How to Choose the Right Child Care Center

Toddler DrawingChoosing a childcare center can be a difficult and long process. To help make this important decision easier and less stressful, consider making search and review plans. Then, add these strategies to make sure you’ve covered the major details. Remember that even a good center with a positive reputation may not be the right one for your family. It’s up to you to get all the details to make the best childcare choice for your family’s needs and it begins with learning how to choose the right childcare center.

Locating Child Care Centers

If you are not sure what centers are in your area, try placing a call to your local child care experts. Look in the phone book or do an internet search to see what’s out there. If you live in the U.S. agencies like the Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) agency can be of great help to you. Your state’s Child Care Resource & Referral agency page can help you get started.

Confirming Requirements

When you contact the local referral agency, ask them what the laws are in your area about licensing, violations, and, if applicable, financial assistance. There may be laws about child-to-caregiver ratio and how and where to complain if you believe a childcare center is in violation of a licensing requirement or has some other problem.

Visiting Child Care Centers

Your first visit should be unannounced. Simply come in to the center and, without being disruptive, ask to observe the daycare. Take note of how you’re treated – were the staff welcoming? Did they ask for and listen to your observations and opinions of their facility? Look at how the kids are acting, too – are they getting plenty of attention? Are there enough adults present? It’s amazing what you can observe in just a few minutes.

If you like what you see and are considering that particular daycare as a possibility for your child(ren), it’s a good idea to follow up your unannounced visit with a scheduled one so you can be shown around the whole facility.

Educational or Play Approach

Do you want the center your child attends to have an educational approach? If so, ask about the details for daily, weekly, and monthly activities to see if they meet your criteria. You’ll want the activities to be educational as well as age-appropriate for your child.

For example, some centers take a playful approach which might be just what your child needs. Others are more academic and regimented, which may be more like your cup of tea. So finding out details about the daycare center’s activities is important. Keep in mind that the best centers integrate several learning methods to meet a variety of learning styles.

Availability Hours

Make sure that the center’s hours fit your schedule. What is the plan if you get held up and can’t make it to the daycare center at closing time? Also, how flexible is the daycare about hours? You may have to pay for a whole day even if your child is only there for a few hours, depending on their policy.

Health and Nutrition

You’ll want to know what kind of food is being served at the daycare. Look for healthy, easy-to-eat foods that are age-appropriate. If you breastfeed, ask about their options and policies.

Asking the right questions will help you make the best decision for your family’s childcare needs. Never be afraid to ask the staff any questions you may have. If you know a family who uses the center, you may also want to find out what they like and dislike, keeping in mind that it is only their opinion and your experiences may differ.

Do you have additional tips you’d like to add? Comment to share your thoughts.


  1. I’m going to be putting my daughter in a child care center so that I can start working again. I’ve never had to choose a child care center before, though, so I’m happy that I found your post! I really liked your tips, especially what you mentioned about finding a center that serves healthy food. I want my daughter to be healthy, so I’ll be sure to keep this in mind! Thank you for the advice!

  2. I like your advice on visiting care centers unannounced. I think it gives you a chance to see what a normal day is like there. We had a great experience with a care center we used to live, but since moved. Thanks for the great ideas.

    • I totally agree that to see what’s normally going on in a childcare center you should be visiting it unannounced. So you can have the real idea what they do to your children.

  3. Unfortunately, I am going back to work after a few years of staying home with my kids. This means I need to find a child care center that can watch them while I am gone. I like how you suggest to ask a potential center if they take an educational or play approach. I personally would like to find a center that values education especially since I’ll be paying them.

  4. Luke Yancey says:

    I agree– you really need to visit the daycare before you can be completely sure that it is right for your child. I would suggest meeting there a few times and letting your child play with some of the other kids. Also, don’t be afraid to ask around for recommendations.