Child Care Center vs Home Daycare: Pros & Cons

I recently organized a child care seminar for parents and parents-to-be. The goal was to have an open discussion so that parents could bring all of their child care related questions, worries, hopes, and fears to the table. During the seminar, I realized the differences between child care centers and family child care (also referred to as home-based daycare) were unclear for a lot of families. I was also asked which environment was the best, child care center vs home daycare. My answer was simple: no option is intrinsically better than the other.

Whether it is better for to go with the home-like environment of a family child care provider or with the school-like environment of a center depends on the quality of the caregivers, program offered, and the specific needs of your family and your child.

In this post, I will outline some of the similarities and differences the two options offer, so that you can decide for yourself which one would suit your family better.

Family child care providers typically have:

  • 1 to 4 caregivers/teachers
  • smaller facilities with a home-like environment
  • fewer children (typically 3 to 12 children)
  • mixed age groups with children of different ages

Child care centers typically have:

  • larger staff (lots of caregivers/teachers, as high as 30+)
  • larger facilities with a more institutionalized feel
  • many more children (anywhere from around 20 to 150 or more)
  • separate age groups, i.e. all babies are together in 1 group, all preschoolers are together in another, etc.

The benefits/advantages of a home-based child care program include:

  • a home-like environment
  • a closer teacher to child bond since the caregiver often cares for the child the entire day
  • fewer cases of illnesses since the child is exposed to fewer children
  • mixed age groups allowing for more sibling interaction
  • better teacher to child ratios since there are fewer children per teacher
  • a more flexible caregiver who is accommodating to your needs (i.e. a more flexible vacation policy, more likely to allow for a flexible schedule, etc.)
  • lower tuition rates (usually)
  • a caregiver who often becomes part of the family

The benefits/advantages of attending a center-based child care program typically include:

  • potentially better educated/trained caregivers (although not always)
  • a more structured schedule and school-like environment, especially beneficial for older preschoolers in preparation for kindergarten
  • more likely to have an educationally enriched curriculum that encourages literacy, language development, social and emotional development
  • opportunities to socialize with more children and teachers
  • substitute teachers, so should the caregiver become ill, someone else will fill in
  • enrichment activity opportunities like soccer, dance, music or foreign language classes are common
  • the use of technology (i.e. computers, ipads, and smartboards) to assist learning (not as common in homes)
  • better secured entrance and possibly in-class video cameras for surveillance

The potential downsides/disadvantages of home-based child care include:

  • possibly less educated teachers and less educationally enriched curriculum
  • possibly more exposure to television
  • sole caregiver with little supervision, so trust is essential

The potential downsides/disadvantages of child care centers include:

  • different people caring for your children due to shifts and high staff turnover rates. Your child is less likely to form a deep bond with the caregivers
  • less flexible policies about sick leave, vacation, etc.
  • potential to be exposed to a rigid academic curriculum which may be developmentally inappropriate and could discourage future success
  • higher tuition rates (usually)

What’s best for your child?
Selecting quality child care is crucial to your child’s future. Studies have shown that positive and negative effects of child care have proven to be long lasting. Infants and toddlers in poor-quality care are more likely to become less compliant and self-regulated preschoolers, while high-quality child care programs help children do better in kindergarten and beyond.

Family child care providers and child care centers can both offer poor and high-quality child care, and each type of care has its advantages and disadvantages. Since every family is different, you must decide on which type of care is best for your child. Regardless of whether you go with a home daycare or a child care center, look for a high-quality program that is licensed, has low teacher-to-child ratios, offers a developmentally appropriate curriculum, and has trained and experienced caregivers who will be invested in your child.

Have you experienced other advantages or disadvantages in family or center-based care? What has your experience been like?

About the author

Evgeniya Usmanova

Co-founder | Mom-in-Chief


Leave a comment
  • I totally agree with the points mentioned in the post. All the pros and cons are perfectly described. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful post.

  • I agree that it is important to select childcare that is best for your child as an individual. It seems like a good idea to assess what your child needs most in order to transition appropriately. It could be a good idea to do a trial run with both kinds of care centers to see what best suits your child’s needs.

  • I am a family home provider. I worked as a legal secretary (now known as paralegal), until my twins were born. I stayed home , opened up a home daycare, taught Pre-K classes ,to late 2 years olds to the age of 5 , until they started school. I adveraged 40 hours of CEU credit training a year in health and safety, brain development, small and large motor skills, healthy foods and non healthy foods, extending great books, puppets, music, science, nature, colors, letters, numbers etc. I have Early Intervention come to my home and teach those who qualify Speech, motor skills, etc. and follow them thru elementary school. I am also Nationally Accredited, have CPR -First Aid every 2 years, and background checks. My staff consists of an Executive Assistant, 2 relief workers, 2 Subs. The staff has all the training I do. All the providers I know have great facilities and are great childcare teachers. We do not baby-sit at just Kids Daycare. I feel every drop of education a child gets is important. My daycare is structured and and the children love it.

  • Thanks for sharing. My oldest is getting to the age where we want to put her in a development type center to help prepare her for school. I really like that you said a center will have a structured schedule and school-like environment. I think that will be a huge help for my daughter to succeed in school.

  • I am EXTREMELY nervous about putting my soon to be 4 month old in daycare. Does anyone have experience in putting a child this young in daycare? Answers are greatly appreciated!

    • I had to do that with my son.
      I highly recommend doing a legitimate and reputable home run daycare (even word of mouth by family, friends or co workers).
      I had unfortunately put my son in a daycare setting and he didn’t thrive there. After two failed daycares, I came across a home run one and it was by far the best choice (my son is almost 4yrs old and we unfortunately have since moved so we no longer can attend there). He loved it there and the caregivers were amazing (and I found it out of luck).
      Good luck in your search.

  • For Australian readers:

    In Australia, Family Day Care and In Home Care educators are every bit as regulated and organised as centre based services.

    Ratios: In Australia, Family Day Care ratios are 1 educator to maximum 7 children (maximum 4 under school age).

    Qualifications: FDC educators (Care givers) must hold a minimum qualification of Certificate 3 in Children’s Services which is the same as long day care centre educators. Many have higher qualifications including Diplomas, Bachelor degrees and more.

    Supervision: FDC Educators are regularly monitored by scheme coordinators and must comply with all local, state & national rules, regulations and policies and are regularly assessed and rated by the national body under the National Quality Standards, just as are long day care centres.

    Curriculum: FDC educators are required to plan and programme for individual children’s learning needs and interests and to publish and make public the learning programme. We are also required to set goals and track them for each child, documenting the achievements of each child. Language and literacy, indigenous awareness, cultural competence, nutrition, science, social behaviour, sustainable living, healthy lifestyles, mathematic concepts & understanding… and the list goes on and on are embedded in our daily routines. Television plays little to no part in most of our curriculum choices. In addition, we are required to document and share our observations of children’s learning with parents, based on our Early Years Learning Framework and Nation Quality Framework.

    In terms of other differences: excursions are logistically easier for Family Day Care services due to the smaller ratios and risk assessment and action planning for smaller numbers and transportation. So trips to the local library, post office, grocer, zoo, parks, cinema, playgroups, YMCA, art galleries etc are commonplace in FDC services.
    Many FDC educators offer before and after school care including pick up and delivery to school and kindergarten, thus allowing children the continued familiarity and support from a trusted educator.

    Relationships in FDC are generally much stronger as the educator is consistently the same person all day everyday, sometimes for 12 or more years. Family members usually have the opportunity for greater involvement in FDC settings as they also become part of the educator’s extended community (family) As FDC educators spend so much time with the children in their care, they know the children incredibly well, and will notice any subtle changes to health or behaviour much sooner than sometimes even their parent.

  • never saw a site like this, relaly impressed. compared to other blogs with this write-up this was definatly the most effective web site. will save.

  • I want to get my kids the best care and education as fast as I can. My daughter is only four, but I want to get her into a child care program. I like to hear this good news you’ve shared, like how the program is a home-like environment.

  • I am thinking about allowing my 2-year-old go to a center. He is now at a home child care facility, but I can’t say I’m too pleased about it. I am usually a fan of home-based childcare centers, but some of the things that I’m encountering is starting to become annoying. For example, my child’s provider sent me a text message the night before me having to go to work, to inform me that she had a fever of 104 degrees along with vomiting. She said she didn’t want to get any of the kids sick so she was closing for a day? I told her that maybe she should go the urgent care, but she said she already scheduled an appointment with her doctor for 7 am the following morning. I was skeptical, but I left it alone. Fast forward a week, my child’s provider is now stating that she made an appointment with the doctor a month and 1/2 ago for a different ailment. She said that she doesn’t know if she will make it back in time to care for my son. In my opinion, if you don’t want to do your job, close your center, Don’t inconvenience people because you don’t want to deal with it for that day. I’ve had in home providers in the past that were excellent and not making excuses to keep my child. I’m not making excuses when you demand your pay? All I ask for is mutual respect.

  • I think it’s really important for families looking for care to explore all their options. As an early childhood educator, I have worked in a variety of environments. The pros and cons for each listed can be easily switched to the other side. A lot of home child care programs have quality structured preschool programming (and some don’t). At the same time, a lot of child care center have quality structure preschool programming (and some don’t).

    Also, a lot of highly educated providers end up leaving center-based programs to create their own home-based programs because of some centers poor-quality programming. I’ve heard (so don’t quote me on this one) that Family Child Care programs tend to have higher qualified teachers than at centers. Also, centers have a lot of turnover.

    I think families will benefit a lot from visiting all types of programs and learning about each school’s strategies for curriculum, philosophy, and staff development. And, learn about how licensing works in their state. In California, you are able to look up all facilities’ licensing visits and see if there are any violations. That has saved some parents from enrolling children at a center with a ton of violations!

    Good luck in your search for care! It’s worth the effort when you find that perfect school for your little one!

    • Absolutely! Thanks so much for the insightful comment, Lesley. It can definitely go both ways. Parents should definitely visit different types of programs and learn about each child care program’s curriculum, philosophy, teachers, etc. Thank you!

  • I wasn’t aware that family care even existed, so it was good to hear about its advantages and disadvantages and compare it to child care. I like the sounds of both of them for different reasons, but considering that my daughter is 4 I think that a child care center will be best, based on what you said about how they help prepare kids for kindergarten. I’ll just make sure that the curriculum is age and ability appropriate for my daughter!

    • I prepare children for kindergarten in my home daycare. The quality of material and how fun it is for the child is most important. If it’s fun, a child will be more likely to accept the challenge. As far a structure goes, young children flourish with free choice. It’s how their brains grow. If a young child is told how to think and what to think too much, it leads to behavior and sensory problems. My daycare has about 1 hour of instruction a day and a lot of field trips.

  • I am liking child care because there are more caregivers/teachers. Also, more kids mean more friends for my daughter. That is the most important to me to have friendships. Thanks for the advice!

  • My brother in law and sister are trying to figure out what to do with my nieces while they are at work. They are thinking a day care, but can’t decide. This article has some good points that I think can help them figure this out.

  • It’s nice to know that in child care centers they usually separate the kids into age groups. I was a little worried at first that they would all be in the same group and our future kid would be looked over. My wife and I are pregnant! We are really, really excited but we need to figure out how we are going to handle work and taking care of our new baby in a few months. Luckily my wife will be able to take be home for a while before needing to go back to work. Thank you for the info, it was really helpful!

  • Thanks for listing the pros and cons of in-home child care and child care centers. I think you are right when you say that both type can be good or bad. It all depends on how much you trust them. Rather, it all comes down to doing your homework before choosing a child care program. As long as parents do this they won’t have any problem.

  • Thanks for your post. My sister used to run an in home daycare for some of her friends. Because of this, and everything else I have heard about daycare, I just assumed that having an in home day care was better. I hadn’t considered that the kids would have less supervision and that the teaching might not be as good. I’ll have to rethink my ideas about daycare, but I think you are right that I should always look for a high quality program.

  • This is some great information to consider when looking at these two options. It seems like there are a lot of factors that you should look at before deciding. Making sure you know exactly what you need can help narrow down your search. We’ll be sure to keep this in mind as we look around for child care!

  • I liked that you mentioned how center-based child care programs typically have a structured schedule and school-like environment. One thing that I’ve been worried about is how my child would adjust to a day to day school schedule before starting kindergarten. Getting him used to a structured schedule while he’s in preschool would help him to quickly acclimate to a new school once he finishes preschool. Thanks for the information!

  • Thanks for sharing these thorough pros and cons lists. This does help the conversations I’ve been having with my wife about what to do with our little ones. I think we will tentatively start reaching out to day care locations.

  • Recently, I have been trying to decide on which one to enroll my child in. I agree that it really matters on the level of quality of the care given. I will need to remember this as I search. Thank you for the great information.

  • I really appreciate the list of pro’s and cons of a child care center vs. a home daycare. My son is going to be turning four and I feel that he needs to be around other kids now instead of a babysitter. I like how in the center-based child care program, they have potentially better educated/trained caregivers. That way they can teach my son all the things he needs to know before he goes to kindergarten. Thanks again for this list of comparisons!

  • Prior to opening my family child care I worked 7 years in center based child care. Then worked 2 years in a home day care. Due to my experience I have been able to combine the best of both worlds. I offer my parents the professional, learning, technology integration environment and stability of a center. While also providing a clean, flexible family like environment for a reasonable price. My self and my staff complete at least 4 classes yearly and attend conferences. I have witnessed first hand the things mentioned in the article on both sides. Thank you for providing an equal look at the possible good and bad of both family and center based child care. In the end the family has to decide which works better for their family.

  • Hi Jen! This is a great article showing the different ends of the spectrum! I just wanted to note that there are some places that try to combine the best of both. Ours is small, about 12 babies up to age 2 and a few toddlers up to 3 upstairs. Our son has a few caregivers but one that takes care of him most and that he definitily is bonded to. It might be worth considering parent benefits too. The parents have a relationship and a co-op for professional development days when the center is closed. I’m not sure how common this type of place is, but it’s a nice combination!

  • I take offense to the ideas that family childcare providers are often less educated and don’t offer a rich curriculum. Where do you get your information? I belong to a network of curriculum rich providers who are not only well-educated, but continue to further their training despite having met requirements. We work so much harder than center based staff, and deserve your respect…I don’t feel like we have it.

    • Hi Jennifer. Thanks for reading and for your comment. The exact quote is, “The potential downsides/disadvantages of home-based child care include: possibly less educated teachers and less educationally enriched curriculum.” Please note that I used the word “possibly”. I have a lot of respect for family child care providers as I’ve worked with hundreds of them. There are many wonderful providers who have been in the industry for a long time and don’t have Bachelor degrees, and there are providers who do and still don’t make great teachers. I’ve also worked with providers who follow an existing curriculum or create their own, and some who wing it. The word “possibly” was used intentionally. The post doesn’t say that family child care providers are uneducated and without a curriculum period. In fact if you read the article in its entirety, you will see that I have mentioned the potential advantages and disadvantages of each type of care (centers and home-based). If anything, I tried to breakdown the stereotype parents sometimes have of family providers as being less safe and second-best to centers. My ultimate point with which I started the post and with which I ended is that “Family child care providers and child care centers can both offer poor and high-quality child care, and each type of care has its advantages and disadvantages. Regardless of whether you go with a home daycare or a child care center, look for a high-quality program that is licensed, has low teacher-to-child ratios, offers a developmentally appropriate curriculum, and has trained and experienced caregivers who will be invested in your child.”

    • After reading this I think I like the idea of family infant/child care. I mean don’t get me wrong a day car facility sounds nice but I like the idea that it is a more home like environment. When I have kids I want them to feel like they are at home when I can’t be there. Why do family child care providers usually only allow a few kids to join their group?

  • Wonderful post about the pros and cons of both child care centers and home day care. It is important that you select the best option for your child. Thanks for sharing!

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