When Should Your Child Start Daycare?

Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    What is the best age for your child to start daycare? When you have a young child, preschool and daycare come into play faster than you might expect.  

    Today we're going to take a look at when a child will get the most benefit out of daycare, how long they may need to stay at daycare and the benefits of enrolling. 

    Most centres offering infant daycare accept babies who are six weeks of age or older. 

    Along with considering when to begin daycare for your child, it's essential to learn about the different options and the pros and cons.

    There are certain things to look for when interviewing daycare candidates, and you may want to begin the interview process before your baby is even born to secure a prime daycare spot.

    When Babies Can Start Daycare

    When to start your child in daycare is a personal decision that may depend on many factors, including:

    • The length of your parental leave
    • Your partner's ability to take leave
    • Your financial responsibilities
    • Whether you have other childcare options, such as family members

    Although infants can start daycare at six weeks, many experts agree that the longer you can wait, the better. 

    This allows time for establishing a secure attachment with your child, complete healing of the umbilical cord, figuring out feeding and sleep patterns, and adjusting to a new life together.

    Since many working parents have unpaid leave and their families rely on their income, waiting until the baby is older is not always an option.

    Many daycare centres will not take babies under six weeks of age, and many facilities are not equipped to handle the unique needs of infants born prematurely or with particular medical concerns.

    However, there are other ways to ensure that these newborns receive excellent care while they're at work.​ 

    In-home care providers, family members, and nannies or au pairs are all options to consider.

    What Age Should A Child Start Daycare At?

    Research has shown that the best age for a child to start daycare is at least 12-months-old. 

    Now, just because that is the earliest age many people say is acceptable, that does not mean that your child will be ready for daycare that early. 

    The most significant consideration you need to consider is how your child reacts to being away from you. 

    Some studies have shown that starting daycare too early creates increased stress levels in infants, so it's a balance that you have to strike. 

    The two questions you need to ask yourself are: "How long will my child stay at daycare each day?" and "What is my child's natural stress level?"

    How Be Long Will They At Daycare?

    Up until three years old, infants experience much higher stress levels when left at daycare for a full day. 

    For most children, it's recommended they stick to half days until they are at least three, whenever possible.

    What Is Your Child's Natural Stress Level?

    Every kid is different, so you are the best judge of your child's stress and demeanour. For example, a typically easy-going and calm child will have a much easier time adjusting and adapting to childcare. 

    If your child gets anxious quickly, they will experience much more separation anxiety when away from you. 

    When you're not sure, you can try some half-days a few days a week to see how they respond, then slowly extend the time until they are acclimated.

    Types Of Infant Daycare To Consider

    You have several choices when it comes to daycare for your infant. Although centres, which provide care to groups of children, often do not accept babies younger than six weeks, other types of daycare providers may be willing to take them at an earlier age.

    Childcare centres

    Childcare centres offer care and supervision at their facility for infants and children, often divided up by age.

    Benefits of childcare centres:

    • The centre does not close if a teacher or assistant is sick or has an emergency.
    • They must meet state licensing requirements for cleanliness and safety.
    • Your child will interact with various adults and other children, which helps them with social development.
    • Your child will get used to a structured routine with everything happening at a set time during the day.

    Childcare centres are the most formalized childcare option in that they usually have fixed drop-off and pickup times, rules about whether sick children can be brought to daycare, and extra fees for certain services.

    Also, some centres only provide full-time care.

    Family Childcare Homes


    Also known as in-home daycare, this type of setting is similar to a childcare centre in that your baby will be in a group setting. 

    However, they will be cared for in the provider's home and maybe in a less structured environment than a childcare centre.

    You may like this arrangement, as having a bit less structure can be more home-like than the set schedule usually found in childcare centres.

    Advantages of in-home care:

    • Tend to be less expensive than childcare centres
    • Must meet state requirements (if the state has them), although they are different than those for child care centres
    • The home-like environment where your baby receives attention from caring adults and sees children of different ages
    • Maybe more flexible with your schedule, allowing you to drop off or pick up at varied times
    • Some in-home providers offer part-time care
    • May take infants younger than six weeks old

    Babies thrive in situations where they have a lot of one-on-one attention from a single caregiver, so that in-home daycare can be ideal at this stage. 

    There are typically a small number of babies per caregiver, and the caregiver can respond to babies' needs quickly. 


    Nannies care for your infant in your home. They can either live with you (where they are often referred to as au pairs) or come in on a daily or as-needed basis. 

    A nanny can offer your child more one-on-one attention and individualized activities based on your preferences.

    However, hiring a nanny is often the most expensive way to arrange care for your infant because you pay more for your child to have individualized attention.

    A thoughtful way to cut the cost in half is to do a nanny share, in which you and another parent hire a nanny to care for both of your children in one of your homes. As a result, you still get attentive care for your infant, but with less of a dent in your bank account.

    Benefits to hiring a nanny:

    • Greater flexibility with scheduling
    • More control over the kind of care your child receives
    • Individualized attention for your baby
    • Greater consistency and continuity of care
    • Convenience for you and your child

    When hiring a nanny, one thing to consider is that if they get sick or have car trouble, you may have to change your schedule or arrange for other childcare arrangements at the last minute.

    Nannies generally do not have to meet any requirements for education or health certifications.

    If it's important to you that your nanny knows infant CPR or has other qualifications, verifying this (and checking their references) will be up to you.

    Many parents who work from home choose to have their infants cared for by a nanny so that their baby can be close by all day. With more home-based jobs available than ever before, nannies are becoming increasingly popular.

    When To Start A Daycare Search

    It's best to start looking for daycare providers during pregnancy. 

    Childcare centres need the longest lead time, as they must follow strict limits on the number of infants they can accept at any given time. 

    Many high-quality child care centres fill up quickly and have waiting lists.

    If you know that you will need to go back to work within a certain number of weeks, begin scouting out daycare options early. 

    This way, you can focus on arranging childcare before you are also taking care of a newborn, recovering from birth, and getting ready for your return to work.

    What To Look For In Infant Daycare

    Be sure to ask about the following when visiting an infant daycare centre:

    • The staff's qualifications
    • The ratio of infants to care, providers,
    • The structure of the day
    • The centre's licensing qualifications

    Babies also need a clean and safe environment as they start to explore the world around them. 

    The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) links credentialing agencies for parents seeking quality daycare for their infants.

    The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) recommends a ratio of one adult to four babies in a group of no more than eight babies.

    Establishing an attachment with caregivers is very important for babies 18 months and younger.

    Continuity of care is the most important aspect at this stage. Babies need time to develop an attachment to and trust in the person who is caring for them.

    Infants can thrive in childcare as long as they enjoy plenty of attention, affection, playful interaction with caregivers, and rich language experiences.

    A quality caregiver will be sensitive to a baby's needs, feel comfortable expressing affection towards babies, and understand child development stages.

    Parents may be concerned about adverse effects on their children due to being placed in daycare at a young age.

    However, a study published in 2017 found that among young children in early childcare centres, those given high levels of emotional and behavioural support showed increased social competence a year later.

    This positive effect was seen regardless of the number of days per week the children went to daycare.

    How To Get Kids Ready For Child Care

    Are you now ready to start child care? First, check out these tips for finding the perfect place, then read up on how to get your little one prepared for the transition.

    Choosing A Child Care Facility

    Whether your child will be at a centre or in a private home, check that the facility is licensed by the state and hasn't been cited for any violations. 

    You can search for a high-quality early childhood program accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) at

    Next, find out if the child care location you're considering allows visits during operating hours. 

    This will let you see how they function. Look for the following factors to choose the best daycare option for your family.

    Safety Features

    Safety is your most fundamental concern when evaluating potential daycare centres. Check for covered electrical outlets, fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, and the presence of a first-aid kit. 

    You'll also want to look for locked cabinets and age-appropriate toys. Any toy with breakable parts or smaller than the inside of a toilet paper roll is a choking hazard for kids under 4.

    Healthy Foods

    Safety standards apply to food too. Growing toddlers must eat healthy snacks throughout the day, so ask to see the centre's meal schedule.

    Teacher-to-child Ratio

    The NAEYC recommends a maximum of 12 toddlers in a group, with at least one adult for every six kids. Ask the director of the children are supervised even when they're sleeping. Perhaps the most crucial safety feature is constant adult supervision.

    Cleanliness Of The Facilities

    In a daycare centre, cleanliness is also vital. 

    Before the age of 2, a child's immune system is especially vulnerable to viruses. To prevent germs from spreading, daycare staff must be scrupulous about washing their own and the children's hands and keeping the eating, sleeping, and diaper-changing areas immaculate.

    Qualified Staff Members

    Daycare for toddlers is not glorified babysitting. To get the most out of the experience, a toddler needs a caregiver who engages him in play and challenges him to stretch his skills.

    Seek out a program staffed by teachers with either a child development degree or a child development associate credential.

    Age-appropriate Curriculum

    Ask the director whether there is a gradually increasing focus on skill and language development as the kids approach age 2. 

    They should keep a log of diaper changes and nap times, as well as your child's mood and activities. 

    The curriculum should offer regular opportunities to learn through hands-on materials, exploration, and play. 

    Toddlers pick up math concepts by building with blocks and counting toys, and they gain early literacy skills through stories, songs, and finger play. 

    Caregivers should also consciously encourage kids to put on their coats by themselves and feed themselves.

    When you're visiting a facility, notice how the teachers engage the kids in play. If they're not exposing the kids to a wide variety of play experiences, choose another centre.

    Preparing Your Child For Daycare


    Once you've found the perfect child care program for your toddler, you may think the hard part is over. Guess again. 

    This is a tough transition for a toddler-especially if it's his first time away from home. Kids this age thrive on consistency; any significant change in their routine can cause an upset.

    Some tears are natural (on both sides), but there are some clear-cut steps you can take to help them feel at ease.

    Let Them Know What To Expect

    Before their first day, try reading picture books about going to child care or schools such as Bye-Bye Time by Elizabeth Verdick and The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, and talk to your child about what to expect.

    Ease Into Daycare

    Toddlers have a limited sense of object permanence; when you leave your child at daycare, they might not fully grasp that you'll be back later to pick them up. 

    So how can you ease their fears? First, don't just drop your baby off cold turkey. In the beginning, stay with him for as long as you can, even if it's all day for a week or so.

    Let them acclimate to the new environment gradually by sending them part-time for the first week, if possible.

    Stick To A Routine

    Pickup and drop-off times should be predictable, and try to establish a goodbye ritual too. And be sure to give your child a rundown of their morning. 

    Say," I'll drop you off and say goodbye, and then you and your teacher will read a story."

    Provide Some Comfort

    Give your tot a picture of you or a lovey to soothe them during the day. But, above all, show your child that you like their caregivers, and let them know that they'll have fun at the centre.

    Face Your Doubts

    Finally, acknowledge that you might have separation issues too. For example, "It's hard to hand your baby over to someone else. 

    But focusing on the friends she'll make and the fun she'll have will make both of you feel better about the experience.

    Benefits Of Daycare

    When your child is ready, there are many benefits to be gained, both for them and you.

    Early-age socialization with kids their age teaches valuable social skills that will be used later in life. 

    They will learn how to share, solve problems, and work as a team, which is invaluable to ensure their success later in school and life.

    Provides an opportunity to make friends early in life, making the experience less lonely or isolating.

    Being around other children will help them build a more robust immune system. 

    Sure this means when your child starts daycare, they may get sick a few times, but it's building up their natural defences. That means fewer colds and fewer missed school days as they grow up.

    Starting education early makes them more prepared for learning activities going forward, allowing them to make the most of them.

    You're going to get some time to yourself or adult interaction which, when you have a young child, we know is hard to come by.

    Enrolling your child in daycare can have incredible benefits, but it's essential to consider all of these things.


    The bottom line, it depends on your child. 

    Groups will be stressful for a two-year-old, no matter what. But some kids are more stressed than others by the sensory overload, noise, difficulty of making their needs known to caregivers, competition for toys, the necessity of accommodating their own needs to the schedule, etc. 

    This is NOT a normal state for a two-year-old. It is a modern idea that does not necessarily take little ones' needs into account.

    We justify it as good for them socially or academically. Unfortunately, it is not good academically, and it is over-rated socially.

    Generally speaking, waiting until after your child has had their first birthday can be a good time to start looking into a childcare service. Many parents look to between one and two years of age.

    Regarding cognitive development, studies have found negative effects, no significant links, and positive daycare effects. Research has shown that daycare hinders the quality of parent-child relations, does not hinder it, that the adverse effects are small and transitory, or intermittent.

    Daycare makes kids smarter.

    However, there was one encouraging caveat: Children in high-quality daycare had better language and cognitive development during the first four-and-a-half years of life. Even better, the benefits remain at least through the age of 15.

    Scroll to Top