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Home-Based Daycare vs. Childcare Center

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Childcare > Home-Based Daycare vs. Childcare Center


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Stay with family daycare or take UC Childcare spot?

May 2009

I find myself with a positive but difficult decision to make, and could really use some advice from student parents and folks who have used the UC child care system. I am a grad student who will be writing my dissertation come this fall. My son, who will be 11 months old, has been offered a full fee spot starting in August in the Haste St child care center at UC. It is a full time spot at $1815 per month, and of course, cost is an issue. We live about 20 minutes away from campus, and my son is currently in a family daycare 5 minutes from our home. It costs $10 an hour and we mostly only pay for the hours we actually use.

We have been really happy with our family daycare, and I'm wondering whether we should consider moving our son to Haste St in August. How many hours per week should I anticipate having him in care? (My doctorate is in the humanities.) Is it feasible to plan on putting him in care for half days, spending the other half of the day with him, and then working after he goes to bed, my ideal? Or will I really need all day to work? If we don't actually have him in care full time, it's less expensive to stay with the family daycare, but for full time care, UC is cheaper.

I've heard such great things about the UC program; how have your recent experiences with it been? Would my son get some benefit from the professional care at UC that he would not receive in his family daycare? Would placing my son in UC care help me find a community of student parents? What about the issue of care near home versus care near school, when I plan on working from home some of the time? Finally, we may move within the next year, but that plan is up in the air and we don't know exactly where we would move to, but places that are nowhere near the family daycare are certainly possibilities. Any sage advice? Can't believe we got a spot


If you like where you are, stay. I have 3 kids, all of whom will most likely graduate from UC child care (1 on his way to K, 1 in Pre-K, 1 baby your child's age on the way into the program after a year home with dad). However, I am also a grad student, and I qualify for subsidized care. I pay next to nothing (relatively, though I am at the top of the scale, it's a steal) and am very happy with our arrangement. I L-O-V-E our teachers and our centers. The teachers are engaged and creative at our centers (Girton, Clark Kerr, ITC), and our children are happy, bright, and challenged.

However... I wouldn't say it's worth 1800 dollars a month to go to Haste st. I have experience with that center, and was not impressed. The decision to build an ultra-modern, solar powered whatever was out of line with the supposed vision of UC. It is now a debt that hangs over the budget of the entire ECEP system. The nickname is ''Waste St.'' among the rest of us in centers that are more humble in their attractiveness, but no less wonderful. You will probably be the only student parent in your room at Haste as well, and while that might not be a big deal, I found the social ties forged with my fellow student parents to be a big draw to the other centers.

So while I have been blessed with a very enriching experience for my children, if I had 1800 dollars a month per child to spend on preschool or child care, I wouldn't spend it at UC. Just my opinion... you can ask the moderator for my email if you would like to talk about it further. Sarah


I can't speak to the issue of what kind of daycare would be better for your child. that is a personal decision and I suspect your child would be fine in either.

But I did write my dissertation with a young baby and here is what worked for me. I had childcare part time, about 4-5 hours a day, in the morning.

I found that if I woke up, took my child to childcare, and then came home and sat at the computer writing for 3-4 hours, that was my most productive time. I don't think I could have been productive for more than 4 hours a day. The good thing was that I knew I only had a certain amount of time, so I made sure that I didn't get distracted with other things like housework during my writing time.

In the end, I finished a lot quicker than many other classmates who didn't have children. I was forced to focus and get it done, and I think that was a benefit. finished!


How lucky you are to be able to choose between two such great options. If it were me, I'd look at the needs of the child. In another 6 months, he's going to need to run and play and be exposed to messy, stimulating experiences that he can't get at home.(Finger painting, glitter/glue, water, clay, and sand play, lots of small toys for manipulating.)It will improve his speech and language greatly to be exposed to others who are speaking and to have to use his speech. If you think he'll get these experiences at the family daycare, stay there. If you think he'd have more variety of experiences at the center, go there. tough choice.
Our daughter is just finishing 3 years in UC daycare (she was at Clark Kerr Infant Center, not Haste St., so I can't speak directly to the Haste St. experience). Also, my husband and I are staff, not students at UC, so I won't be able to give you direct advice about how many hours you might anticipate using when writing your dissertation - we used all of the hours that Cal provided (7:45am to 5) and wished on some days that the day ran longer!

Overall, it is an excellent program. Kids get the most out of it when they are fully engaged in the entire day. The expectation (at CKIC at least) is that all kids arrive by 9am so that they can eat together and begin a semi-structured day (lots of play/music/art in the mornings, communal lunch, nap, and then more playing/going for walks in the afternoon, along with an afternoon snack). The day is less structured for the younger kids (sometimes they have 2 naps a day depending on their schedules). Pick ups begin around 3 and continue till 5:30.

We loved that our daughter had the same teachers throughout her three years (they follow the kids instead of the kids moving room to room as they get older). That created lots of security for her and knowledge for the staff about her personality. The teachers have excellent training, know developmental milestones and craft appropriate activities, and give daily feedback on what your child did and how they are progressing.

I hope students who are at Haste St will reply to you to give their perspective of how many hours they use and if Haste has the same desire for the kids to be there full time M-F to take advantage of what the program has to offer and to bond with the group. Happy CKIC parent


I've been tentatively offered a subsidized position for my son in UC care for the fall (after waiting 8 months) so can't yet evaluate the center and whether it's worth the cost. But I have been writing my dissertation over the last year (my son's first year) with PT babysitting-- about 15 hours a week. It's been really convenient to have flexible hours and a location very close to our place. But I have to say it's been very frustrating to get work done and 15-20 hours is nothing when it comes to writing, thinking. Add in occasional meetings on campus, and I'm left with very little time. I sometimes try to work at night when it's urgent but after feeding/bathing and nursing him to sleep I'm too exhausted. So I don't at all recommend working nights as a realistic option. If you're eager to finish school and are considering an academic career (as I am), ultimately, in my experience, it's going to take FT care. Good luck! There are lots of us going through this... anon
Dear grad student mom, You mentioned a lot of variables in your post but I think the one that matters most is the issue of fulltime vs. parttime care. If you decide you need FT care, you should go with UC for reasons of cost and (possibly) a more enriching program. If you don't, you should stay where you are if you are happy with it.

Regarding FT vs. PT ... I am a new PhD, and I wrote my dissertation when my 2 kids were both under 4. I am now in a pretty intense postdoc and aiming for a tenure-track job at a research university. Without FT childcare, I would have found it difficult, then or now, to maintain the kind of productivity I need for my career (not to mention my mental health). I do do a little bit of work in the evenings after the kids are asleep (mostly email), but that time is often taken up with laundry, lunches for the next day, etc.

That said, I have many other grad student friends who are parents, and not all of them have felt they needed FT care during the dissertation-writing stage, particularly those who were aiming toward industry jobs (non-academic) or less- competitive teaching positions. If you are JUST writing your dissertation and not also trying to teach, publish other work in the top journals, attend conferences, etc., etc., you may be able to get by with less childcare. So I think it depends on how you see yourself as an academic and how many working hours you need to sustain that. mama, ph.d.


Hi there, I'm a Humanities grad student writing a dissertation with a child in the UC child care system, so I wanted to respond to your post. We didn't get a spot until my son was 2 1/2 however, so I don't have advice about the infant-toddler center. From everything I've read, small family day cares are supposed to be better for very young children. In the UC programs there tends to be lots of kids, lots of teachers, lots of Student Assistants who revolve in and out of your kid's life all the time. That kind of large program may not be ideal before kindergarten (or maybe even then), especially if you feel your child is attached and happy where he/she is. I've been worried about attachment issues with my kid, as he's had a parade of people go through his life in the last 2 1/2 years.

For us, it was a question of no childcare or UC, so we've gone with it and have been glad. I really couldn't have written my dissertation without it. I have heard about those who wrote for five hours a day (during nap and bedtime) but it certainly never worked out that way for me.

I have liked meeting student parents, but the UC system seems to be more full of undergrad parents than grad parents, and is more designed for their needs. Ask, for example, if Haste Street offers summer childcare. If you plan to be writing in the summer and have to switch your kid somewhere else, you may want to consider that. I'd be happy to answer more specific questions if you email me directly. Katie


You should stay with the family daycare or get a nanny share!

It's hard to gauge whether the UC is better due to professional care; you didn't mention all the daycare offers, but at this age, love is the most important ingredient, and you did say you're already happy. Alternatively, you could easily pay the same rate or better in a nanny share with just one other child.

You know, no terms are set in stone, especially these days. If I were you, I would let my provider know that I'd ''gotten in'' to UC childcare, which is cheaper than her if you go F/T, but that you're really happy with her. I bet you could get her to match or go lower than the UC rate, to retain you, especially since you are established, stable income for her. Not to mention you might still get the flexibility to see what your weekly needs are as time goes on.

I wouldn't consider a large childcare situation for at least another year of your child's life.


With our first two, the kids were in daycare part time and I worked full time, part of the time while they were in daycare and part of the time after they were in bed. Not sure how much more time you'll be working on your dissertation, but you can probably get a reasonable amount of time if you have a helpful spouse. Anyway, it is probably at least possible for you to get your ideal situation sometimes.

We switched #2 to Haste St. after his old daycare closed. We like it but don't love it. That said, despite the fact that we only need part time care, we are sending #3 there in the fall. The biggest reason is that we were told that with the budget cuts, they may be shifting things around and there is no guarantee there will be slots for the younger kids later on. We decided we didn't want to take the chance of never getting him in.

One more thing to think about, we knew someone who was in grad school and had their child at a preschool in Berkeley despite living in, I think, Fremont. It wound up being a pain for her because she didn't want/need to go to campus every days but then her choice was to have a long drive or to have her kid underfoot all day while she was trying to work. So you need to think if this is going to be an issue for you. Maybe we'll see you at Haste St. in August


What are the pros and cons?

May 2004

I would like to send my son when he turns one to a daycare. Because the list of daycares is so long I realize I first need to make a decision and chose between home based daycare or daycare center. What are the pros and cons for each? Roni


Both of my children have been in a high-quality childcare center since they were infants. One of the primary reasons we chose a center was because there are more licensing requirements and 'checks' on centers. Some of the other benefits we have found over the years:

- Low child to teacher ratio (3:1) which means your baby/child gets individual attention when he/she needs it.

- Separation by age group. This keeps the toys and activities age appropriate and prevents the little ones from being run over by the bigger kids.

- Experience and education. A high-quality center requires some level of training for all teachers, certification or a BA by head teachers, and provides or encourages on-going training/education. At a center, there are a variety of teachers - some with years and years of experience and some who are young and full of energy and fresh ideas - which creates a nice balance.

- Your child will form bonds with several teachers over the years, instead of just one or two. Good luck with your search!


We currently send our son to a home-based daycare. My husband was quite worried about it at first (we only did it on the advice of two people we knew extremely well, and because their children were going there also). My husband's concern was the lack of supervision of home- based daycares. It's often just a woman and some kids, and no one really knows what happens there during the day. On the other hand, we could not currently imagine a nicer place for our child to be going. He's there with two care providers, the same two always (no one's going to quit and be replaced), so there's no issue with a child being attached to an employee who then quits. In addition, there are only 10 kids (and only 8 at a time) -- who are all very good friends now, and each one gets incredibly warm and individualized attention. Plus, it's in our neighborhood, and we've made friends with the parents of the children. Karen
The age and temperament of your child matter a lot in choosing between home-based and a center. You also need to consider what sort of peers you would like for your child (mixed age group or same age group) and how many (lots of children/stimulation, or more limited interaction).

In my own case, I had my son in a home based daycare from 5 months to 2.5 years, and then in a daycare/preschool setting from 2.5 yrs on. I visited a few centers and some home-based places and came away thinking that a young child under 2 could not really benefit from the more educational and physical activities that daycare centers are good at providing. An intimate surrounding seemed the better place for a little one. In the centers that I visited, those under two were also stuck together in a room with other babies, and did not get to mix with older children. Since my child loved learning (to walk, to eat, etc.) by following the example of older kids, I really liked the mixed ages that you can find in a home-based environment. He was the youngest in his home-based daycare when he entered; the oldest was four. Rather than prove a danger to him (the argument of my friends who prefer same-age grouping), the older kids were wonderful in playing with him and providing extra stimulation which he found much more interesting than adult attention.

I also got the sense that a home-based daycare could better adjust the day to my child, especially when he was younger and his 'schedule' (napping, etc.) kept changing. Bigger centers, in order to manage, seemed more rigid in what the kids had to do.

Finally, I have the preception (perhaps wrong) that there might be less sickness passed around if there are fewer kids, as there tend to be in home-based daycares. Your child will still get sick once they go to daycare (once every six weeks for us!), but he still seemed somewhat better off than an another child that went to a center. Some of the arguments against a home-based center is problems if the provider gets sick (no one to cover) and/or fears about comptency, etc. that are not checked by anyone as they would be in a larger institution. In my case I used two absolutely wonderful home-based daycares and never had either problem. I think each only called sick one day a year. And, they have been much more flexible about drop off and pick up times when we had extraordinary situations than a center would have been. That said, I think once the child is about 2.5, centers with more educational activities and more children can be a good thing, the main reason we are leaving our provider in September. Irene


There are benefits and drawbacks to both settings.

Personally, I prefer a home-based Daycare until a child is old enough to communicate pretty well (sometime between ages 2 and 3 years.) I think that babies/toddlers are better off in an environment that is as home-like as possible, where they can sleep and eat when they feel the need and are not surrounded by too many people. Most home-based daycares don't have more than 5 kids (which depends on the license the caregiver has) so they are more likd a little family. Additionally, our pediatrician has mentioned that babies get fewer colds when they are in child care with less than 5 other kids.

The draw backs are: 1)the caregiver is not supervised by anyone but the parents... so if you are suspicious, you have nothing but your gut to go on. 2) when the caregiver is on vacation, you have to make alternate arrangements because their isn't an automatic substitute. another mom


I like the idea of a home based daycare in many ways but I chose a daycare center for my sons.

For me the drawback of a home daycare wasn't that my child might not have care on a day when the provider needed to take vacation or sick leave, but rather that the provider would end up NOT taking those days off. Coming to work sick when you work with kids is not a good thing, but if there is no paid sick leave, or no easy way to get a substitute, it often happens.

One of my childcare requirements is that the teachers have the same type of benefits I do: paid vacation leave, paid sick leave, paid health insurance, etc. Of course it may not be at the same level I have, but they must have something. This was not something I could provide for a nanny, so I chose a center. Not every center offers these things, but I asked every daycare I called about these issues, and chose one that does.

Also, I want my children cared for by teachers who can reasonably chose providing care as a career (not just a temp job). I believe that having benefits like sick leave, health coverage, etc. makes it easier for it to be a real career, and helps prevent burnout. Granted, even at the great and expensive center we chose, the salaries probably aren't much... but it is a start. Along the lines of preventing burnout, I like the way our center supports our teachers: there are enough extra ''hands'' so that everyone gets breaks throughout the day, and there is always a ''floater'' teacher who helps out whereever the need is greatest. The teachers are part of a real community and provide important moral support for each other. All this leads to less turnover, which is better for my kids, and to happier teachers I think. - Charis


Warm family daycare vs. center with better ratio

May 2009

I am moving to Davis this month (I am a grad student up there), and I've been looking for appropriate child care for my 11 month old. I have looked at every center that accepts infants and I've been really unimpressed with all of the ones with openings--not with the facilities, but with the staff. I had a much better feeling from a home-based center with a large lisence--meaning that they can have up to 12 children as long as there are only - i think- only 2 under the age of 2. The woman running the center and her "aide" were extremely warm towards the children, who all seemed to be very happy and occupied during my 1 1/2 hr visit. She had tons of activities for the children and has had her lisence for about 18 years. I am really leaning towards going with this woman, but I hesitate for one reason-- I frankly don't know how 2 people can care for up to 12 kids, and I wonder how difficult this will be for my son who has been cared! f! or only by my mother and a babysitter. I don't want to shelter him from experiencing other kids and social situations. On the contrary, I think that this will be great for him. He loves watching children and I really liked the family atmosphere of this woman's home. But 12 kids? Will he freak out?

The caregiver has children ranging from 18 months to 4 1/2 yrs, but most are 2-3 yrs of age. Does anyone have any advice about this? My dilemma is this: should I put my son in a center with a 4:1 teacher/infant ratio with unimpressive staff, or can I trust his care to a home based child care with (what seems to me to be) a staggering 6:1 teacher/child ratio? Any advice or comments?


My best advice to you is go for the warm and caring staff. I have many years of childcare experience, and I know that low ratios mean nothing if the caring is not there. Also, the number of children actually at the center is more important than the ratio. A center with 60 children and 15 staff is usually much more intimidating than 12 kids with 2 staff. The quality of the relationship is key. Children, especially little ones, need to feel that the adults who care for them really do care. Also, centers tend to have a very high staff turnover rate, making it difficult for kids to make real connections.

My suggestion is to talk with the woman to find out how many children they actually have at any given day or time of day, and what ages they are. The ages of the children really does make a difference, because older children are generally easier to care for. Give your child at least a month to adjust before making any rash decisions. Feel free to contact me if you want to discuss this further. Good luck. Michele


I would follow my gut instincts. If you haven't talked with the parents about your concerns, I would do that first. If the warmth and caring are at the home care, if the children seem happy and if the parents have calmed your concerns, then I would go with the home care. Just because the ratio is lower at the daycare, it doesn't mean they will get the nurturing you want for your child. Remember, even though you would hate to do it, you can always change facilities. Linda
I say, go with the family daycare. I think there's a lot to be said for gut feelings. I also think it feels more natural and comfortable for a young child to be in a family setting. My son (almost 20 months) started going to a family daycare part time at about 14 months. I'm not even sure that the woman who runs it is licensed. She doesn't have an aide, and usually has six kids, but there are times when there have been 8 there when I pick him up! But the thing is, it just doesn't matter because she's so good, the kids all love her, my son feels very comfortable there, and feels connected to the other kids. I would also check references, because they can be the best resource! Anonymous
Best advice is to go to these places during their operating hours and watch how they do things. If they interrupt talking to you constantly to deal with the kids, you know where their priorities are. I interviewed one woman who got angry with me because her kids got all wet playing with water while she was talking to me. Plus the fact that she asked me to come over afrter the kids had left and I refused. needless to say, I didn't pick her. Any good place will not mind you checking them out. You'll feel better for doing it as well marianne
Both family day cares and day care centers, and places with both high and low ratios, can all have very loving, attentive and long-time staff. Any of these can also have more stressed-out, less demonstrative, less attentive and short-time staff. The same goes for baby-sitters and nannies. My advice is to go with the center that you find provides the most loving and happy environment for your child. And remember to truly look at the situation from your child's perspective. Suzanne
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