What I Looked For in a Daycare

I’ve had a lot of people ask me recently, for whatever reason, how I chose our daycare. I love to boast about our daycare & daycare provider because it is amazing. My daughter, Maggie, attends a home daycare in our city. I talked about finding it in this post.

Our provider is fantastic and does so many cool things with the kids. They get lots of outdoor time and attention because there are only 4 of them. And most importantly – my daughter loves to go. We never really had the “crying and difficult drop off” stage. We did a meet and greet (which I talked about in that previous post) and a few shorter days at daycare prior to starting full time. Maggie adjusted very well almost right away – but don’t worry if your child takes time to warm up, that’s totally expected/normal especially when they’re “pandemic babies” and have spent almost all their time with you and your close family!

How did I find this daycare and what was I looking for? Did it meet all my criteria? I’ll talk about that in this post – but please keep in mind I am not an expert. Actually, I don’t think anyone really is. This is a very personal choice based on your own comforts and preferences. Although there are people who know lots about daycares that can be a good resource for that information, the decision is ultimately based on what you want and are looking for. There is no right or wrong. Some people may strictly want a daycare centre for their own reasons, while others prefer a home daycare setting for example. There may be other criteria too that is specific to you. So I’m really just sharing to give an example, provide my thought process and some information about what I considered before/what I love now about our daycare. Maybe it will help someone with assessment and decision – maybe it won’t!

How do I find a daycare?

That is one question I get asked the most – where do you find out about daycares in your area and how do you know if they are “good”? Again – the good part is partially based in preferences; but it may also just be based on basic things we can all assess and that most parents look for. Things like: cleanliness, nice providers, drop off/pick up times, flexibility, activities and the type of methods they follow in the daycare setting; and more.

But the first thing you need to do before even thinking about what you like and don’t like is finding out where daycares are near you and what is available (many have wait lists so this is something to find out + consider as you plan your return to work).

So licensed childcares in Ontario can be searched on the Ministry of Education’s website. This is a good place to start for a basic list of what is available in your immediate area. You can also see unlicensed child cares that have violations against them on this registry – this is another good resource.

What is licensed vs unlicensed childcare?

Unlicensed providers are not registered with the Ministry of Education and are therefore not subject to inspections. This could mean that they are not meeting provincial safety standards. Even though they’re not on the regular assessment tour for the ministry, they do follow up on complaints which is why there is the registry of violations I linked above. An unlicensed facility would have 5 or less children in their care (including, if applicable, any of their own children under the age of 4). They also are not allowed to have more than 3 children under the age of 2 years. If they plan to have more than this amount, they must be licensed.

A licensed child care facility is therefore registered with the Ministry and is subject to inspection. Staff at these facilities must also meet certain requirements. They can care for children from infancy to school age. Many licensed facilities have subsidies available to increase affordability of care.

Licensed facilities can be centers or home daycares. Home daycares that are considered licensed are contracted by agencies that actually maintain the licensure with the ministry. Licensed home care limits are higher than unlicensed, as they can care for up to 6 children age 13 and under (still including any of their own kids age 4 and under).

I can’t really comment on “is one better than the other?” – as again, this will depend on both your preferences for the type of care/support your child receives and your knowledge of the actual provider or facility. There have been reports of unlicensed daycares and licensed daycares having violations, so one is not inherently better than the other. My best tip would be to 1) know what you want from your childcare provider; and 2) do a ton of research, including listening to reviews of those you trust, to make a decision about childcare.

Questions to ask a daycare/provider when considering their care

Part of doing research into daycare includes researching ~within yourself~, if you will, for what you are looking for in a daycare or daycare provider. Your values and beliefs will come into play here, as well as your preferences and things like location, accessibility and convenience to name a few.

The government of Ontario provides a page on questions you should ask a child care provider. I’ll discuss some of the things I thought about from this list below.

Costs of care

One main and probably often care-determining questions is – how much can I afford and how much does the care cost? Keep in mind that many providers will charge for things like late pick-ups or a certain number of sick days. I know that cost was a big concern for us – at the time I looked for daycare for my daughter, I was set to return back to a job where I made significantly less than I do in my current position. As a result, we had less than desirable to spend on daycare when daycare in our area is pretty costly (~75$/day at some locations). I obviously would not just accept anything for my child’s care – as I mentioned in my previous post on daycare, I never attended a daycare as a child and was therefore having a hard time wrapping my head around sending my kid to one (I was very blessed to be cared for by my grandparents in lieu of daycare). But cost was definitely still a factor because we didn’t want to be living on nothing just to send our kid to one (in that case, I would have just stayed home!).

If you’re concerned about cost, you can look into subsidized daycare in your area, or child care subsidy. There is eligibility criteria for this – you can find the information on your regions website. Here is Peel regions, for example (which has a great little calculator to see if you meet the criteria).

Safety and procedures

Cost and safety were definitely my #1 priorities. To be honest, the licensed vs unlicensed status was not my #1 concern – I was mostly concerned with references/reviews, safety information and details of how things were done.

One thing that was important to me specifically was how many kids there were – both from a safety standpoint and an “attention” or support standpoint. I was putting Maggie into daycare a bit earlier than I had originally planned (yes only about 2 months earlier but still!) and so I was really concerned about how much 1:1 time she would get, especially because she was not quite walking yet. I *personally* wanted to make sure she was getting a good amount of attention because that is what she was used to at home.

*Daycares have to have a certain ratio to support children – especially younger ones (and this is why even in licensed home daycares, there is a limit on children under 4).

I also wondered about common procedures – like if Maggie got hurt or sick, what were the next steps? There were all things I asked my daycare about and some things like sickness/injury are also included in contracts. Another good question is what happens if the provider is sick or the facility is closed due to unforeseen circumstances? You may be concerned about how payments will work at these times too.

Drop-offs and drop-ins

Another thing we needed to ask about was pick up and drop off times – if you have to be at work at a specific time or in a specific place, this is important to consider. Daycare drop-off and getting a child ready in the morning can be hectic (I’m going to be sharing how we manage the chaos in a separate post with some tips + tricks) so your whole morning routine will be different from both pre-baby and maternity leave. Doing a few “mock” days might be helpful to see how much time you might need. You can also use Google maps to estimate your commute at the exact time you will be driving it.

If you can visit or how the daycare does drop off is something else I remember many of my friends being concerned about, especially with daycare centres amidst the pandemic. This is a good thing to ask about if you’re worried about the goodbyes or want to be able to check in. Many daycares (home and centres) now have apps or even video feeds you can check in with too – so another good question to ask!

Other considerations

Other things you may want to know/ask about or that may be important to you (pulling from the governments list):

  • What food and snacks are offered?
    • What time are they offered? (Ideally, I aimed to align our home schedule with daycare or have it align with us so there was consistency for Maggie)
    • How do you deal with allergens? (if your child has an allergy, this may be an extra important question for you – and you’d also want to discuss your Epi Pen at this point, if applicable and how that will be stored/used/etc.)
    • Will you accommodate food from home or cultural preferences?
    • If you are breast or formula feeding you’ll want to ask about how it is stored, when bottles will be offered and/or share your typical schedule for example. Maggie was on bottles and solids when she first started daycare and I just sent milk for the week frozen – scheduling was flexible since we were really just offering it to her between meals then (she was still breastfeeding in the AM & multiple times in PM but not overnight).
  • What will they be doing at daycare? Activities, play, outings, etc?
    • You may prefer a certain approach to play or activities – such as Montessori – so you’d want to look for a daycare that follows these ideals.
    • I valued a daycare that offered open-ended play options, exploration, creativity and imagination. Outdoors is important to us as a family, so I wanted to send Maggie to a daycare that valued this as well (weather permitting).
  • How do you react to an upset or angry child? How do you react to different emotions and feelings?
    • This is really important too. You want to align your home approach with your daycare approach in my opinion. This would also align with your beliefs about discipline or dealing with emotions. For example, we follow a gentle parenting approach so I wanted to make sure my daycare followed something similar.
  • Staffing credentials? Reviews/references?
    • Center or home, this is important and it’s also nice to get some references (whether spoken from friends/family or someone you can rely on to give an honest review, or written formally for the provider). This is essentially like an interview after all.
    • CPR/First Aid certification – definitely important, and you want to make sure it is current.

You may have tons of other questions, concerns or topics of interest to discuss too. Remember this is very much preference-based and that this is just a basic “skeleton” of questions for you to start with.

I’ve outlined many of the things we looked for in a daycare above – mostly I just looked for somewhere I felt my child would be safe, supported and that she would love! We have been very lucky to have found that – my daughter did not have teary goodbyes at drop-offs often because she loves going to daycare. Of course she is still excited when mama or dada picks her up (and brother James now!) but she loves going, exploring and playing with her friends. I love that I can check in on Maggie during the day using our daycares app. And I love to see all the things she gets to do! Seriously, she probably loves going because it’s way more exciting and enriching than we can be some days. My husband and I have said “wow wish we had thought of that!” multiple times after looking at what Maggie did in a day. I’m learning but I’m not that good yet ha!

I recommend asking friends/family for recommendations (or neighbours/locals/etc) of good daycares around you then going to tour a few (I believe all of them are opening back up for this now). You may think one looks great online or in theory but then find it very different when you go there. Plan ahead – many people recommend looking while pregnant and honestly if you have specific needs in mind with some wait lists, it might be worth it! I know many people who waited years to get their children in to a certain centre or program. Picture how a daycare will fit into your schedule and your commute (if you commute) and make sure it works for you. Write down a list of things you want from a daycare with your partner (if applicable) and see which ones you toured line up. Listen to any gut feelings – you may know when something feels just right or totally wrong better than you think. You got this.

Additional Resources

Find & pay for child care – Ontario

Types of Child Care in Ontario

Questions to ask a child care provider – Ontario


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