How to Choose a Daycare :: Tips for First-Time Moms



Three preschoolers sit on the ground with the middle child embracing them.Of all the decisions I made as a first-time mom, choosing a daycare was the toughest. I couldn’t find a cheat sheet or checklist to guide me. I was simultaneously full of questions and overwhelmed with information. My mind could visualize exactly what I wanted. The question was, could I find “the one?”

The Perfect Daycare

Truth be told, the “perfect” daycare is more idealistic than realistic. However, the perfect-for-you daycare does exist. Many daycares are franchises, and each location has unique qualities. This is a positive for parents!

Daycare options are vast! With a solid strategy, you will find the best daycare for your family.

>> RECOMMENDED RESOURCE :: Guide to Childcare in Dallas <<


As a first-time parent, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I started my daycare research where all millennial moms go: Facebook and Google. In hindsight, this was a poor strategy because I was inundated with information without a clear direction. We eventually found a wonderful daycare, but the journey to a decision wasn’t easy.

One of the perks of a mom community is experience and insight. I’ve shared wisdom and my revised strategy with friends and neighbors to streamline their search, and now I’m sharing it with you! My strategy consists of five thoughtful steps with tips for choosing the best daycare for your family.

>> RELATED READ :: How to Help Your Toddler Navigate Change <<

Make a List

Write down your wants and needs. Assign each item to a category: non-negotiable, flexible, nice to have, indifferent (optional). Narrow your list to the top two to three items for each category.

You may do this individually or with a partner/spouse. If done separately, reconcile your lists so you end with one joint list.

Points to consider include:

  • Location and hours, proximity to home and work
  • Curriculum: Montessori, STEM, dual-language, faith based
  • Cameras in class: parental access or office staff only
  • Food: provided or from home, included in tuition or add-on
  • Sleep: bedding from home v provided (inc. washing), comfort items allowed
  • Cleaning: products used, frequency of cleaning v disinfecting v sanitizing, toy removal (ex: when a child puts in their mouth)
  • Discipline methods
  • Extra-curricular activities available onsite
  • Uniform or home clothes
  • Enrollment: full-time, part-time, summer off
  • Calendar: follow ISD calendar, open during holiday breaks
  • Drop-off and pick-up: inside class, class door, lobby
  • Diversity of staff and students

three children in preschool classroom.Utilize Resources

Check out sites like Dallas Moms, local Facebook groups for moms, and Google. Search in groups before posting as daycare is a popular topic. Take notes about daycares frequently mentioned for positive reasons.

Topics to look for include:

  • Parent communication
  • Discipline
  • Staff turnover
  • Illnesses
  • Demeanor of kids

Review daycare websites for details to compare with your list from step one. Also, look-up daycares on the Health and Human Services website. Licensure, inspection reports, and violations/penalties are available at no cost.

Narrow the Options

Choose three to five daycares that fit much of your criteria and schedule a tour. Let the daycare representative guide the tour while you observe. Ask clarifying questions as appropriate and save in-depth questions for the end.

Tip: Schedule one or two daycare visits per day max. You want to be focused and attentive; after two visits, the details will blur together.

Things to observe include:

  • Staff demeanor and student interaction
  • Student demeanor
  • Cleanliness
  • Classroom setup and organization
  • Activities, especially for babies not sleeping or feeding

** You may be tempted to show-up unannounced to “see how things really are.” I recommend scheduling a tour, so the daycare can plan accordingly, including time for you to speak with teachers.

>> LISTEN :: The Childcare Dilemma :: Momfessions Podcast :: Episode 77 <<

Write Notes

On your phone or on a piece paper, take notes and observations about daycare before you leave the property. Be specific. Include observations, names of staff, and follow-up questions. Rate each daycare from 1-10 for quick comparison later. Cross a daycare off your list if you know it’s a “no.”

Make a Decision

Use your criteria list and debrief notes to compare your top choices. You may need to adjust your criteria to check more items on the list. If you feel torn between top contenders, schedule a follow-up visit, ask clarifying questions, and sleep before deciding.

  • Be focused yet flexible. Your priorities may shift in the right environment.
  • Be realistic with your daily routine and commute. Consider proximity of emergency contacts and where they would care for your child.
  • Daycares are used to first-time parents asking an abundance of questions, so ask them! Nothing is too small if it matters to you.
  • Plan to tour daycares around the fifth of pregnancy. Waitlists with a deposit are common and availability will influence your decision. (Tour earlier if you know waitlists are longer in your area.)
>> RELATED READ :: Nanny Versus Daycare: Who Wins? <<

You Got This!

Choosing childcare is tough, especially for first-time parents. Stay positive and use my strategy to streamline the process. You will find the perfect for you daycare! Remember — daycares want you to be confident and happy with your child’s care.

Final Thoughts

Once your child starts attending daycare, introduce yourself to other parents and exchange phone numbers. A group chat can ignite friendship, increase communication about illnesses, and plan play dates.

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Jennifer Fiske
Jennifer ("Jenn") Fiske grew up in San Antonio as the only-child from a military family. She's lived in DFW for 10 years with her husband, and their family has grown to include their toddler son and a sweet puppy. Jenn is a registered dietitian nutritionist with a master's in exercise and sports nutrition. She worked with FC Dallas for several seasons while also coaching gymnastics at WOGA Frisco. She's also worked with Medical City Healthcare, DFW Airport, and Frisco ISD. Jenn is a self-proclaimed bookworm who bakes when she's stressed. Jenn loves being active through strength training and yoga and exploring parks with her son. When it comes to family feeding and nutrition, Jenn believes keeping things simple and lighthearted paves the way for enjoyable family meals.


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