In some parts of the country, getting your kid into the right daycare can be as competitive as getting junior into an Ivy League university. And while the situation is scratching for parody — the stuff of living situation comedy and witty romance — it's also one of the biggest challenges a new parent will face, with a price tag to match. (The annual cost of child care for an infant in a child care center is higher than a year's average at four-year public college in most states, according to one recent study.)
So where – and just as importantly , when – do you start? Well, pretty much the moment your at-home pregnancy test reads positively.
We're kidding. Mostly
Here, then, some tips for getting your kids into a great daycare.
Start early and research thoroughly
Your child could be spending 40 or more hours a week with a group of people you don You know what to do (and might never have), from teachers to fellow students. How do you ensure that time is spent well? That your child is safe and cared for, attended to in a way that is in line with your values?
You do your homework, thats how. And take it from me, my dad has been in four daycares (plus a nanny!) In her four short years of life: There is a lot of homework to be done. It takes time, and it takes energy, things that are in short supply for new parents. But this is important, so budget plenty of hours for both the research itself and for discussing it with your partner.
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Define your goals, including what "great" means
I almost forgot: Congrats on becoming a parent! It's wonderful, I promise. Just know that you have the best of intentions now now you will, in fact, make some compromises along the way. (For example, we all know screen time isn't great, when it's six and the kids are up and you just want to drink your coffee in peace, you realize God invented iPads for a reason… right?)  Anyway, one of those areas where you might need to compromise is in selecting your child's daycare. You might find an immersive, progressive school that is the total embodiment of your business… only to realize it nowhere near your daily commute. You might find a convenient center around the corner from your house, but just feel like a bath when touring the facility. Or discover it's way over your budget. More than likely, you'll find a wealth of options between those extremes: (not perfect) places, convenient (-ish) locations, prices you can (sort of) afford, with caring staffs (that will never be as loving) as you are with your child.
What you need to prioritize means most of you and your family and go about figuring out which options are most in line with those priorities. Things to consider include the aforementioned budget, values and location.
Additional considerations: Rules (both for children and for pickup times); approach to discipline; approach to mealtime (including what food is provided, if any); curriculum (particularly for toddlers and up); license and accreditation; and your overall gut feeling about the place
Ask around (online and off)
In a way, finding a daycare is like finding a great Chinese takeout restaurant – a trusted recommendation can go a long way. You can apply offline, IRL, by asking parents and neighbors you know. Or parents and you know know – we found that strangers are often happy, even eager, to discuss their child's daycare centers. Ask the parents you play at playgrounds or even in the waiting room at your ob or gynrician.
You can also go online to find opinions and information. Ask your Facebook friends, ask people on Nextdoor, look up mommy blogs or mommy groups (or daddy blogs / groups, if you can find them) and get a sense of what people are saying. It might help to ask about a few specific providers, rather than asking for open-ended recommendations.
Finally, your state may have an online database you can reference as well, in case you're having trouble just finding providers in the first place. Google your city and "licensed daycare."
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Safety research online
As mentioned, your local government likely has an online database of daycare facilities like this one for New York state. You should also find a database of any safety violations. The lists can be vaguely chilled in the way that dry, bureaucratic reports are – what does it mean that a was unlatched, or that a facility lacked up-to-date paperwork? – But they can open your eyes to potential concerns. If these reports reveal an issue with a facility you are considering, ask for an explanation, as well as information about the steps they have taken to reduce the chance of future violations.
State databases should also reference each center's accreditation . This will vary by state, so you'll want to brush up on what types or licenses are available in your state. Some family-run centers and faith-based facilities are held to a different (but not necessarily better) set of standards than publicly-funded programs, for example.
Suffice it to say it's a big decision and there's a lot of work that goes into making it. And while you should obviously take as much time as you need, you also want to consider that the best centers often have waiting lists, in which case you need to get your name on said list as soon as possible. Don't worry, though – even if your child doesn't get into the perfect center, they can make it into that fancy school day you've been dreaming about.
Louis Wilson is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in a wide array of publications, both online and in print. He often writes about travel, sports, popular culture, men's fashion and grooming, and more. He lives in Austin, Texas, where he has developed an unbridled passion for breakfast tacos, with his wife and two children. This article is sponsored by Haven Life Insurance Agency. Opinions are his own.