When to Begin Your Child Care Search

High-quality care and education, starting in infancy, has been proven to build a strong foundation for learning, emotional intelligence and better health for the rest of a person’s life. Choosing a child care provider is one of the most important decisions that working parents will make, and while the search can be overwhelming, we’re here to make it easier.

As a part of the Nebraska Department of Education, the mission of Step Up to Quality is to help great child care providers in our state become even better. For families, we’re proud to offer a free provider search tool that helps you narrow down your search and feel confident in your choice among hundreds of high-quality child care providers.

As you begin your child care search, you may have some questions, including timing, what to look for and how to tell if a provider is the right fit for your family.

Searching for infant child care

It’s almost never too early to begin your child care search, but pregnant parents should begin searching for infant care as early as 20 weeks into a pregnancy. Because infant child care providers are required to have a low teacher-to-child ratio, there are fewer available infant spots.

Beginning your search during the second trimester will provide cushion time for likely waitlists, and it’ll also allow time for research, tours and provider interviews. Here are some questions to ask yourself — and providers — when considering a program for your infant:

  • Are the ratios and group size appropriate for my infant?
  • Do caregivers hold the infants or engage with them on the floor?
  • Do caregivers speak, sing and read to the infants?
  • How do you assess an infant’s skills, strengths and needs?
  • How will you communicate with us about our infant’s learning and development?

Every family has different child care needs. Download Step Up to Quality’s infant checklist as a starting point for your visit.

Searching for toddler and preschool child care

If you don’t plan to enroll your child in care until they’re a little older, begin your search at least one year ahead of your start date. If you currently have a toddler or preschooler, the time to begin your search is now! You don’t need to commit to a provider right away, but it’s important to know your options.

Inevitably, you may be in a situation where your ideal provider isn’t available. Don’t worry if you need to go with your second choice in the interim — you never know when a spot may open up.

Here are some questions to ask during your visit:

  • Are toys and materials well organized so that children can choose what interests them?
  • Is a daily schedule posted, using pictures and visuals, so that children can anticipate what will happen next?
  • Do staff answer children’s questions patiently? Do they ask children questions?
  • Do children have the ability to be involved in the creation of their daily activities? Is play prioritized?
  • How do you adapt learning activities to meet the needs of each child?

Learn more questions to ask in Step Up to Quality’s toddler and preschool child care checklists.

Start your search today

 Congratulations! By reading this blog, you’ve already begun your child care search. Ready to take the next step? Use our child care provider search tool to filter by age group, program type and distance to find a high-quality Nebraska child care program near you.