Is a Home Daycare Right for Your Toddler?

How to be sure your home daycare measures up.

When parents begin searching for the best childcare for their toddler, the options may seem overwhelming. Daycare centers, preschools, nannies and nanny shares are all great options, but home daycares are an often overlooked type of childcare with clear benefits. 

First of all, home daycares are often significantly less expensive than daycare centers and nannies because there is less overhead. If you find a good one, your toddler will be part of a small, tight-knit group of children under the watchful eye of engaged caregivers, who will likely end up feeling more like family than daycare employees.

But choosing a home daycare can be a challenge. They are not regulated as closely daycare centers because the lines often blur between what is considered babysitting and what is considered a home daycare. In addition, sometimes a small staff can be overwhelmed trying to take on enough children to ensure they can keep the business stable. In addition to general signs of a good daycare, if you're considering a home daycare, here's what to look for. 

Up-to-Date Licensing

Boris Suntsov

Home daycares are required to meet certain health and safety regulations outline by the state. By requirements for licenses vary by state -- some require a more extensive process while others just ask that the building meet certain safety standards. Either way, home daycares often operate without a license, especially if they are only taking in a few children. Take the time to find out what the requirements in your state are, and ask the provider to show you proof that they are in good standing. 

A Back-up Care Plan

If you’re considering a home daycare, you’re going to want to ask how they handle sick days as well as other last-minute issues that may affect a caregiver’s availability. Unlike a daycare center, which will have many caregivers, a home daycare likely has only a few. Ask how they handle alerting parents if they need to close down due to the caregivers contracting a bug. In addition, if there’s an emergency during the day that the owner has to attend to, who takes over? While these situations will not be the norm, consider whether or not your family is able to handle these hiccups with back-up care. 

Quality (and Plenty of) Caregivers

The lead caregiver at a home daycare should have early childhood education training (typically two-years of college or an Associate’s degree) and a current CPR certification as well as plenty of real-world experience caring for young children. You’ll also want to make sure that there is more than one caregiver. How many caregivers is enough depends on how many children they take on – but keep in mind that state regulations vary. In addition, even if a caregiver is allowed to have a certain number of young children by themselves, consider the quality of care with only one adult. Having an assistant or two onsite will mean your child is getting more attention, and the main caregiver is less likely to burn out. 

Clean and Modern Facilities

Because a home daycare is run out of someone’s home, you’ll want to make sure it is clean, safe and provides adequate facilities for young children. Ideally, the home daycare has an entirely separate space for the kids with plenty of centers for various types of play, toys and seating. Make sure the space is child-proofed. You’ll also want to see where the kids eat and sleep, as well as where they go to play outside.

Strong References

Since many home daycares draw the majority of their clients from the immediate neighborhood, you’ll likely be able to learn about the owner quite easily. Talk to parents who are current and former clients to find out if they were happy with the daycare and, if applicable, why they left. Good home daycares will have a solid reputation locally.  

A Peaceful Environment

Sure, toddlers are going to be loud sometimes and they are going to have meltdowns. But when you visit a home daycare, pay attention to how order is maintained. Does the environment feel chaotic? Or do the caregivers have control over the situation? If there's a mishap, how is it handled? Do the children seem happy? If the environment seems chaotic, adding another child to the mix is probably not ideal. 

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