Child Care: Infant/Toddler Center-Based Care

What is center-based care?

Child care centers provide an organized group setting away from home. They may also be called preschools, nursery schools, or learning centers. Most centers take children 3 to 5 years of age who are toilet-trained. Some have infant or toddler nurseries for children younger than 3.

Child care centers are licensed by the state. They must meet safety requirements and the center staff must have certain kinds of training. The states also have rules about the number of adults needed to take care of a certain number of children. Check your state's requirements for center-based infant and toddler care.

Ask the Child Care Provider:

  • Is the child care center licensed? Is the licensing permit current?
  • What are the tuition payments? When are they due?
  • What are the hours? Holiday and vacation schedule?
  • Is an initial registration fee required? What are admission requirements?
  • Are there extra charges for such things as snacks, meals, transportation, or late pick-up?
  • Are fees reduced if more than one child enrolls?
  • Are deductions offered for periods of absence?
  • Is financial assistance available?
  • Is safe transportation provided?
  • How many children does each adult take care of?

Observe or Ask About:


Does the center have:

  • carpeting, pads, and drapery to absorb extraneous noise?
  • child-sized furniture?
  • a cheerful, colorful atmosphere?
  • ample developmental and age appropriate toys and art materials?
  • plenty of indoor and outdoor space?
  • special areas for quiet and active play?
  • smoke detectors and fire extinguishers? Regular fire drills? Alternate exits?


Does the staff:

  • genuinely seem to enjoy cuddling, holding, and talking to my baby?
  • seem cheerful, warm, and affectionate?
  • welcome my questions and suggestions?
  • share my childrearing philosophy?
  • take time to share my child's experiences with me?
  • really listen and talk to the children?
  • have low turnover?
  • sensitively handle feelings of fear, shyness, upset, and anger?
  • respect each child's unique background and interests?
  • guide rather than direct behavior?
  • kneel or sit at child's eye level?
  • spend individual time with each child?
  • actively play with children, indoors and out?
  • emphasize children's strengths and accomplishments?
  • handle discipline positively?
  • establish and consistently maintain limits?


Does the program:

  • balance active, physical activities with quiet, restful ones?
  • provide ample rest and nap times?
  • prohibit play that could quickly get out of hand?
  • encourage children to express themselves?
  • patiently encourage toddlers to solve some problems on their own?
  • provide ample opportunities for children to feel good about themselves?
  • help children deal with feelings constructively?
  • provide security through a well-defined, predictable schedule of daily activities?
  • balance structured and unstructured activities?
  • design graduated goals for each child?
  • encourage language development?

Health and Safety

  • Are important phone numbers posted near the phone? (Examples include police, fire, poison control center, hospital, children's healthcare providers, ambulance.)
  • Are there first aid kits, smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers on the premises?
  • Does the staff always know how to get in touch with both parents?
  • Is my child always watched carefully, indoors and out?
  • Is each child required to have an up-to-date immunization record?
  • Does the facility meet state standards for how many children can be taken care of by one staff person?
  • Are staff and children taught to wash hands with soap and water after diaper changes or contact with body fluids?
  • Is my baby checked often when in a crib or playpen?
  • Is all baby equipment strong, stable, and in good repair?
  • Are the crib slats no more than 2 and 3/8 inches apart? Does the crib have protective bumper pads? Does the mattress fit firmly along the side of the crib?
  • Does the center have separate cribs and crib sheets for each infant?
  • Do strollers or infant seats have safety harnesses?
  • Are the crib and playpen free of toys that could be used to climb out?
  • Can all doors inside the center be opened from the outside at all times?
  • Are the outside doors and windows locked?
  • Do strong screens or metal bars cover the windows? (especially important above ground level)
  • Do all glass doors have decals?
  • Are the rooms well ventilated and comfortable year-round?
  • Are the bathroom facilities clean and easily accessible to children?
  • Are latched safety gates placed at the top and/or bottom of stairways?
  • Are stairways and walkways free from clutter? Are floors free from spills, slippery surfaces, or small throw rugs?
  • Are small, sharp, or otherwise dangerous items out of reach or locked in a cupboard, drawer, or cabinet? (Examples include pins, thumbtacks, paper clips, matches, lighters, knives, plastic bags, scissors, guns, razor blades, glassware, and working appliances.)
  • Are poisonous items stored out of reach or locked in cupboards, drawers, or cabinets? (Examples include cleaning products, polish, bleach, medicines, cosmetics, perfumes, aerosol cans, and first aid supplies.)
  • Are the center and yard free from poisonous plants?
  • Is my child kept away from dangerous places like the stove or hot water faucets?
  • Do all electrical sockets have protective covers?
  • Has attention been paid to objects that could be pulled or knocked over? (Examples include tablecloths, electrical cords, lamps, furniture.)
  • Are toys safe, clean, and in good repair?
  • Are play surfaces, indoors and out, softened with carpeting or wood chips?
  • Do children get a daily dose of fresh air and sunshine, weather permitting?
  • Do children seem safe with one another?
  • Is the outdoor area fenced and free of hazards?
  • Is the play equipment safe and appropriate for my child's level of development?
  • What is the procedure for medical emergencies?
  • What are the policies regarding illness? (for example, are parents contacted if another child has a contagious disease? Does the caregiver have a substitute in case she gets sick?)
  • Does the center keep records of children's special medical needs?
  • Is the staff trained in early childhood education, CPR and first aid?


  • Are meals served or do parents provide food?
  • Are healthy snacks served mid-morning and mid-afternoon?
  • Are menus varied and posted for my review?
  • Is the staff aware of my baby's food requirements and feeding schedule?
  • Are children allowed to leave food on their plates? (They should never be forced to eat.)
  • Who plans the menus (dietitian or other staff)?
  • Is the kitchen clean?
Written by Donna Warner Manczak, PhD, MPH.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-01-28
Last reviewed: 2009-05-26
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.