Child Care Options

What are the most common types of center-based child care?

Child Care Centers

A child care center provides care for children whose parents are not available during working hours. The typical center offers children a variety of activities. Some centers emphasize specific learning activities, but others allow more time for free play. There is usually a daily routine with time set aside for indoor play, outdoor play, meals, and naps. Some child care centers may offer full day programs. Most child care centers are for children two and older, but some may provide care for infants.

Parent Cooperatives

In parent cooperatives, child care is provided by the childrens parents who take turns caring for the children. A preschool teacher of another qualified caregiver may organize the program and guide parents. Working for this co-op helps parents understand their childs development. Such a program costs considerably less than a child care center. It is probably not an option for families with both parents working full time, however.

Head Start Centers

This is a federal program set up to locally run child care facilities designed to help lower income and disadvantaged children become ready for school. Most Head Start centers have half-day sessions for four year olds. Head Start offers a variety of activities. The also provide meals, health care, and social services. Parents are expected to be active in the Head Start program. Studies show that children who attend well planned Head Start programs score better on tests and have better school readiness skills.


A preschool provides education programs for children aged 3 to 5. A preschool typically offers activities that help children develop in all areas. The staff usually includes one or more teachers and a number of aides. Aides assist the person in charge, but not as much as a lead teacher. Preschools usually offer half day sessions from two to five days a week. Some centers offer both child care for younger children and preschool programs for 3 to 5 year olds.

Specialized Preschools

Some preschools provide a specialized program that differs from the traditional approach. Montessori preschools are one example. They use special learning materials and follow the ideas of Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian educator. Children are encouraged to learn by exploring and experimenting with the materials provided. They are given the freedom to move from one activity to another as they wish. Another example is called Highscope. This program encourages children to be in charge of their learning.