How To Choose the Right Childcare Option for Your Family

Overwhelmed by the sheer number of childcare options—not to mention the accompanying price tags? Start here.


Photo via Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

Daycare Centers

What they are: Standalone facilities that typically offer 9 a.m.-to-5 p.m. childcare and a play-based learning curriculum from licensed, private providers who often have some level of experience with early-childhood education.

Average cost: Daycare programs run around $21,000 a year for infants and $15,000 a year for four-year-olds—making Massachusetts the most expensive state for childcare.

Who they’re good for: Families in need of childcare during typical weekday work hours.


What they are: Experienced—though not necessarily licensed—childcare providers who offer long-term, part- or full-time care for children in their home. They may also take on general housekeeping responsibilities.

Average cost: Often the costliest childcare option, nannies run an average of $20 an hour in the Bay State depending on their level of experience and responsibilities.

Who they’re good for: Caregivers with unpredictable schedules looking for personalized childcare and help with things around the house.

Family Childcare Programs

What they are: Also known as in-home daycares, these smaller-scale programs operate out of a provider’s home. Massachusetts’ Department of Early Education and Care requires that in-home providers be licensed by the state, and allows them to supervise up to 10 children at a time if certain age and assistant requirements are met.

Average cost: More affordable than daycare facilities, in-home daycare programs in Massachusetts average $13,000 a year for infants and $12,000 a year for four-year-olds.

Who they’re good for: Households looking for flexible childcare options close to home, or parents who feel more comfortable with a lower child-to-provider ratio than at traditional daycare facilities.

Au pairs

What they are: Young, live-in nannies from countries around the world who provide childcare and cultural enrichment for children in exchange for room, board, and a weekly stipend. Au pair and host-family relationships are typically facilitated by an agency.

Average cost: In Massachusetts, au pairs are entitled to the greater of either the state minimum wage of $13.50 for up to 40 hours a week (above which families must pay time-and-a-half for care) or the minimum federal stipend of $195.75 a week, with a maximum deduction capped at $42 for meals and $35 for lodging. That’s not to mention typical au pair agency fees—at Cultural Care Au Pair agency, program and matching costs start at around $9,000, an industry average.

Who they’re good for: Families who are interested in exposing their child to a foreign language or culture and are comfortable warmly embracing the au pair as a new member of the family.

How to Choose the Right Daycare

Before you drop off your tyke on the first day away from home, you’ll want to ask these four questions.

How do you communicate with parents?

Whether you prefer a daily update on everything from potty training to playtime or a weekly overview, “make sure that the level of communication [offered] is comfortable for you as a parent,” says Laura Perille, CEO of the Boston-based childcare provider Nurtury. You also want to know that the center has very clear policies, Perille notes, in case of an emergency.

What does the daily schedule look like?

Depending on your child’s age, there should be scheduled times for eating, getting outside, and resting every day, says Ayesha Cammaerts, senior manager of community programs at Boston Children’s Hospital. But while structure is important, there should also be room in the daycare’s routine for individual flexibility, especially for younger children.

Can I see the physical space?

Because your child’s health and safety at daycare is a top priority, Cammaerts recommends touring the space in person to ensure the facility has ample natural light indoors, safe entry and exit points, and separate spaces for big and little kids. And while daily outdoor time is important, secure al fresco spaces can be hard to come by in the city. “If [children] have to go to an offsite space for outside activity, make sure that the route to that space is safe,” Cammaerts says, and that the daycare has strollers and other equipment for transportation.

How will you handle my child’s tougher moments?

From temper tantrums to arguments about Goldfish, it’s helpful to have a discussion with the people in charge about how they will support your little one when he or she struggles. Perille says to listen for words like “positive behavioral support” and “appropriate behavior reinforcement,” as opposed to discussions about “discipline.”

Read more about Massachusetts’ childcare crisis