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Daycare Options and How to Choose the Right One

Here’s your complete guide to finding childcare for your baby. Learn about the different daycare types, costs of daycare, and how to find the right one for your little one.

babies playing together at daycare

Evelyn started going to daycare part time when she was 14 months old. I was super fortunate to mostly work from home the first year of her life and my dad watched her regularly when I did need to go into the office.

Around the time she turned one, it became harder to work from home though. She was busier, napped less, and was constantly on the go. I started searching for a daycare and interviewed several until I found the right fit. I visited 8 different daycares and wanted to put this guide together for moms looking to put their baby in daycare. It can be overwhelming and scary to leave your child with someone else, but is an easier transition when you find the right daycare.

Daycare Types: Centers VS In-Home

If you’re looking into daycare options (and not a nanny), there are generally two main types: daycare centers and in-home daycares. Each offers a different environment and has their own pros and cons.

Daycare Centers

Center-based daycares are run out of commercial buildings. Centers have more staff and children and group kids into rooms by their age. Many daycare centers are monitored 24/7 via a security camera system that you can log into and view.


  • Lots of peer interaction: The larger class sizes means your child will have plenty of interaction with other kids their age.
  • More staff: You don’t have to worry about cancellations or sick days since there are more staff members.
  • Regulated: Centers usually follow a schedule for meals, naps, and activities. This can help your children learn routine and provide consistency.
  • Security: Many daycare centers have security cameras that you can log into remotely and check on your child.


  • More children: More peer interaction usually means more germs and more chances of catching illnesses and getting sick.
  • Costs: Centers typically cost more than in-home daycares.
  • Less personal: There are more staff members overall, so there isn’t one main person caring for your child and one main person for you to check in with.
classroom of a daycare center without children and teacher

In-Home Daycare

In-home daycare is run out of a provider’s home, in a residential area. There is usually one main provider and maybe an assistant, depending on if it is a small license or large-license.

Small License VS Large License

With in-home daycare there is also the option to do a small license or a large license. This is the maximum number of children that a provider can have in their care at any given time. How many children a provider can supervise also depends on the children’s ages. Each state has different regulations with their ratios.

For example, In California, a small license means there is only one provider total. A small license in California permits:

  • 4 infants total, or
  • 6 children total with 3 infants, or
  • 8 children total with 2 infants and 2 children at least 6 years old

A large license means there is an assistant in addition to the main provider, so more children can be supervised. A large license in California permits:

  • up to 12 children (with no more than 4 infants), or
  • 14 children total if 2 or more are at least 6 years old and there are no more than 3 infants

It can be confusing but the providers will know which license they have and are responsible for staying within the ratios. All you need to determine is if you’d rather have more or fewer children in the same care as yours.

kids playing together at daycare


  • More individual attention: Since there are fewer children overall, and the same caregiver day in and day out, children are generally able to receive more attention in a small in-home daycare.
  • Affordability: The cost is generally less expensive than a center.
  • Fewer germs: Because there are fewer children who attend, there is less exposure to germs.
  • Relaxed curriculum: Depending on the daycare, in-home daycares tend to have more freedom throughout the day with their schedule.
  • Siblings stay together: If you have siblings who are different ages, they can stay together all day.


  • No backup: If the provider is sick, there isn’t anyone else to cover for them.
  • No security: You don’t really know what your child is doing all day. You have to take the provider’s word for it.
  • Less experience: Providers aren’t usually required to have a background in childhood education (though many do).

Costs of Daycare and Ways to Save

The costs of daycare will depend on different factors including your location, the age of your child (sometimes infants cost more than toddlers), whether you need full or part-time care, and the supply/demand for care in your area.

Daycare can be expensive, but remember that this person is providing care for your precious little one. The hourly cost of daycare is much less than you would pay a nanny or babysitter. There are also ways you can save on daycare if money is tight.

  • If you work part time, consider switching with another mom and taking turns watching each other’s littles.
  • Opt for an in-home daycare as they tend to be less expensive than daycare centers.
  • Make sure you include the child care tax credit when filing your taxes.
daycare teacher building blocks with child

Decide what you want in a Daycare

Once you’ve decided on a center or in-home, (and a large license or a small license if choosing in-home), it’s time to decide what else you want/need in a daycare. Here are some things to consider:

  • Do you need early morning or late hours?
  • Will your child go full-time or part-time?
  • Do you need it to be in a specific location (i.e—on the way to work or home)?
  • Do you want daycare to provide meals or do you prefer to bring your own meals?
  • How much can you afford for daycare?
  • Do you want a provider who has weekend or overnight availability?
  • Do you want them to follow a schedule or have more of a relaxed free day?
  • What kinds of activities and teaching styles are important to you?

Finding Care

There are many ways to find childcare providers in your area. Here are a few ways to get started in your search.

  • Ask friends and family for recommendations. This can usually produce a list of names or referrals.
  • Search Facebook groups for recommendations from other moms. There is a local Facebook babysitting group that has constant recommendations where we live.
  • Use online sites like Yelp and Look for reviews or listings of local providers.
  • Child Care Aware of America has a search function that allows you to input your criteria and search for childcare in your area that meets your requirements.

Choosing A Daycare

The next step is to tour different facilities and interview the providers. Tour several to get a feel for what you like/dislike. Some daycares have tours during childcare hours while others only offer tours after hours, to protect children’s privacy.

The tour should give you an idea of the environment and what your child will do on a day-to-day basis. Make sure to ask lots of questions so you understand the different policies in place, environment your child will be in, and the philosophies and personality of the provider(s).

kids playing with a puzzle at daycare

Questions to Ask A Daycare

Come prepared with a list of questions that you can ask the daycare provider and record their responses. If you tour several, you will start to get them mixed up, so write down the answers somehow or take quick notes. I’ve put together a complete list of 40 questions to ask daycare providers that you can use.

Knowing if A Daycare is Right for You

The advice I got the most when I was deciding on a daycare was to “go with my gut.” I hate advice like this because I want a black and white way to make a decision. I want someone to tell me what to do (hello Enneagram 9). Sometimes motherhood is just not like that though.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you tour different daycares:

  • Do you connect with the provider? Can you see yourself communicating with them regularly?
  • Can you see your child enjoying their time here? Are there similar aged children? Do the activities seem fun and stimulating?
  • Does the provider value the same things as you? Some parents want a lot of free play. Others want more structure. Make sure you go with a daycare provider that values the same things as you.

There were some daycare providers that I just knew right away weren’t going to be a good fit. There was nothing wrong with them, I just knew they weren’t for me. In the end I went with the provider that I liked the best. Her house was immaculate and she interacted well with the children during my tour. I did end up having that good gut feeling with her and felt comfortable leaving my child in her care.


Find a daycare provider that is the right fit for your infant. Learn the differences between center-based daycares and in-home daycares, as well as daycare costs, common activities for kids, and tips for finding the right daycare—all so you can go back to work with ease, knowing your baby is in the best care!