Finding the Right Childcare Center


As soon as I began announcing that I was expecting, one of the first statements I heard after, “Congratulations!” was, “You better start looking for a daycare.” I had no idea that some daycares have lists that are TWO YEARS LONG! I already felt behind, and I was only 12 weeks pregnant.

So I jumped right in and called every daycare in a 20 mile radius to start setting up tours. I realized during my first tour that I had no idea what I was even looking for or what questions I should be asking. I had to regroup.

That was about two years ago. We were so lucky to find a wonderful place for our little one after many tours and lots of questions. Here are some things to consider as you begin your search.


Did you know that there are national standards for quality childcare and that daycare centers can apply for accreditation? You can search for places in your area who are part of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Accreditation as a jumping off point. The standards for NAEYC include 10 components centered around children’s education, relationships, teachers and management. Every great daycare does not have this accreditation, but there are great ones that do. Search to see if there is one close to you.

The Facility

  • Is it secure? Look for a gate with a code or a buzzer or something that prevents just anyone from walking in.  
  • Is it welcoming? After you get past the padlock, does this seem like a place where children are happy and engaged? Is there artwork on the walls? Are there menus or lesson plans outside the classrooms to give you a look into your child’s day?
  • Is it clean? When I say clean, I don’t mean not messy. I look for a mess that indicates play is taking place and encouraged. I hope to see children playing with blocks or dress-up clothes, perhaps a few paint splatters on the floor. By clean, I mean sanitary.  
  • Is there a place to play outside? Do they have water play in the summer? 

The Staff and Teachers

  • Are they friendly and do they love children? Do you like the way they talk to and interact with the children?
  • Ask about discipline and make sure their views align with your own. I prefer positive interactions and reinforcement and appreciate that the teachers at my son’s school do too.
  • Is there a lot of turnover with teachers, or have they been around awhile?  
  • Don’t forget to ask about CPR certification. Some centers require all teachers are trained, while others only have a few staff members certified. Find out. 

The Curriculum

I believe in learning through play and was able to find a center where my child does exactly that. They paint, they sing, they talk, it’s amazing. There are no televisions (obviously), and his day is filled with positive interactions and learning. They play outside, they play in the play kitchen, there are blocks, and once I arrived to see my baby in a cardboard box with a marker having the time of his life while working on his fine motor skills. Also, are there books?!


I love the daily sheet with the overview of my guy’s day. They tell me what he eats, how often he poops, and if he does anything exciting. I love it. Ask how and when you get updates. Some centers even email pictures throughout the day. And make sure they have an open-door policy, meaning you can come by whenever you want and for no reason other than needing a baby hug.

The Price

Y’all. Daycare is expensive. Consider what you are getting for the cost. In addition to excellent childcare, my daycare provides all meals and snacks. He has a hot, well-balanced lunch every day that I don’t have to pack. Some centers follow the school district calendar and have several days when they are closed. You may find several great centers, so crunch the numbers to see which is the best financial decision if all other things are positive.

Making the Final Decision

It is challenging and scary to leave your baby in someone else’s care, no matter what your situation is. Trust your instincts. You know best, and if a place feels icky, trust that instinct. And be patient. I didn’t have a spot for my baby until three weeks before I went back to work. It all worked out well, and we could not be happier. His teachers show him so much love. They play with him all day, keep him safe and happy, and keep me updated. He has learned so much that I’m blown away. I didn’t teach him where his nose is or how to clean off the table; that all came from his sweet teachers. Don’t forget to ask other moms where they take their babies. Rest assured you’ll find somewhere you love too! 

Do you have a daycare center you absolutely love? What important factors would you add to the list?

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Sarah Shuster
Sarah grew up in Lancaster, SC but has called Columbia home for nearly 10 years since her undergrad days at Presbyterian College. Columbia holds a special place in her heart, as it’s where she got her first “grown up” job, obtained her Masters of Library and Information Science degree from USC, and met her husband, Todd. She became a mother for the first time three years ago to Todd’s two sweet daughters, and loves watching them grow into unique and interesting young ladies (12 & 14) who inspire her daily. She is also experiencing life with an infant for the first time with their newest family member, a silly, happy 6-month-old baby boy. Sarah is a full time children’s librarian, and loves that her passion and her career have aligned to form dreamy days of sharing her love of literacy and learning with children and families. Sarah enjoys practicing her cake decorating skills, reading, brunch, ridiculously long showers (a luxury now with an infant), working out, good coffee and perfecting the art of crockpot cooking.


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