they do, you won’t want to send your child there. But also, how do they handle arguments between the children.
  10. Sick policy. What is their policy on sick children? Where do they keep them until parents arrive to pick them up? How long after a fever can a child come to school? Can they dispense medications?

Really there are thousands of questions you could ask a daycare center. These are some of the important ones. Again, I think your gut tells you a lot but also, after your child starts at the center, you will know if it is the best fit. There is a transition period but after that time, if your child is miserable, there is something wrong. Follow your mom instinct. One time I walked in, took my kid home, and never looked back. I didn’t even have a new plan, but I knew that center wasn’t going to work for us.

Lastly, ask yourself if you were your child, would you want to go to school there?

Best of luck in your search. If you are just starting your parenting journey, be sure to also read the post on things you should start when your kids are young.

-Kristy M., Mommy to Many

Leave a Reply