an empty daycare room

I am the first to admit that I didn’t have it all figured out when I was pregnant with my oldest child. I thought choosing a daycare would be easy.

I was sorely mistaken.

Choosing a caregiver requires attention to all of the most important qualities of a good daycare.

*FYI some of the links in this article about qualities of a good daycare may be affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase we may get a commission (at no extra cost to you). For more info please see our disclaimer.

Qualities of a Good Daycare

1. Cleanliness and Safety

Your number one priority in a daycare is the safety of your child. Take a tour of the facility and look for any red flags. Some are obvious infractions like exposed wires or fire hazards. Others may not be as easy to spot.

The white glove test is a popular, if not infamous, method of testing a daycare’s cleanliness. No, you don’t have to put on a pair of white gloves and touch every questionable surface.

You can use a white cotton pad or a tissue to find just how much dirt and debris is allowed to accumulate. The amount of dirt that is acceptable is subjective and entirely up to you.

Another question of safety comes from the personnel. You need to be 100 percent certain that all staff members have undergone thorough background checks. If there is even a question about this you should move on.

Looking for Quality Daycare?

Find an affordable and qualified daycare center that fits your needs.

2. Excellent Organization

bucket with sanitize me written on it

I heard horror stories about daycares when I was researching my options. A local daycare took their charges on a field trip and lost a small child.

Another local daycare was distracted when a child left the facility and walked all the way home. Both were stories covered by the local news.

Both were real. Luckily, neither child was harmed, but damage was done nonetheless.

Lack of organization doesn’t mean that your child will be misplaced or allowed to run away. However, it can mean that your child won’t get the amount of attention you expect. It could also mean that egregious mistakes could take place.

Use your tour to help inform about organizational skills. Is the play area in order? Are supplies properly labeled? Does the administrator easily guide you through the facility or are there stumbling blocks along the way?

Deep Dive: How to Find a Good Daycare

3. Open and Honest Communication

The daycare administrator, caregivers and staff should be willing and able to communicate with you about questions and concerns. They should be open to feedback as well. They should provide you with several points of contact for during the working day and after hours.

The best daycares are proactive with their communication. Rather than waiting for you, they will reach out with any issues that arise. Many offer private social media groups for parents to communicate with staff. Some send out daily emails or weekly newsletters to share information about the activities at the school.

Ask about their communication plan. It is a good sign when a daycare offers proactive correspondence. It is an even better sign when they encourage parents to reach out.

Related: Surviving Your Baby’s First Time at Daycare

4. Highly Trained Staff

Each staff member must have a thorough background check in place. If you find this is not the practice at the daycare you are considering, don’t waste anymore of your time. Beyond the background check are specific training needs for caregivers.

Caregiver licensing requirements vary from state-to-state. Whether required by law in your state or not, there are some basic requirements you should look for in a quality daycare.

Ask if staff is trained in CPR, early childhood education, child development and/or nutrition. Find out if the daycare facility requires staff to have high school diplomas or undergraduate degrees. This information should be easily obtained.

5. Low Child-to-Caregiver Ratio

daycare worker watching two kids

The number of children per caregiver is a ratio that varies depending on the age of the child. Ask about this ratio when you talk with the daycare center. However, be certain to be specific about the age group in which your child will be included.

Child’s AgeChild-Adult RatioMaximum # of Children
(Group/Class Size)
Total Number of Adults for a Full Classroom or Group
0 months -12 months1 Adult per 3-4 Infants6-8 Infants Max2 Adults for 6-8 Infants
1 year – 2 years1 Adult per 3-6 Toddlers6-12 Toddlers Max2 Adults for 6-12 young adults
2 years – 3 years 1 Adult per 4-6 Older Toddlers8-12 Older Toddlers Max in a Group or Classroom2 Adults for 8-12 Older Toddlers
3 years – 5 years1 Adult per 6-10 Preschoolers12-20 Preschoolers Max in a Group or Classroom2 Adults for 12-20 Preschoolers
> 5 years1 Adult per 10-12 School-Age Kids20-24 Kids Max in a Group or Classroom for School-Age Group2 Adults for 20-24 School-Age Kids
Source: U.S. Administration for Children & Families

Any one caregiver should not have more than three to four infants (children under the age of one) on their watch, according to the Office of the Administration for Children and Families.

That number gets slightly larger as the child ages. However, there is ample evidence that shows children receive better care when the ratio of caregiver to child remains low.

Related: What Age Can a Child Start Daycare?

6. Well-Structured Activities

young kids playing outside

Activities might not be your concern if you are placing an infant in daycare. Eventually, however, you will want to know that your child has access to a full day of meaningful interaction.

A quality daycare offers reading, creative play, imaginative play, outdoor activities and free time. All of these should be offered in a structured way to ensure each child is given well-balanced access.

Ask your daycare if they offer a daily schedule or calendar of events. This simple ask can tell you how structured the day is. If there is no schedule, you can assume timely activities aren’t part of the plan.

Looking for Quality Daycare?

Find an affordable and qualified daycare center that fits your needs.

7. Positive Atmosphere

children playing with legos

One of the reasons a tour is important is to soak up the atmosphere.

Is the environment generally upbeat?

Do staff and administrators seem happy to be there?

If touring during the day, you may be able to watch some children as well. If they seem happy and well-balanced, the atmosphere is probably a positive one.

Most daycare centers are colorful, upbeat and full of fun. It might be difficult to tell if a daycare isn’t a happy place when the surroundings are so vibrant.

A method you can use to determine the atmosphere is to ask about staff turnover. High turnover is a red flag. Employees rarely quit jobs that make them happy.

Positivity is a subjective measurement. However, it is worth taking the time to assess how happy staff and children feel while at the daycare center.

8. Specialized Instruction

a young child playing with blocks

Not everyone wants a daycare center that has a strong focus in one particular area. When my husband and I were searching for daycares, we talked to one that was nature-based, another that was French immersive and a third that structured the entire day around musical activities. We loved those ideas, but what we were looking for was balance.

I wanted to find a daycare that had specialized instruction along with a more standard plan. I was elated to find a nursery school that offered a structured day along with Spanish lessons.

The addition of specialized instruction let me know that the caregiver would take the extra time to make sure each child is benefiting from their daycare experience.

Specialized instruction is not offered everywhere. Likewise, it may not be important to you until your child is older. Still, you may find that a daycare that offers something extra may go above and beyond in other aspects of childcare as well.

Related: This is When You Switch Daycares

9. Flexible Scheduling

Flexibility is very important to a number of families. You may work a in an environment that sometimes has late meetings. You may want to do your grocery shopping or run errands after work. This could require that your child stay at daycare longer than a standard day.

For some families, the opposite is true. I began working from home after my first child was born, which meant I still needed daycare but only on a part-time basis. I found a nursery school that allowed my child to be enrolled two to three days rather than a full five day work week.

This type of flexibility is important. A quality daycare may still have rigid schedules, but your top choice should be one that will work with you.

10. Proper Licensing and Good Reviews

It should go without saying that your daycare must have proper licensing. A business license ensures that the daycare facility meets all state and local requirements, the building code is up-to-date and all insurance is paid in full.

Some daycares, especially home daycares, may try to avoid some costs by not being licensed. This is both dangerous and illegal.

Good reviews are as important as any other item on this list. Parents are eager to share their experiences, whether or good or bad. Look for online reviews. Talk to friends and family members. Scour social media sites and look at local news sources for any information you might need when making your decision.

The daycare might offer a list of references. You can use these, but they are virtually guaranteed to be positive. Seek out as many reviews as you can on your own in order to find the most honest opinions of the facility prior to entrusting them with your child.

One of the ways I found the daycare we’re using now (and avoid the bad one we were considering) was by asking around at my job.

I was able to get information from some moms who had kids and they were able to tell me information that of course the daycare was not going to tell me.

Search for high quality daycares in your area.

Final Thoughts

These 10 important qualities are by no means exhaustive.

You must also consider what is important to you when choosing a daycare and weigh that along with all of these aspects. What quality is most important to you? Tell us in the comments!

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes a good daycare?

A good quality daycare is one that follows local laws and regulations, has standard procedures in place, and has well trained staff who are dedicated to educating and taking care of young kids.

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an empty daycare room