The 5 C’s of Choosing a Daycare



When I found out I was pregnant with Liam, I had just started a new job. After the first day, I got into my car, called my husband and immediately started bawling as I cried, “But how can I do this job and be a mom and work and what am I supposed to do?”

It was all a bit overwhelming to say the least. (And I still say that to myself often, because it is hard.)

As my pregnancy progressed, we went back and forth with the idea of me continuing to work or not. During that time, Chris decided that he would return to school for nursing while we have just one kid in the picture, so that solidified our decision pretty quickly that I would indeed continue to work.

We toured five different daycare facilities before making our decision. Being completely new to the process, we were learning as we went along.

Over two years later, we have fond memories of the place Liam called his home-away-from-home until he was two, and we currently love his new school we moved him to right after his second birthday. He is thriving and learning, and it is amazing to see and hear what he has learned each day. I love that he has always gone into his class each morning with a cheerful attitude and he rarely looks back. In fact, there has only been two times since he was three months old where he has cried at my leaving. This is so assuring to me that he truly loves his school, teachers, and friends.

So, what do you look for when searching for the perfect daycare?

1. Cost

It’s no secret that the cost of daycare is a kick-in-the-stomach to your budget. We are in that sacred spot where my take-home pay after daycare is still on the positive side and very much needed. But, still, it costs a lot.

Once you figure out how much you can afford a week or month, different places have different rates. Most places we looked at had a weekly rate regardless of how many days you would use. (His current school has this pay system.) They also sometimes require you pay at least half of the weekly rate if you were ever going to be out of town in order to “hold your spot.” This is great option if you plan on working five days a week every week, but I work on a school calendar (minus all of the long breaks!) where we get random school holidays and I take time off at Christmas.

We first chose a place that offered a daily rate – you just pay as you use it. This definitely saved us money each month and was a huge factor in our decision. Where this really comes into play is if Liam is sick, I don’t have to pay for a day of missed daycare and a co-pay at the doctor on top of it. And the two weeks I take off at Christmas can be moved to the Christmas fund without us feeling the hit as much. He is now at a place where they do a weekly rate, but our schedule now requires he is at school five days a week, so it isn’t a big factor anymore!

Questions to ask yourself:
  • What’s our budget?
  • How many days a week will we need daycare?
Questions to ask the daycare:
  • What are your daily/weekly rates?
  • What happens if we miss a day?
  • Do we get an allotment of “sick days” where we don’t have to pay if we miss?
  • How often do we have to pay? Weekly? Monthly?

2. Conveniences

So with that cost, what does it include? When it comes to meals and diapers for your child during the day, those are typically a convenience of a daycare and not a requirement. Many daycares provide snacks, but not all of them offer meals.

As we toured, we were sold on the fact that our first daycare not only provided breakfast, lunch and snacks each day based on the five food groups, but they also provided diapers. Diapers! This is huge, huge savings for us each month. I literally would drop Liam off at school with the clothes on his back and they provide the rest.

At his new school, they provide snacks and we bring a lunch. We also provide diapers, but now that he is two and potty-training, we don’t go through as many as we did when he was an infant.

Questions to ask yourself:
  • Are you able to make breakfast and lunch in the morning to send to school?
  • Does your child have any specific allergies?
Questions to ask the daycare:
  • What meals and/or snacks do you provide? If not, what are we expected to provide?
  • Do we get a copy of the menu each month? Do you have a menu we could see?
  • How do you handle allergies?
  • Do you provide diapers and wipes? If not, what do we need to bring and how often?

3. Cleanliness

This stood out to Chris much more than me, but now I am appreciative of his keen eye. When we first started Liam in daycare, he was just three months old in the infant room. The first place we toured required that we put on booties to enter the room. It never struck me that we were tracking in our street shoes onto the floor where the babies were rolling and crawling around, so I was glad to see they were cognizant of that. This was good to see, because the next place just invited us in. I was mindful of not walking on the rug at least!

The place we chose has a half door that allows you to pass your baby directly to the teacher without walking into the room. The teachers even have special shoes they wear specifically for the classroom.

They also send all of the toys to a sanitation center each night, and all of the sheets are washed and used by only one child each day. Mattresses are also sanitized each night.

Obviously, once you get to the toddler age, this is not all as important, but it was helpful to see the expectation of cleanliness they have as early as the infant stage.

Questions to ask yourself:
  • What level of clean is important to me?
Questions to ask the daycare:
  • How often do you sanitize the toys?
  • Do you wash the sheets each night? Mattress?
  • Will my child have his/her own set of sheets each day?
  • Do I need to bring my child’s own pillow and blanket?

4. Curriculum

If Liam is going to be out of my arms for eight hours a day, I want to make sure he is learning and thriving. Each place we visited put a great focus on a specific daily schedule and centers where the kids would learn everything from math to letters to science.

He has a specific schedule they follow each day, which is great to know as working mama. I can look at the clock and know that he’s eating or napping or just waking up. What makes it even better is that if we follow that same schedule on the weekends, it works so, so well.

Integrated between meals and naps are times for math, story time, science, art, outside play, songs and so much more. He comes home singing songs and naming objects which just reassures me how much they are teaching him.

Questions to ask yourself:
  • What are my expectations of what my child should learn?
Questions to ask the daycare:
  • What is the daily schedule?
  • When is nap time? How often do they nap? What do we need to bring for nap time?
  • Are we able to see the curriculum each week?

5. Character

You want to feel like the place your child is at each day is a safe, warm, loving place and you want to feel beyond confident in your choice. Watching the teachers interact with Liam continues to make me more and more confident. They are truly excited to see him come each day, and the staff is always welcoming as well.

Questions to ask yourself:
  • What environment do you want your child in?
  • As you walk around the facility, how are the teachers interacting with the kids? Each other? Parents?
Questions to ask the daycare:
  • What qualifications do the teachers have?
  • What are their expectations of students in regards to behavior?
  • What is their discipline policy?
Overall, it’s a big decision and not one to be taken lightly. It’s hard! But beyond all of these questions and options, you’ll know when you walk into the right place, that it is the right place.


  1. Choosing a daycare is such a personal choice for all families. When I was looking for childcare for my first daughter I would wake up at 3 am with random questions – “What temperature are the rooms kept at? Will Katie’s crib be under an air conditioner vent? What if there’s a flood.” And COA was so patient with me and answered all my questions. Now both my girls are old enough for me to start working again and I started working with COA. So when parents come in with 100 questions I’m delighted to answer them, since I was in their shoes a few months ago 🙂

  2. I like the list of questions that you suggest asking under “Cleanliness;” especially the one about how often they sanitize the toys. I am looking for a preschool for my oldest and he seems to get sick when he is around a new group of kids. Making sure that germs are taken under consideration seems like a great approach to take with little children so that their health is the number on priority.

  3. I am currently trying to find a daycare for my twin daughters. It’s important that we find a facility where they will get the attention they need as well as a safe and comfortable environment. Your question about asking about the meals and snacks is a great idea. I hadn’t thought about asking for a copy of the menu, but I will be sure to do that. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I was just offered a great job but am not sure I will be able to take it because I need to tend my young daughter. I wanted to know more about daycare services and if it would be something that would interest me. It is good to know that cleanliness should be a priority when choosing a facility. I like what was said about how one can ask how the toys are sanitized before committing to a company’s service.

  5. I do like that one of the major points you bring up up in the article is that the daycare you choose should offer a good curriculum. After all, while it is good for young kids to play and socialize, they should be learning something as well. Of course, this doesn’t have to be anything super complicated, but if the daycare teaches things like basic math and beginner words than that is just great.


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