Trying to find affordable childcare for my son was more terrifying than giving birth. As an early childhood educator who has been lucky enough to work in and experience some of the best schools for young children, I knew how hard it would be to find a placement for my own little guy. My bar was set so high I wasn’t even sure if I would ever be comfortable leaving him (which would make earning a living really tricky!).
When talking to other new parents about childcare, I noticed similar fears and concerns on opposite sides of a spectrum. I felt I knew too much and was searching for a unicorn placement, others felt they had no idea what to look for (besides cleanliness and safety). Now seeing my almost 3-year-old entering what is the closest version of my idea of a unicorn placement, I hope to help more new parents as you enter this crazy, competitive, high-priced, and under-valued world of early childhood care.
*Please note, every single parent will have a different idea of what is right for their child and every single parent is correct for knowing their own child’s needs. Only you know what is the best or the right fit for you, your child, and your family. Keep this in mind when chatting with other parents also searching for childcare; what is wrong for one person is right for someone else!*
5 Tips to Choose the Best Childcare Placement:
1. Make a list of what is most important to you for the age that your child will enter childcare.
- For some parents, knowing their infant is in a loving/safe environment is all the piece of mind needed (and this is great!). For other parents, they may want their infant exposed to a second language right away (also great!). Others may not feel a second language environment is a requirement until the child is older (once again, another great decision!).
- Take a moment to write out what you want your little one to do, see, hear, experience, and feel all day long. What are things that are must-haves and things that would fit more on a wish list?
- Be flexible with this list; it will more than likely change as you take tours of locations and as your child grows.
2. Determine your radius and your timetable.
- How far are you willing to go by car, foot, or metro? Who will be the primary person for drop-off and pick-up every day? Would you rather have a location near your house or near your job? How much time do you want them to spend in childcare each day?
- These are important questions when deciding where to look. Since most people in the DMV area have a daily commute it is important to figure out the answers to these questions when starting to figure out your childcare plans. (Don’t fall in love with a location that will add a ton of stress to your life with daily driving during rush hour traffic!)
3. Check off easy boxes.
- Get familiar with the licensing regulations in your state. By knowing the licensing regulations in-depth, you will have a baseline of expectations for any location that is a licensed facility.
- For instance, all licensed facilities, whether in-home daycares or multi-room schools, have to have emergency plans in place and practice these plans routinely throughout the year. When you visit a licensed facility you already know they have these plans in place; if you visit a non-licensed location, such as a personal home for a nanny-share, be sure to ask what are their emergency plans.
- This will help you to save time on your tours asking questions that are specific to each facility instead of questions that should have the same answer everywhere.
- Know what is not acceptable for your family. By knowing what you are not looking for as well as what you are looking for, you will help to narrow your search more quickly.
- Just a heads up: this may start to touch on more personal issues or beliefs which can be tough conversational points with friends and family. Remember what you do not like in a location may be perfect for someone else, so share this part of your list delicately to keep happy relationships!
4. Know your budget, inside and out, backward and forwards.
- How much can you afford each month on top every other expense?
- If your child isn’t born yet, remember that you will have lots of unexpected expenses and purchases come up right after they are born so keep that unknown extra amount in the back of your head.
- Who will be with your little one when they are sick?
- It will happen, trust me, so if you need extra help to watch your little one last minute, look into nanny/babysitter prices in your area. How much can you afford if you/your partner has a loss of income?
- How many locations will you apply for?
- Almost all locations have a fee when it comes to making out applications and giving a deposit. Know how much you can give over now before your little one is even accepted.
- Assume worst case scenario, the location you have chosen closes a few months into your child’s placement.
- How much savings do you have to pay a nanny/babysitter (who will cost more per hour) while you try to find another placement? Can you/your partner work part-time while staying home with your little one during this time?
5. Breathe! You won’t break your kid!
- While everyone wants to put their kid into their idea of a unicorn placement from the start, it may not happen. It’s ok! Sometimes you have to make trade-offs.
- Maybe the location is near your house and in your budget but they don’t speak a second language to your little one. If that place will bring you peace of mind and give you more time at home instead of a commute, great! Maybe your willing to drive extra each day for the location that is in your budget and does offer the second language, great!
- Either way, know that you are going to make the best possible decision for your little one whatever you decide.
- As long you can find a location that is safe, they are happy, well-cared for, and you have some quality of life, this will be a good decision.
- And if it doesn’t work out (I’ve been there too!), know that you won’t break your kid. Kids are flexible and resilient.
- If you need to make a change a few months into their placement, there will be a tough adjustment time and then life will get back to a new normal.
Finding childcare may be a hard decision, but it’s possible.
Take the time you need as early as you can to really figure out what type of location works for your family. Many locations have wait lists or specific start dates so try to do your homework as early as you can. Talk with friends or other local parents, read online reviews, and take everything with a grain of salt. Remember how much the internet is full of truthful and unexaggerated information, especially about service reviews. (insert eye roll!)
Remember to Breathe! This is an important decision that can be really stressful. You worked so hard to make this amazing little person that you now have to leave for hours a day. Hopefully, you will find a location that checks most of your boxes, fits your family’s needs, and leaves you with a good feeling after the tour. While this can be a huge decision right now, it’s only a few years until they’re off to big kid school!