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Choosing the Right Childcare Center: A Comprehensive Guide

Yuyan Huang
September 14, 2023

As a parent, you want to give the best to your children – the best food, the best toys, the best environment, and the best childcare. With the growth of full-time working parents, the demand for childcare is rising and even exceeds the supply of providers nationwide1. Selecting the right childcare center can be a challenging process, as you want to ensure your child’s safety, health, development, and happiness while you’re away, but it is a significant decision to make and there are essential factors to consider when making this crucial decision.  


  1. Childcare Center or Daycare Center?
  2. 10 Things You Should Look for When Selecting a Childcare Center
  3. Questions to Ask During Your Center Tour

In this blog, we'll walk you through what to look for when selecting a childcare center, and provide guidance to help you make an informed choice. Be sure to download the Questions to Ask During Your Center Tour included at the end of this blog.  

Childcare Center or Daycare Center? 

What's the difference between childcare and daycare?

Before delving into the specifics, it’s crucial to understand the difference between a childcare center and a daycare center. For many people, “childcare center” and “daycare center” are used interchangeably, simply referring to the service or place to look after their kids. While the distinction between these two terms may seem insignificant to most people, it’s an important distinction for early childhood education (ECE) professionals.  

Early Childhood Educators ECEECE professionals are often well-educated, experienced, and have devoted years to learn about children’s development, curriculum design, classroom management, and instructional strategies. They not only take “care” of young children and play with them 8 hours a day, but also need to plan out a curriculum with lesson plans, activities, transitions, and materials considering the various learning areas a young child needs to grow in a developmentally and culturally-appropriately way. 

No matter what a center is called (childcare center, daycare center, early learning center) you want to look for a center that can offer a structured educational program that puts children at the center instead of primarily focusing on providing supervision and basic care.  

10 Things You Should Look for When Selecting a Childcare Center 

1. Licensing and accreditation  

The first step in your search for a childcare center is to ensure that it is licensed and accredited. Licensing guarantees that the center adheres to state regulations and safety standards. Accreditation from organizations such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) reflects a commitment to higher quality standards in ECE. 

Every state has their own early childcare licensing standards and process, and you can utilize trustful websites operated by the government such as to search for licensed childcare providers in your state. You can also go to the website provided by your state to search for licensed childcare such as The Department of Early Education and Care in Massachusetts for MA licensed childcare centers. Most directories for childcare (e.g., Winnie, indicate their licenses and accreditation. Be sure to check them out when you do your searching on these websites. 

Childcare Centers should have their licensing information posted. Be sure to ask to see this during the tour. 

2. Staff qualifications & ratio of staff to children 

Early childhood educators may even spend more time with your children than you do if you enroll your kids in a full-day childcare program. Knowledgeable and qualified staff play a pivotal role in your child’s development. When searching for a childcare center, you should look at their website for information on their staffing, especially on the qualifications and training of teachers and caregivers. If you can’t find this information online, always inquire about it during your center tour/visit.  

Moreover, pay attention to the staff-to-child ratio and group size of the classroom, as a lower ratio and smaller group size often leads to more individualized attention and care for children. Staff-to-child ratio and group size requirements vary by state and type of program. However, here’s a recommended (ideal) staff-to-child ratio and group size for childcare centers advised by 


Staff: Child Ratio 

Maximum Group Size 

Infants (younger than 12 months) 

1: 3 


Toddlers (13 – 35 months) 

1: 4 


Preschoolers (3 – 4 yrs) 

1: 7 


Pre-K (4 – 5 yrs) 

1: 8 


Kindergarteners (5 yrs) 

1: 8 


School-age (6 yrs+) 

1: 10 or 1:12 

20 or 25 

*An additional question you may ask is the number of certified ECE staff members assigned to each group. 

3. Health and safety practices 

facility evaluation report sampleSafety should always be a top priority in a childcare center because that’s the basic care you want to ensure your child receives when they are not in your care. Ensure the childcare center maintains strict health and safety practices, including proper sanitation, childproofing measures, and emergency preparedness plans.  

During your tour or visit, pay attention to children’s snacks and meals (if offered) to get a sense of the nutrition provided by the center. Serving healthy snacks and meals can help children grow healthy and strong and develop good eating habits. It is also important that educators sit with children during mealtimes as this is the perfect time to engage children in conversation about healthy nutritional habits.  

4. Curriculum  

A well-rounded curriculum is essential for your child's intellectual and emotional growth. Most childcare centers adopt at least one curriculum framework or approach, so ask about their educational philosophy, curriculum plan, and opportunities for social-emotional learning (SEL). A good early childhood curriculum should consider the main child development domains including: 

  • Language and communication development (through literature, art, music, dramatic play) 
  • Cognitive development (through STEM lessons) 
  • Physical health and well-being development (through movement, activities using gross/fine motor skills, and studying food and nutrition) 
  • Social and emotional development (through SEL curriculum)
  • Children’s approaches to learning (through constant teacher-child interaction

Most centers share their curriculum and lesson plans with parents and post them in the classroom. Make sure you check them out! 

5. Indoor and outdoor play environments 

playgroundChildren need space and time to play and explore the world. Make sure you evaluate the indoor and outdoor play environments during your tour. These spaces should be safe, stimulating, and conducive for children to learn through free play. More importantly, ask about the outdoor play schedule to see if the center provides enough outdoor playtime for children (at least 30-60 minutes per day).  

As a former early childhood educator, I acknowledge that it can be challenging to take young children outside – from sunscreen to mittens and circle time to snack, a trip outdoors could feel like a hassle. However, outdoor play is essential for healthy development as it involves running, climbing, observing, negotiating and communicating, skills all important for children’s physical and mental development. Who doesn’t want more fresh air, fun and exploration? 

6. Opportunities to PLAY 

playPlay is a fundamental aspect of childhood development. When doing your research, check if the center encourages age-appropriate free play, imaginative play (dramatic play), and indoor and outdoor activities that promote curiosity, creativity and problem-solving. Play-based learning can start as early as infancy and it’s a proven method to promote resiliency in young children. Let children be children. If you give them enough time and space to play and explore, they will surprise you. Children learn best from playing, interacting, and collaborating with peers. It is very important that the center your child attends promotes the importance of play. 

7. Opportunities to interact with adults and peers

peersAs our founder Dr. Donna Housman child psychologist, said, “children develop within the context of relationship.” Social interaction is vital for your child's social and emotional development and growth in all areas. A good childcare center should always facilitate and incorporate opportunities for your child to interact with both adults and peers throughout the day.  

During your tour, observe how teachers interact with the children. Do they respond and react in a calm tone? Do they crouch down to talk to kids at the same level? Do they proactively intervene in children’s conflicts? Do they encourage children to play with and talk to each other? Adults are key socializers for children’s development, and you won’t want your kids to miss out on opportunities to be socialized with adult guidance. 

8. Social-emotional learning supports 

Our Emotions BoardSocial-emotional learning (SEL) has become a major consideration by many centers and school districts. A focus on SEL helps children from an early age develop crucial life skills such as empathy, self-awareness, self-regulation, problem-solving, and decision-making. Each of these skills can result in better academic performance in the long term. 

Related: Read Housman Institute’s latest research on how SEL impact self-regulation, executive functioning, and learning 

At Housman Institute, we believe that SEL should not just be taught through planned curricular activities, but it should also be a philosophy and approach adopted by a center to weave into their daily lessons, activities, and interactions with children and family. Thus, asking about SEL-related professional development training teachers receive is another way to understand how a center positions SEL in their approach. 

9. Communication  

school home communicationEffective and timely communication between the childcare center and families is essential. Look for information or ask about their communication policy, frequency of updates, and opportunities for home-school collaboration. Some centers may use childcare management software, some may use emails, but no matter what method they use, you want to make sure you can easily check-in and check-out, see frequent updates of your kids’ performance and behaviors, and communicate with the center and teachers for questions. Being informed about your child's progress and activities is reassuring. 

A center that involves family frequently in their curriculum planning and events can help bring the family and culture components into the community. If you see family involvement from your research or center tour, this is a good indicator of a childcare center you should consider. 

10. Diversity, equity and inclusion policy 

Thank you for reading all the way through the last but important point! A good childcare center should be inclusive and diverse, reflecting the real-world environment your child will grow up in. Looking for local centers that are around your neighborhood is a good first step.  

Skin tone crayonsInvestigate their policies and practices regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion on their website. You can always observe carefully during your tour to check if the center creates an inclusive environment in the classrooms, for example, including books representing different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, using inclusive instructional materials (e.g., skin color crayons, visual learning aids, multicultural resources, picture books representing diverse characters), and providing adapted teaching strategies.   

Related: 8 ways to make your classroom culturally inclusive 

Last but not least, trust your gut feeling!

If you don’t feel comfortable during your tour or visit, explore those feelings further. Your comfort and intuition are valuable indicators when selecting care for your children! 

Choosing a childcare center is a big decision if you decide to seek childcare support for your child, but it's important to take the time to find the right one for your child. By considering the 10 points listed in this blog, you can be sure to choose a center that will provide your child with a safe, nurturing, and enriching environment that can support their cognitive, social and emotional development. 

Center TourDon’t forget to download this Childcare Center Selection Checklist and Question List! 



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