Three Types of Childcare: Which is Best for Your Child?

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Parents looking for childcare (and soon after, schooling; time flies!) in Toronto have SO many options - so many, in fact, that just starting the search can be a bit overwhelming.  You might just be pregnant and someone has suggested that you make sure you get on all the waitlists.  You might have older children and now with a new little one you are considering different options than your first time around.  Maybe your child has been in one setting but it just doesn’t feel like the best match for your family.

Trust me, I’ve been there and I’ve heard ALL the stories.

Consider this a mini course on different early childhood care and school options.  

It’s a little long, but totally worth it.

Let’s jump right in.

In my 15 years of experience, I have found that it helps to first decide what KIND of childcare you want BEFORE starting your search for where or who. 

Why? It will pare down those 3897 choices and help you to zero in on the program that will best fit your child.

Essentially, childcare options and providers in Toronto fit, broadly, into three categories.

1.    At home care (nanny, family member, babysitter etc).

2.    In Home Childcare

3.    Childcare Center

There are pros and cons to each option. Understanding each is crucial to finding a program that will work for your family.

At Home Care:

For simplicity I’m calling anyone who takes care of your children inside your home a nanny.  This can include a friend or family member, but typically refers to someone you are employing to care for your child in your own home on your schedule.

Things to consider:

One on one care:  A good nanny will provide loving care and undivided attention to your child. In the best circumstance, she will feel like a member of the family because of the deep bond created with your child.

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A controlled environment: Because the nanny comes to your home, you can be certain about the safety and cleanliness of your child’s daily environment.

If you have more than one child, your kids spend their time together with the nanny just as they do with you.

A good nanny can be hard to find: Many parents struggle to find a good nanny and will often go through many interviews and “trial periods” until they find the right fit. Having new people in and out of your home during this process can be stressful. 

Developing trust: It can take a while to build up trust and rapport with a nanny. Many parents are anxious for the first few months, as your child will be left alone with one person…the most successful arrangements aren’t by accident. Plan on spending a lot of time with your new nanny to get to know him/her and welcome them into your family.

If care arrangements aren’t working out with a friend or family member it can be challenging to address (I recommend long and detailed discussions beforehand about expectations of both parties).

Cost: Unless you have a really generous volunteer, a good nanny will most likely be your most expensive option for childcare. Why? You are essentially hiring a full time employee for your family and you absolutely should be paying that individual appropriately.  After all they are caring for at least one of your most dear family members.

Home Based Childcare:

An in-home childcare is a program of 6 children or less, usually staffed by one or two people in a private home. (Take note: if someone is caring for more than 6 children, they are required to have a license from the Ministry of Education to ensure health and safety guidelines are being met).

Things to consider:

Personal connection: The small group of children allows parents and kids to develop a close connection with the provider.

Local: This option can often be a comfortable match culturally and you might find someone who speaks your family’s home language.

Cost: For parents looking for the least expensive option, in home childcare is usually your best bet. Fees are lower due to the lack of overhead (it’s in someone’s house.), and because the owner is usually the sole employee.

Safety: Remember - this is a service provided in someone’s home, often by themselves. Be sure to inquire about safety plans such as: Will she be able to answer the phone when you call? Is there an emergency plan in the event of a fire or natural disaster? What happens if the provider has a medical emergency when she is with your child?

Reliability: In home programs often need to close when the provider is sick or on vacation. Remember to ask about how that is managed and think about how that will work with your schedule. Also, If there is a replacement provider, will you feel comfortable leaving your child alone with someone you don’t know?

Other family members: In home programs often have other family members present during the day as it’s their home as well. Be sure to ask detailed questions about who comes and goes during the day.

Childcare Centre:

A childcare centre is a larger program that usually offers care for a range of ages - from infancy through preschool age and, at times, elementary children after the school day is finished. Many childcare centres are corporate chains that operate many locations.

Things to consider:

Approach to children: Childcare centres are typically play-based environments that are friendly, caring, and warm.  There isn’t a specific educational approach or curriculum but activities are provided to entertain and supervise children on a scheduled routine. Children might be moved from one room to another based on rules rather than child considerations and programming is group based rather than having an individual focus.

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Reliability: Due to the size of the program, childcare centres offer very reliable care. They will always be open when scheduled and will bring in substitutes when staff is sick or on vacation.

Professionalism: As many childcare centres are owned by corporations, they tend to operate in a more professional or business like manner than in-home programs, with contracts, written policies, and other systems that might not be as necessary in a smaller more intimate setting.

Staff: Childcare centres are usually run like a business with centre directors managing staff schedules, cleaning routines, and policy compliance.  This could mean more transparency and comfort for parents with regards to the health and safety for their kids while away from home, compared with an in-home centre.  Be sure to inquire about the general staff culture and turn-over, as happy and long term employees mean better outcomes for your child.

Education of caregivers: Fortunately in Ontario, programs are required to staff in accordance with the provincial guidelines which require (at a minimum) Registered Early Childhood Educators (RECE) in each room.  That has dramatically changed the level of education and experience of staff members who work professionally with children.  These are individuals who are trained in the basic safety and needs of children and the implementation of play-based programs. 

If you've made it all the way here, congratulations!! It's a lot of work to raise a kid, isn't it? Whew. Keep going, you've got this.

What Category is Our School In?

We are a little bit different than the above choices.

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We have truly combined and expanded on the best aspects of each option to provide a unique solution for parents.

Things to consider:

Community: Parents often comment to me how much our school “feels good”. I interpret that as them feeling comfortable and trusting of us to provide the best care for their child. We work purposefully to build connections, through morning coffee chats with teachers to evening social events with other parents. You will get to know the teachers and the other children with whom your child spends the day.  We become your partners in supporting the growth of your awesome kid.

Professionalism: Our full time administrative staff means that phone calls and emails will always be responded to and that we are there to help you when needed. This administrative support also ensures that our teachers can focus 100% of their attention on your child.  Our principals are experienced educators who provide support and professional development to their teaching teams and ensure the authenticity and fidelity of our Montessori program. 

Education: We make no apologies - we are a SCHOOL that follows a specific curriculum that is individualized to meet the developmental stage of your child throughout their early years and through elementary.  As a student at our school they can spend all of their formative years with fewer transitions - they remain in the same class for 3 year cycles, strengthening bonds with teachers and peers, and can remain in the same whole school setting for at least 9 years.  Our program provides a rigorous education in all subject areas right from the beginning, building curiousity, problem solving, and executive functions.  We are just designed that way.

Safety: We meet and exceed all the legislated requirements under the Child Care and Early Years Act. From full background checks for all employees to a comprehensive emergency plan, we work hard to ensure your child’s safety.

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Our GREATEST asset: Amazing, amazing, amazing staff.  Our staff has been hand selected for experience, education and, most importantly, their personality and nature. They are the lifeblood of our organization.  Our lead teachers hold university degrees and additional speciality training in Montessori education. Our assistants are ECE or Montessori trained.  We support continuing education, career advancement, and strong salary and benefits.  We acknowledge and centre our staff at the heart of our schools because second to your children, they are the most important people at school.


Hopefully this information will help you to further refine your choice when evaluating all the options. Other posts on our site focus in on particular aspects of Montessori education.  We know this is a big decision and a unique one to each family. Don’t hesitate to be in touch with any questions you might have about who we are and how we do what we do everyday.