As I've mentioned before, I'm a working mom so daycare is really important to me. On the pregnancy message board I am active on, the thought of daycare came up - namely the "in-home vs center" decision.
I have used both in-home and a daycare center. Based on my personal experience, I would never go back to an in-home daycare. But this post is not saying a center is "better than" in-home daycare. Simply, a daycare center is better for my family.
And as always, when bringing up a could-be controversial topic, I want to state just because I bring up a "pro" for a daycare center, it does ~not~ automatically mean it's a "con" for the in-home daycare. I've only used one in-home daycare and I understand they vary, as does centers. I'm just stating what I liked/disliked from what I have personally seen.
When I first had my daughter, I thought my maternity leave would be a perfect time to look for daycare. Boy, was I wrong! I had no idea the types of waiting lists there are out there! Especially for a top-notch daycare. I was very limited in my available choices.
I first started calling the daycare centers and the prices I was being quoted were knocking me off my feet. We didn't make as much as we do now 4 years ago and I've never had to make such room in the budget for something. Of course, now I know daycare is our biggest expense, more than mortgage or anything else, and it's just a way of life now. But at first, I couldn't comprehend this!
For one baby, I was being quoted $250-300/week, which now I find completely reasonable, but at the time, I just didn't understand how I could pay $800-1200 per month. My mortgage wasn't even that much. So I wrote daycare centers ~off~ my list and started searching for in-home care. They are so much cheaper, as it was usually one woman who could have 6-8 children in her home at a time and she got all the money. At $125/week, she could be looking to make $750-$1000 per week! Of course expenses and taxes and insurance would be taken from it, but it's not too shabby.
I used a referral service for in-home daycare. If you have no recommendations to go on, I highly suggest looking into a referral service. Through this list, I was given a list of in-homes that had availabilities and started by just calling. If I liked how the conversation went, I asked to stop by. If they insisted on an appointment, I crossed them off. If they were cool with me "just stopping by anytime", I went in. I ended up finding a wonderful woman who had one opening. She had all ages and her house was clean and had specific areas for play, eating, etc. She had adequate napping places for the children and I liked her. I immediately put down a deposit to save my space for when I needed care (my mother watched her from 3-6 months, so she started at 6 months old).
I didn't have much complaint about the care of my child, but then again, I didn't really know any better, as I have never been anywhere else. Ella was fed and clean whenever I showed up to pick her up. There was never chaos over normal child play. The woman was usually cooking dinner for her own family when I got there and it seemed nice and homelike.
But then things started going awry. My daycare girl's sister moved into her basement. I would come over to find her sister simply hanging out with her friends on the couch in the living room while all the children played around them. They weren't doing anything "wrong", I just didn't like people there. I didn't know who they were. I didn't have a background check on them like I did the provider. I then started to notice how these other people were a distraction to my daycare provider - just having normal conversations.
This really started to bother me in the few weeks before the birth of my second child. I already decided I did not want to add a 12 week old newborn to that household. Newborns are a lot of work, but so are 6 toddlers. I just was getting uncomfortable, so I pulled Ella out and kept her home with me until I delivered Allison and kept her home through my maternity leave. At this time, I decided I would find a center.
My reasonings for a daycare center were simple. I wanted age-appropriate care for each of my children. One provider in one house just can't do that. By now we were making a little more money and I put in our tax refund to a daycare fund. I couldn't afford a high end montessori type school, but I was able to still find good care. I put the kids into a daycare center and I got what I wanted - care that was 100% tailored to each child's age group. The center I used had ~many~ rooms: newborn-3 months, 3-6 months, 6-12 months not walking, 12-18 months walking, 18 months -potty train ready, potty training, 2-3 yr olds, 3-4 yr olds, 4-5 yr olds. The latter 3 groups had multiple classrooms too.
I got the age-tailored care for each of my children, but that's not all I got. I didn't realize the benefits (for me) a daycare center gave me until I had a daycare center.
~ I had checks and balances. In the center, the employees had a boss. In the in-home, she was her own boss. We all have bad days. We all get frustrated. But when my in-home provider got frustrated, she had no one to lean on. In the center, there was never a room with only one teacher. In fact, it's against the rules to not have at least two teachers at a time.
~ My girls always had a trusted teacher with them. If one was sick, there was a sub. During the teacher's lunch break, one teacher would be one they knew and the other would be the sub. Rarely were both teachers gone at the same time. Occasionally it happened, but since they were used to a subs coming in, this was never a problem.
~ Age tailored care was more than I expected. I was worried about having a teacher available to rock my little newborn when she needed to be fed or while she cried. While I got that, I got even more. Daily lesson plans. Daily play activities. Daily art time. All to the exact age of the room.
~ Due to the center's teachers being 100% teacher and not part teacher / part homeowner, the teachers at a center focus completely on the children. They didn't stop for 5 minutes to throw in a load of laundry. Or to answer the phone. Or to make dinner. In the center, at all times, there were two teachers completely focused on being a teacher. I don't understand how an in-home provider does this. How do they take a break? How do they go to the bathroom if they need to take some time?
~ I already mentioned it, but the lesson plans of my daycare center are amazing. They aren't just keeping my kids entertained during the day. They have a very specific schedule they follow and have a set time for learning. I was just blown away when my 2 1/2 year old came home and picked up a crayon and wrote her name on the bottom of a picture. My 4 year old knows all her letters, can write them, knows how to spell/write basic words and can count to 50. Hell, even ~I~, as their mother, didn't know they could learn that yet. It really opened my eyes and now I match what I do with them at home with what their weekly lesson plan is.
So, that's my thoughts. And again, I know there are many in-home daycares fulfill all of those points and more, but mine didn't. And had I not grown uncomfortable over something most in-home daycare users wouldn't of had happened to them, I'd never of moved them to a center.
I just feel a bit guilty my first decision was based on money. Had I known the value it was to me and my children, I would have gone with the center from the get-go.