Whether you're using child care because you and your partner work, go to school, or simply because you want your children to be with other children, the questions about choosing child care are the same:

  • What are the different options?
  • How do I choose one type of care over the other?
  • What kind of care is the best?
  • Will child care hurt my child?
  • What constitutes quality care?

Each child care option has advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes these are determined by your own personal preferences and needs. Your choices must be based upon the age and personality of your child, your regular work schedule, your needs for flexibility, your family finances and your own individual preferences and beliefs.

Investigate Your Options

Regardless of the setting, it is critical that you investigate each thoroughly. Ask for recommendations from parents whose child care currently enrolled or who recently attended the program, read promotional materials, visit the program at least once, and observe carefully.

As you consider what you hear from neighbors and friends it is important to keep in mind that every child and family is different. Ideally, the program or provider you choose will fit well with your child's personality or temperament and the specific needs of your family. You can learn a lot about a program during your visit. On your visit you will want to meet the director, note the number of staff and children per group, observe how the children and teachers interact, look at the environment for safety and diversity of activities, and ask questions about how children spend their days.

Checklists are provided to help you assess the quality of individual programs and to compare the different programs you visit. As you visit a selection of programs you will want to look for the following:

  • Cleanliness and safety in the environment, equipment, and materials
  • Availability of quality and age-appropriateness of equipment and materials
  • Reasonably sized groups
  • Sufficient adult supervision
  • An age-appropriate curriculum
  • A considerate attitude towards parents
  • Warm, respectful interaction between children and adults

During your visit you may learn that a child care program is guided by a specific education philosophy. While some centers adhere strictly to one philosophy others will incorporate several different philosophies into their daily activities. Scholastic and Parent Center briefly explain several common early childhood education philosophies including Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, Bank Street, cooperatives and project-based.

Making Your Choice

Compare your notes from all of the programs you visited. You may have a clear favorite among the group that you've visited. If you are having trouble deciding or if you have questions, visit one or two programs again and bring your partner or a friend. One strategy to determine your preferred care arrangement is to list all of the things that you consider important in a child care arrangement. Once compiled, review the list again and asterisk the top five items that are the most important to you. Although you may have to compromise in some areas to balance your child's and your needs, this process can help to clarify your priorities.

Affordability and accessibility are very often factors considered however try not to compromise on quality. The high cost of infant and toddler care decreases as children get older, and the early investment in your child's future is certainly a worthwhile one.