(Co-founder & COO)
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 you 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?