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Daycare centers are like mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving dinner. Nothing fancy (although a few offer all the extras, such as computer and dance classes), but reliable and affordable compared to some other kinds of care such as nannies.
Some accept babies as young as six weeks old, and many allow children to stay until they enter kindergarten. You don't have to negotiate pay as you would with a nanny, it won't quit on you, and care is available when you need it.
For these reasons and more, daycare is often a great way to go.
What do the experts say?
Daycare centers are an easy target because they're the most institutional form of childcare, but this quality can work in their favor, too: They're usually regulated, offer a structured setting, and care is well-supervised. Experts say this arrangement can work well for children of any age as long as the center is of high quality
Daycare is best when teacher-to-child ratios are low and groups aren't too large. When looking for a place for your child, don't be seduced by new facilities that feature the latest toys. "Glitzy stuff doesn't at all speak to quality," says Liz Jaeger, one of more than 30 child development experts involved in an ongoing childcare study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Researchers evaluate quality by looking at the way caregivers interact with children, caregiver-to-child ratios, group size, classroom space, the level of training and education of caregivers, and equipment. A low ratio is an especially critical measure.
So if you're lucky enough to find a center of manageable size with great teachers and a stellar program, your child will probably thrive. If a high-quality daycare center isn't an option, then your child would do better in another kind of care. (Learn the signs of a good daycare.)
Grandma? Daycare? Real parents discuss finding childcare that works.
Top questions about daycare centers
> Are they licensed?
> What are the advantages?
> What are the disadvantages?
> How do I find one?
> How much will it cost?
> What are the signs of a good daycare center?
> What are the signs of a bad daycare center?
> How do I make this arrangement work?
What's the bottom line?
Expect to invest a lot of time in looking for a center that meets your needs. Pay close attention to teacher-to-child ratios, staff morale and expertise, and safety. In the end, the right daycare delivers a quality, relatively affordable form of childcare you can depend on.