What to Know About Day Care

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on May 23, 2022
4 min read

Your child's earliest experiences will play a big part in their development. They will build the foundation for your child's future success. Most of these experiences are the early home parenting and nurturing experiences that you give your child. But other kinds of experiences, like day care, are also a developmental influence. 

Many parents who work outside the home use day care. Some choose a day care based on its ability to prepare kids for a future school. Though the most common reason for day care placement is two working parents, some professionals may recommend that a child be enrolled in day care because of developmental or social needs. There's a lot to consider when choosing a high-quality day care for your child. 

A day care center is a business that's often located in a commercial building. It's where parents take their young children for care during daily business hours. The center is large and can provide care for more children than family child care providers. It’s usually separated into groups of similarly aged kids. It usually has several staff members or providers managed by a director. The day care might be privately owned, part of a church, in a public school, or part of an agency of the government.

Licensed day care centers are available in all states. But not every center is licensed. Examples of day care programs that could be operational but not licensed include:

  • Faith-based programs
  • Early childhood centers run by schools
  • Part-time programs like preschools, nursery schools, and prekindergarten programs
  • School-age before- and after-school programs
  • Summer camp 

There are three regular nonparental child care businesses used by families in the U.S. Each has advantages and disadvantages, and some work well for some families, while some don’t. A good day care arrangement will match the child's needs and the family's needs.

Center-based child care: This is a group child care program that has part-time or full-time care providers. They are licensed by standards that regulate safety, health, space, and staffing.

Family child care: This care is provided in a different home than the one in which the child lives. If the home cares for more than three unrelated children, the provider must be licensed, depending on the state location.

In-home child care: This care takes place in the home of the child. Sometimes the caregiver is a relative of the child, or they could be a nanny.

There are many advantages of sending your child to day care:

  • A variety of playmates
  • Staff who are well trained and can establish appropriate developmental programs for children  
  • Reliability in being open year-round without fluctuations due to vacation or sickness
  • Parent involvement in policy and curriculum
  • Extra services when available, like field trips, music, health screenings, and more

The most important benefit of choosing a day care is the quality provided by a stellar day care. The needs of your child depend on their age, but a high-quality day care will have certain characteristics. This includes caregiving that is responsive and sensitive, stimulates the senses, and has a safe, healthy environment. A high-quality day care has long-term benefits like:

  • Increased language development
  • Increased cognitive abilities
  • Development of good peer relationships
  • Decreased incidents with the caregivers  
  • Parents who work traditional shifts find convenience in day care. Parents who work different shifts and need part-time care, late hours, or weekend care may have a hard time locating a day care that can meet these needs.
  • A typical day care is open from around 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. You have to pay for that day or week. Usually, there's no flexibility in picking and choosing the hours you need specifically.
  • Centers have a very structured and organized setup. They don't always have the ability to focus on individual routines, needs, or interests.
  • Your children may get used to a certain provider and grow fond of them. But there may be a high turnover rate during the day.

Day cares of lower quality are more often associated with negative outcomes. Low-quality centers may have child disadvantages like:

  • Decreased language skills
  • Increased behavioral problems
  • Decreased cognitive performance
  • Decreased school readiness scores

To find a high-quality day care, you should visit your state's department of human services website. You can search for providers by zip code and locate regulations for provider types. You also can peruse the National Association for Family Child Care site to learn more about the accreditation and licensing of good providers in your area. 

It's important to remember that accreditation and ratings only provide a partial explanation of the type of child care your child will receive. Responsive and warm caregiving is equally important in childcare quality, just like good parenting. 

When choosing a day care center for your child, you should consider the following:

  • Visit the center. Look for clues about positive caregiving. Listen to the language the caregiver uses because this is connected to positive outcomes and high-quality care. 
  • Higher-quality facilities are usually linked to higher regulations and certifications. Check to see if the day care is licensed. 
  • Don't assume all day cares are high-quality. Do your research.
  • Compare home-based centers with child care centers and really weigh the pros and cons.

When dealing with a child with special needs, families have to remember:

  • An increase in a child's hours of day care has not been linked to an improvement in their development.
  • Beginning day care after a year of age might give a child additional time to learn how to handle their behavior at home first.

It's important to remember that, whether your child attends day care or not, the most important aspect of childcare is what happens at home. Home life is important in child development. 

Interactions with parents and siblings are key. An attentive parent who provides a lot of back-and-forth interaction and good communication counts for a lot. 

These child-parent interactions predict a child's development more than any day care considerations do.