The Best Age To Start Daycare And Other Great Childcare Options

Best Age To Start Daycare

For many parents, deciding when their child should start daycare comes all too soon. 

Before you decide to send your little one for child care at a daycare center due to work or other circumstances that force your hand, you need to consider many factors.

Aside from determining the best age to start daycare, this article will explore other factors you should look for in a daycare center for your child. 

We’ll also touch on preschool decisions and other child care options outside of a daycare facility.

Best age to start daycare

There is no universal age to start daycare if you have the option of choosing when your child goes. 

First, you must consider why you want to send your child. Are you interested in daycare centers for the added social skills your child can learn by being around other children? 

Do you need some time for yourself and just need part-time care for a few hours a day? Do you want to go back to school or return to work and will need full-time care for your child?

Figuring out your needs and wants for your child is the first step. Once you have pinpointed your reason for wanting to start daycare, you can move on to choosing the right time.

Your child’s development

Infants’ first year of life is full of developmental milestones. 

If your child starts daycare before the age of seven months, they will most likely not have the separation anxiety that many older children have to deal with, and the transition will be fairly easy. 

However, science shows that the trade-off may not be all that beneficial.

Your child’s development needs a lot of time and attention in the first year. A daycare center may not be able to provide the one-on-one attention that your child will thrive from to develop their brain, body, and even their personality.

If you can avoid having your infant start daycare before age one, studies have shown that they will be better off for it. 

IQ levels are typically higher in children who stay at home or with family members and get the time, bonding, and attention they need for proper development. 

Keeping your child at home with you for the first year also helps them develop emotional maturity, so they can better thrive in a daycare environment when it’s time to enroll them.

Best Age To Start Daycare

Child development and the right age to start daycare

If the first year isn’t the ideal time to start daycare, when is it? 

While each child is different, studies have shown that if you base the development level of the average child as your barometer to determine the best age to start daycare, twelve to eighteen months is the prime time.

While you may have some separation anxiety to deal with, the transition tends to go more smoothly, usually only taking a few days. Exposure to other children will help to distract your child from the fact that you are not there, and social skills are nurtured.

Toddlers need the routine to adjust and feel secure, so waiting until 18 months to three years old can make it more difficult for your little one to transition without a period of resistance or tantrums.

What to look for in a daycare

When looking for quality daycare, there are several things to remember. 

Once you’ve decided that your child is the right age to start daycare and have researched different daycare settings, keep a list of questions to ask, and be sure to write down or record the answers to keep yourself from getting confused.

Different types of daycare settings

The first thing you’ll probably notice when you start looking into daycare options is that many types of childcare are available. 

Choosing the proper care type depends on your personal needs and wants, but understanding each is a great place to start.


This is when you hire someone who typically has some experience watching children but has no formal training. 

It can be a family member, friend, college student, retired teacher, or another person you trust to keep your child safe while you’re away.

Never hesitate to ask a potential babysitter to submit to a drug test or background check following your standards. You may also inspect their home. 

Only consider individuals who have a background in childcare and/or have a CPR certification. 

Ask for references, and contact past families who have hired the person to get a good idea of what sort of person you are leaving your child with.

In-home daycare

There are two types of in-home daycare: licensed and unlicensed. 

A licensed daycare has been inspected under state requirements for child ratios, safety, nutrition, child-appropriate activities, and other factors. 

While an unlicensed person does not have these requirements, they are open to being checked out and inspected by individual parents. You are free to interview the provider and ask any questions or raise any concerns you may have.

Care is in a person’s home, and there is often an area set up for children to play, learn, and eat. When looking into this type of care, you may want to check for how many children the person supervises, if there are children of the same age in the person’s care, and what the person’s educational and professional background may be. 

Also, ensure that the person’s home provides a clean and safe environment for your child.

When to begin daycare?

Childcare center

A quality daycare, or childcare center, can be state-funded and licensed or unlicensed. 

It is a facility that is not part of a home and is run like a business, with a director and employees. This is typically the next step if you are looking for a more professional setting than in-home care.

Starting daycare in a childcare center will put your child in a group setting of children in the same age bracket as your child. 

There may be a room for children in early childhood, a room for infants and babies, a room for preschool-age children, and possibly even a room for after-school care children who may attend in the afternoon.

These early childcare establishments usually take children starting at a young age but may have a minimum age of six months or so. Check with the individual business to ensure your child meets the enrollment requirements.

Make sure that the staff is not overwhelmed with the number of children they are in the care of and that the business is not understaffed. 

Also, when choosing a daycare option, ask about how much outdoor play the children get each day, whether there are nap times, what time meals are served, and what food is served. 

No one factor will choose the place that is right for your child.

Some daycares only accommodate the parent who works during the regular first shift or day job hours, while others are open well into the evening. 

Some allow for half-day attendance, while others require full-time enrollment. Some places need you to pay for an entire day of care, even if your child is only there for short periods throughout the week.

Au pairs and nannies

Another option is hiring someone to come to your home when your parental leave ends, or you need help caring for your child. This eliminates the need for your baby to adjust to a new environment. 

Most of the time, these professionals are licensed and may hold degrees. Like anyone else, you would consider hiring to do a job, look into the person’s credentials and background, and try to get to know them before hiring.

Best Age To Start Daycare

Best age to start preschool

Preschool is meant to encourage your child’s ability and readiness to learn in preparation for school. 

While there is no right age, the worst age to start is before the age of three. Preschool is typically most beneficial to children ages three through five, as they are usually more open to learning and can sit still and focus for extended periods.

Social development is another important aspect and one of the many benefits of preschool. Kids tend to thrive at school when they have attended a preschool first. 

While there is no perfect age to start, most preschools won’t take children under the age of three.

Final thoughts

When adults go back to work or need someone to care for their children for long periods, they look into potential caregivers outside their family at home. 

There’s no concrete answer to what age is best to start daycare. Only you know your toddler, infant, or child well enough to determine whether or not they are ready.

It’s often harder on the adults involved than on the child. 

Caregivers exist to nurture toddlers and babies and provide safe and quality childcare. Find a place you trust, and trust your gut to determine when your little one is truly ready.

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