How Early to Start Searching for a

Child Care Provider

Planning ahead when searching for a child care provider is important because it allows you to find the perfect fit for your family’s unique needs. It provides you with the time and resources necessary to make an informed and confident decision about your child’s child care.


Early Learning Marketplaceis a free tool that is modernizing how families find child care.Through the easy-to-use interface, families can search for programs near them, filter based on their needs and claim available seats in real time. No more wasting time searching the internet and making phone calls only to reach a dead end. Families will also be able to leave invaluable reviews to assist other families in their journey.

The Timing of Your Search

Factors Influencing Timing

Several factors can influence the timing of your child care search, including:


  • Pregnancy and due date. For expecting parents, starting the search during the second trimester (four to six months) is common. This allows ample time for research, visits and securing a spot before the baby’s arrival.
  • Child’s age and developmental stage. For infants and toddlers, starting sooner is recommended due to limited availability in high-quality programs. For preschoolers, the search may be more flexible depending on individual needs and program availability.
  • Parental employment status and schedule. If parents are returning to work or starting new jobs, the timing of their child care search will be directly linked to their employment start date.
  • Existing childcare arrangements. If your child is currently in care that you need to transition out of, this will determine timing of your search.
  • Availability of preferred child care options. If waitlists are present, starting earlier is crucial to securing a spot.
  • Child’s individual needs. If your child has special needs or requires specific accommodations, starting the search earlier allows for more time to find a provider equipped to meet those needs.
  • Financial considerations. Planning for child care expenses involves budgeting and potentially applying for financial assistance programs.

Starting Early vs. Last-Minute Searches

Finding the right child care provider is a significant decision, as it directly impacts the safety, happiness and development of your child. By starting your search early, you have ample time to research different options, visit facilities, interview potential caregivers and compare various programs. This allows you to make an informed decision based on your child’s individual needs and your family values.


Many high-quality child care programs have waitlists, especially for infants and toddlers. Starting your search six to 12 months before you need care significantly increases your chances of securing a spot in your preferred program. This ensures smooth transitions for your child and avoids last-minute scrambling or settling for less than ideal options.

Infant and Toddler Care

When it comes to infant and toddler care, there is often limited availability and high demand. The ideal timing to begin your search is during the second trimester of pregnancy, ideally between months four and six. This allows plenty of time to research different options, visit facilities, interview potential caregivers and compare various programs. It also provides time to secure a spot on waitlists, which are common for high-quality child care programs.

Setting a Timeline for Your Search

Identify Search Criteria

Each family has specific needs for their child care. Creating a list of your requirements will help you filter your options. Here are some search criteria to keep in mind:


  • Location
  • Hours of operation
  • Cost
  • Licensing and accreditation
  • Staffing
  • Child’s age and development
  • Special needs
  • Program’s environment and philosophy

It can be helpful to set milestones to achieve during your search process. These could include:


  • Start researching child care options
  • Visit potential child care facilities
  • Interview potential caregivers
  • Compare programs and make a decision
  • Complete enrollment paperwork
  • Child care start date

Assessing Waitlists

Many child care providers have waitlists when all their open seats are filled. When you contact a provider, it’s important to inquire about a waitlist. Here are tips on managing the waitlist process:


  • Get on multiple waitlists. This will increase your chances of getting a spot sooner.
  • Ask about the program’s turnover rate. This will give you an idea of how long you might have to wait for a spot to open up.
  • Check in with the program regularly. Let them know that you are still interested in a spot.
  • Be flexible. If you are willing to be flexible with your child’s schedule or the type of care you receive, you may be able to get a spot sooner.

Preparing for Interviews and Visits

Scheduling interviews and visits with potential child care providers is an essential step in the search process. It will allow you to observe the provider’s interactions with children, assess the learning environment and gauge the program’s philosophy and approach. This firsthand experience helps you determine if the program aligns with your family’s values and your child’s needs.


Interviews and visits provide opportunities to ask questions about the program, child-to-staff ratios, curriculum, safety measures and emergency procedures. By scheduling interviews and visits with multiple providers, you can compare different programs and decide which is the best fit for your child.


When in the search timeline should you set up these appointments? Here are some general guidelines:


  • Early in the search process. Ideally, begin scheduling interviews and visits during the second trimester of pregnancy (around four to six months) for infant and toddler care.
  • Before or at the same time as submitting applications. Many programs require families to schedule visits and interviews before accepting applications. This helps ensure families have a clear understanding of the program before making a commitment.
  • Before waitlists become too long. If you are considering programs with long waitlists, schedule interviews and visits as soon as possible after you begin your search.
  • Before making a final decision. After researching and narrowing down your options, schedule visits and interviews with the remaining contenders. This allows you to compare programs firsthand and make the best decision for your child’s needs.

Using Early Learning Marketplace to Find Providers

How the Tool Simplifies the Search

Early Learning Marketplace streamlines the search process for families looking for child care. Families can save time and effort by searching for programs, comparing options and even claiming seats, all in one place.


Families can enter their zip code to find programs in their area and then filter their search results by program type, age group, schedule, cost and other factors. They can check availability and message providers directly.


The Early Learning Marketplace also provides families with valuable information about each program, such as its curriculum, staff qualifications and parent reviews. This information can help families make an informed decision about which program is right for their child.