Four Steps to Choosing Childcare

What to look for in a childcare setting.

Choosing Childcare

Photo: Gerri Photography


For parents and guardians who work outside of the home, choosing the right childcare is critical. But the task can be both frustrating and confusing – complicated by work schedules, availability, choice of setting, your child’s age and needs, and more. However, there are four steps you can take to help you make your final decision.

1. THINK about what you value in childcare, what you want for your child, and what experiences you hope your child will have. Write these ideas down and take them with you when you are assessing possible childcare settings. You’ll be better able to recognize whether or not the childcare setting meets your expectations. In order to make a thorough list, you need to know what types of childcare settings are available (see sidebar) and what qualities to expect in a provider/teacher and in the childcare environment.

Your child’s primary caregiver/teacher should:

  • possess a warm personality and enjoy being with children
  • relate to your child as a unique individual and encourage growth towards independence
  • understand the ages and stages of child development
  • be flexible, patient and understanding
  • play with your child and provide a variety of play experiences
  • trust and value parents’ suggestions
  • have a child-rearing philosophy that is compatible with your own

In addition to a caring teacher, your child needs an environment that encourages social, physical, emotional, language and cognitive growth. The centre or home should:

  • be safe, first and foremost
  • have a pleasant, comfortable and clean atmosphere
  • offer a variety of age-appropriate materials and 
play spaces to promote your child’s development
  • have a variety of toys, books and equipment that are also in good condition
  • offer regular opportunities for creative activities and exploration
  • have space available for quiet time and naps
  • maintain sanitary conditions for food preparations, diaper changes and bathroom use
  • have access to a safe outdoor space and provide time outdoors every day

2. INTERVIEW the childcare provider or program staff twice. Plan to spend at least half an hour during your first interview with the centre supervisor or provider asking questions about availability, childcare philosophy, fee schedules and any other questions you have. You find a list of interview questions at the Peterborough Family Resource Centre (PFRC) website,

3. OBSERVE the childcare environment and get a feel for the provider and the program. Don’t skip this step – it’s very important. You don’t want to question your choice later on. When you arrange for your second interview, also advise the centre that you want to spend some time observing the environment during program hours. Use the time to ask more questions and gain insight into the program or provider.

4. TALK with other parents who have used the childcare centre, nursery school, nanny or home childcare. Ask for references and check them out.
Following these steps carefully increases your chance of finding the right early learning and childcare arrangement for your child and family.

Types of Childcare

Childcare Centres. Childcare centres and nursery schools are licensed and governed by the Day Nurseries Act. This ensures uniform minimum standards in areas of health, programming, nutrition and staffing. When you choose centre-based care for your child you are choosing an organization and a program as well as a provider.
Home-Based Childcare/ Private Home Child Care. There are two types of home-based childcare:

  1. Licensed Private Home Childcare is regulated care with an agency providing support and supervision to the home childcare provider through home visits, equipment and education. These homes follow Ministry of Children and Family Services guidelines governing the number of children in the provider’s home as well as health and safety. The provider may care for a maximum of five children, including her/his own.
  2. Unlicensed Home Childcare is often referred to as informal childcare. The provider may care for a maximum of five children in addition to her own. Ministry guidelines should be followed. Parents are responsible for screening and choosing a mature and responsible provider that will provide the level of care they expect for their child. Informal care may be also provided by relatives, neighbours or nannies or offered by recreation programs.

Author: Trish Bucholtz

Trish Bucholtz, E.C.E, is a childcare resource consultant with the Peterborough Family Resource Centre

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