The first step toward choosing child care is to know what your options are. The age of your child will help you determine what kinds of care are available to you. The Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC)
considers infants to be age 15 months or younger, toddlers to be 15 months to two years and nine months,
and preschoolers to be two years and nine months to five years. For an individual consultation or help finding child care, call Harvard’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at 877-327-4278.
Child care centers provide care in a group setting with planned activities. Children may be grouped according to age or placed in a mixed-age grouping. The staff are trained and supervised, and the centers are open weekdays, except in severe weather or during holidays or vacation. Most child care centers offer full- and partial-day enrollment; a parent selects and pays for a specific time slot. A child care center must be licensed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) and conform to EEC regulations for staff-to-child ratio, group size, staff qualifications and facilities. Centers vary in philosophy, size, number of qualified staff in each classroom, sites and facilities, degrees of parent participation, and whether they are for-profit or nonprofit. Harvard has six affiliated child care centers.
Nursery schools/preschools offer group programs for children who in most cases are at least two years and nine months old. They usually run for three hours, from 9 a.m. to noon. Extended days are often available, with some programs running until 3 p.m. or later. Nursery schools are also licensed by the EEC. The schools vary greatly as to philosophy, emphasis, and degree of parental involvement. In order to increase your odds of securing a space, it is advisable to apply at the beginning of October of the year before the child will enter.
- The staff has experience and education in early childhood and group care.
- A sufficient number of adults is available for supervision and individual attention.
- Child care centers are usually open year-round and are not affected by teacher vacations and illnesses.
- Activities are age-appropriate.
- Centers and nursery schools are usually in spaces specifically adapted or designed for child care.
- Parents have access to a community of other parents.
- Group care allows for age-appropriate socialization.
- Centers usually cannot accommodate parents’ early, late or flexible schedules.
- Most centers and nursery schools cannot accommodate sick children.
- Some children, especially those under age three, may not be ready to be with a larger group of children.
- Nursery schools usually do not operate for a full day, and tend to follow the school year, closing for school vacations, holidays, and the summer.
- Availability may be limited at certain times of the year or for certain ages.
- Costs can be high, especially for infants.
Children are cared for in the provider’s home. Family providers run their own businesses and set their own policies and rates; they may also offer more flexibility in enrollment and fee structure. Family providers may care for up to six children without an assistant, provided that no more than three of the children are under two years of age and at least one of the three is at least 15 months old and can walk unassisted. Large family child care homes with at least two providers can be licensed to care for up to 10 children. Massachusetts state law requires family day care providers to be licensed by the Department of Early Education and Care.
Family providers vary in terms of experience with children, the nature of activities, the physical environment, availability of materials and equipment and the number of children cared for.
- Providers are often more flexible about scheduling care.
- Family child care openings are easier to find in the middle of the year and on short notice.
- Providers may be flexible about caring for mildly ill children.
- The same person cares for the children all day and can share complete information with the parent.
- The parent–provider relationship is often individualized and close.
- Family child care generally costs less for infants and toddlers than other types of care.
- Family child care providers generally have less training than child care center staff.
- Family child care providers generally work alone with groups of up to six children. However, some do have full- or part-time assistants.
- The social network for parents is smaller in family child care, and there are fewer parent training opportunities.
- When the provider is ill, has an emergency, or suddenly goes out of business, parents may need to find alternative child care quickly unless the provider has an assistant or other backup.
Children are cared for by a live-in nanny or au pair or by a caregiver who comes to your home on a daily basis. This child care arrangement can provide the parents with the most flexible hours and, if necessary, more hours of care than group or family care. An au pair is generally a young adult from another country who is in the United States for a year as part of a cultural exchange program, who lives with a family, and who can provide limited child care assistance. For in-home providers, it is essential to check references carefully. Harvard has an arrangement for fee-reduced services with the American Nanny Company.
- It is convenient and may offer greater flexibility than other forms of care.
- All of the children in a family can be cared for in the same place at the same time.
- There is no need to transport your child.
- Care continues if your child is sick.
- It can minimize your child’s exposure to colds, viruses, and other illnesses.
- If you have several children, in-home care may be a more economical choice.
- The parent, as the employer, has the opportunity to determine much of the activity.
- A child can feel isolated being home all day with only the provider. You may need to make arrangements for your child to be with other children.
- It can be difficult to find a good provider. If a provider becomes ill or moves away, you must begin another search.
- There may be some restrictions on your space and privacy if you have a provider living with you.
- In-home providers are unlicensed. There is no state agency to which you can appeal for confirmation of a caregiver’s claims or reputation.
- It can be difficult to monitor the activities that go on in your home in your absence. For this reason, the screening of applicants is essential.
- In-home care can be the most costly kind of care available.