Photo courtesy Lucélia Ribeiro
Photo courtesy Lucélia Ribeiro

I remember when I was pregnant and the topic of choosing a daycare first came up. I thought this would be something I would look into during my maternity leave and I would figure it out pretty easily. Then I found out there was no way I could wait that long — I needed to get on waitlists while I was pregnant, before I knew anything about what kind of baby I would have, let alone fathom the idea of leaving her with a complete stranger!

I felt completely lost and overwhelmed in a sea of home-based and center-based daycare listings, and I had no idea where to start. I was so worried about making the wrong decision and not giving my baby the best. Eventually, we chose a home-based daycare that was a perfect fit for us.

Recently, we had to choose a new daycare, due to logistics. This time around, it was a much easier process. This was partly due to the confidence I’ve gained as a mother and also knowing my toddler and what kind of environment would best suit her. Mostly, though, I learned a lot from my earlier experiences.

So now, dear reader, I share with you my helpful hints in choosing a daycare.

1. Start your search early

Although there are a lot of daycares out there, Massachusetts, and especially the greater Boston area, has a much higher demand for daycare than it has spaces. I suggest looking into daycares around six months before you need it. I started by getting lists of daycares from the state’s Early Education and Care website, which allows you to search for all licensed daycares within a certain mile radius, sorting by home based, center based, or both.

2. Home based or center based?

Center-based daycares and home daycares provide very different environments, and, even within these two categories, every provider will be different. Some people’s decisions are guided by their wallets. Generally, home daycares are less expensive. That said, if a home daycare provider is sick, daycare is closed. At a center, they likely have backup teachers they can call upon. In a home daycare, children of various ages comingle. At a center, children are separated by age group. There are pluses and minuses to both approaches, and it is really up to you to figure out what feels best for you. I recommend looking at both and getting a feel for what environment feels best for you and your child.

3. Make phone calls and ask questions

You can weed out some providers by finding out who does not have availability, who does not have the hours or days you need, and, also, who you do not get a good vibe from. Think about what is important to you, and have a list of questions ready. Is it important that they take the children outside every day, even if it is not bright and sunny? Is it important that it is pet free? Is it important that they have scheduled music and baby yoga sessions during the week? Is it important that they provide lunch and snacks?

4. Visit

We started with a comprehensive list of providers and slowly made a short list of daycares we toured. When you go in person, take a look around. Do the staff seem happy? Do the kids seem happy (if they are present — some places only do after-hours visits)? Do things seem clean? Remember, when you go to visit, they should be putting their best foot forward. If something seems amiss on that visit, it will probably indicate a worse problem later on. At one daycare we went to, the TV was on in the background. For us, that — coupled with a highchair that had stuffing falling out of it — was a disaster. When we found our daycare, we had a gut feeling that it was “the one.”

5. Check references and call the licensing office

Once you have your daycare in mind, check references. I say this with the caveat that people are only going to offer references that will speak well of them. However, when speaking to them, you can ask questions in a certain way to find out more information about any concerns you might have. When you call the licensing office, you can find out if there have been any consumer complaints or if there have been any compliance issues. Keep in mind that most providers will probably have something in their file. If you find out about something, don’t necessarily run. Instead, factor in what the issue actually was, if it has been resolved, and if there could be a context that would explain it.

6. Decide, and move forward

Work with the provider to tell them everything they need to know about your child and how to help her succeed. You will be nervous when you drop her off. Find out the best way to communicate with your provider during the day, and let them know the best way to reach you. If you need to, check in and find out how things are going. Odds are, you will miss your child way more than she will miss you!

Lindsay Goldberg
Lindsay Goldberg is a working mom who then comes home and works there, too. She loves finding quick, healthy recipes to make for her family and lives for her Sunday morning escape to the gym. She has given up on trying to find balance, and is, instead focused on surviving and being Good Enough. Likes- books, family dance parties, morning snuggles, and drinking coffee when it's still hot. Dislikes- recipes with more than 10 ingredients or 10 steps, winter, and deadlines