How to Find the Very Best Child Care for Your Family in 8 Simple Steps

Photo by David Hume Kennerly
Photo by David Hume Kennerly

You hear it all the time: Choosing the right child care center is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. No pressure! Yes, the hunt for a fantastic preschool can feel a little stressful at first—daunting even. But the rewards for your efforts are well worth it.

Research shows that just choosing a “high-quality” preschool for your child will help them get kindergarten-ready—and put them on the path to a fantastic future.

But how do you know “high-quality” versus so-so or no-go on your search? This guide for families with children ages 1 to 4 points you in the right direction. It also offers insights from us—child care experts who’ve been at it for nearly 50 years.

And, because we know you probably have a million things to do (you’re a parent—of course you do!), we kept it short and sweet. Reading this will take five minutes, tops.

Ready to find a center that will make your family’s lives better? Here is our preschool tour checklist to get you started!

little girl running into mom's arms

Step #1. Make It Easy on Yourself. Pick a Center Along Your Commuter Route

The rhythm of drop-off and pickup will soon become a reality of your days. So, conduct a little gut check: How do you really feel about things like traffic and drive times?

There are no hard-and-fast rules here, of course, but a child care center near your home or work, or on your commuter route, can be a real sanity saver—especially on those mornings when you’re flying out of the house with a wet head, a child, a car seat, a diaper bag, a computer, and a coffee mug, like some kind of urban Sherpa.

Consider things like: How many minutes are you willing to add to your commute to get a preschool education for your child? What’s more important to your family—being closer to home or closer to work?  


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Step #2. Do a Bit of Research. Find a Center That's Nationally Accredited

Great child care has come a long way in the last couple decades. And that’s a good thing. Nationally accredited centers will give your child everything they need to reach their full potential. 

You can think of accreditation as a big gold star in the world of early childhood education. Awarded by an independent organization, accredited centers meet rigorous standards in everything from teacher qualifications to curriculum to safety. (Nationally, only about 10 percent of centers are accredited; 98 percent of KinderCare Learning Centers are!)

Luckily, the National Association for the Education of Young Children's (NAEYC) handy search tool makes finding an accredited center easy. Simply plug in your ZIP code and boom, you get a list of accredited centers in your area. NAEYC isn’t the only accrediting body; you’ll find a similar search tool for the Association for Early Learning Leaders too.

Photo by David Hume Kennerly
Photo by David Hume Kennerly

Step #3. Make a Short List of What Matters Most to Your Family

The right center will honor and celebrate your family, no matter its structure, needs, beliefs, or even crazy little quirks.

Before you tour a program, it can help to find your focus. Make a list about what you need from a center, what you want for your child, and any concerns you may have, no matter how large or small.

Do you need commuting convenience? Do you want your child to be super-duper ready for kindergarten? Are you concerned about how the teachers will manage your spirited child when they knock down other kids’ block towers?

No matter what comes up, it’s valid! Use your answers as a conversation guide on your tours—and don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions.

Photo by She Saw Things Photography
Photo by She Saw Things Photography

Step #4. When You Tour, Make Sure the Center Has the Basics Down Pat

The tour is the be-all, when you get to check out the space, meet the preschool director, and imagine how adorable your child will look covered in finger paint. But if the center can’t get the basics right, move on.

  1. Cleanliness: The center should obviously be clean and tidy.
  2. Safety: Your center should have a strong emergency plan and be able to explain it to you—especially in areas prone to hurricanes, snowstorms, and earthquakes.
  3. Nutrition: Healthy body, healthy mind! Meals and snacks should be made up of whole-grain foods, plenty of fruits and veggies, and does not serve juice, which is high in sugar.
Photo by David Hume Kennerly
Photo by David Hume Kennerly

Step #5. Check to See if the Classrooms Are Made Just for Kids

Whether you’ve got a whirling dervish, a whiz kid, or quiet contemplator, a great classroom for kids empowers them all to reach their full learning potential. Great classrooms…

  1. Encourage exploration by providing easy access to many learning possibilities—science stations, art supplies, dress-up clothes, and games.
  2. Encourage reading by placing books within easy reach. Bonus points if the classroom is “print-rich.”
  3. Build a sense of belonging by hanging art at eye-level and labeling cubbies with names and pictures.
Photo by David Hume Kennerly
Photo by David Hume Kennerly

Step #6. Spend a Little Time with the Teachers—and Listen for Passion and Heart

If children love their teacher, they’ll love school—and love learning. (Parenting wins!) Take the time to observe them with the children in the classroom. Are the children engaged? Do the teachers seem to love what they do and being with the children? Ask them what they love about teaching littles or, if you have a concern about your child, bring it up. Their answers will tell you a lot about their passions and their openness to working with you! 

Photo by David Hume Kennerly
Photo by David Hume Kennerly

Step #7: Trust Your Instincts. You Know Your Family Best

After a tour, you will have a lot of information buzzing around in your head. Narrowing down what’s right for both of you can seem overwhelming at first, but asking yourself these questions can really help you out in the long run: Did you feel listened to, heard and understood? Was the center warm and welcoming? When in doubt, trust your gut! This is your child after all, and you know them best. 

Photo by David Hume Kennerly
Photo by David Hume Kennerly

Step #8. Still Unsure? It's Okay to Ask More Questions

Still on the fence? Go back for a second visit—whatever you need! A great center will be more than happy to honor your request. Just like we said at the beginning, the perfect center for you will make the experience all about you and your family!

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