Home-Based vs. Center-Based Daycare: Which is Better?

There is a house down the street from you. The lady who lives there has been watching children in the neighborhood for years. She’s a pillar of the community. Meanwhile, as you drive to work you pass a large building with a wonderful playground and troops of happy children coming and going all the time. Both are daycares - but they couldn’t look more different. The home has such a familiar feel but the center is so organized and seems to have all of the things that a child needs to enrich themselves. So which one is better?

Parents shopping for daycare services run into this situation all the time. Do they go with home-based or center-based daycare? The answer… it depends…

The truth is that there are pros and cons of each and we’ll discuss them in this blog post so you can figure out what is right for you.

Do Home-Based Daycares Have to be Licensed, The Same as Center-Based Daycares?

In most cases yes, but not always. State licensing rules vary. In general home-based daycares caring for multiple children will be licensed and have many of the same licensing and oversight requirements as commercial daycare centers.

However, in some states a home-based care provider may get away with not being licensed if they only care for a small number of children. So do your due diligence. Follow-up with any daycare (home or center based) to make sure their license is in good standing. If you find a daycare that isn’t licensed because they are exempt per state regulations we would recommend you find another center. Licensure should be the baseline for any center you select.

Are Home-Based Daycare Providers Less Qualified or Credentialed than Center-Based Daycare Providers?

Not always but look carefully. You should perform the same credential and certification screening on home-based daycare providers as you would for center-based daycare providers. However, center-based daycares are more likely to have the proper credentials for each member of the staff. For example, there are certain credentials for directors of daycares that the main care provider at a home daycare might not get because they feel they don’t have to.

But that doesn’t hold true all of the time. Fully-licensed daycare professionals, with training and degrees in child development, might choose to run their daycare out of their home for several reasons, including:

● Less commute.

● A desire to run a small business.

● The freedom to look after their own children in their own home.

● Lower overhead to run the business.

So while you’ll get more consistent credentialing at center-based daycare you might have more variability at home-based daycares. Therefore, look carefully.

Should I Evaluate Home-Based Daycares Differently from Center-Based Daycares?

No. Be just as diligent in screening for credentials, background checks, safety hazards, culture, rules and discipline, scheduling, emergency preparedness, and health precautions at a home-based daycare as you would a center-based daycare.

However, you need to be aware of your own biases. The home atmosphere might make it feel like you are dropping your child off with a family member and you might therefore be more lax on your assessments. But it’s important to remember this isn’t your aunt Betty’s house - this is a licensed business that should be following the regulations regarding how to care for children as diligently as anywhere else.

So What’s the Difference Between Home-Based Daycare and Center-Based Daycare?

The most obvious one is the built environment. As the name implies, a home-based daycare business operates out of a residential home (usually the home of the business owner or director) while a center-based daycare business operates out of a commercial center like a strip mall suite, office, school, or house of worship. This gives home based daycare a different feel for both the child and the parents and is usually the biggest draw.

There are a lot of other differences though that might be very relevant to you. The biggest one is staffing. Home-based daycare tends to have a smaller staff (sometimes just the business owner) and a smaller capacity. Center-based daycares usually have higher capacities and the larger staff to match it. What does this mean practically? Well home based daycares are much more susceptible to absenteeism. If a teacher at a center-based daycare calls in sick, the director calls in another staff member to fill the gap. When the home-based daycare’s staff is sick, the daycare is likely to close (this invariably tends to happen at the worst times too...). On the other hand, home-based daycares might be more flexible with their operating hours to make up for this closure risk.

Also, the centers tend to have more resources. That means there will usually be more field trips, more guest teachers, more specialized instruction and more children your child’s age for them to socialize with.

Pros of Home-Based Daycare

Home-based daycare tends to cost less than center-based daycare. With the cost of childcare soaring over the last 40 years, this is no small matter. Home-based daycare could be the only affordable daycare option for many families.

Home-like environment. Playing and interacting with other children in a home may make children feel more comfortable and confident.

Flexibility. Parents who work unusual hours may find home-based daycares to be more accommodating of different schedules.

Cons of Home-Based Daycare

Mixed ages. Home-based daycares may accept any age of children into their small program, leaving your child with few options for playmates close in age.

Less specialized staff. A small staff may mean less access to specialized childcare skills, like allergy management, first aid and CPR, or abuse prevention.

Shallow bench of support. If the daycare owner becomes incapacitated or has an emergency, there may be no backup staff. You may end up scrambling for a childcare “Plan B” on short notice.

Less availability. Spots in good home-based daycares may fill up quickly with a long waiting list. On short notice, it may be hard to place your child in one.

Pros of Center-Based Daycare

More peer interaction. A larger capacity means more playmates for your children to interact with, including children of their age group and compatible with their personalities.

Age-appropriate curriculum. A center-based daycare has more resources to devote to educational materials targeted to different age groups. A center-based daycare is more likely to offer stimulating activities for your child, regardless of age.

School-like environment. Children who go to daycare centers are better prepared to enter school, having adapted to facilities and rules that resemble those of a school.

More resources. A larger daycare center may be able to offer enrichment activities like music, dance, gymnastics, sports, science, field trips, and guest speakers.

More staff. A larger staff means that if someone takes sick or has an emergency, the whole operation doesn’t shut down. The facility will still be open and available to care for your kids when you need them to. The staff is also more likely to include specialists in nutrition, CPR, and other key child development skills.

Organization. Center-based daycares are larger operations and, by necessity, run a tighter ship. The clear rules and schedules for activities like playtime, naptime, and snacks provide your children with structure and help them learn to be organized themselves.

Cons of Center-Based Daycare

More costly. Center-based daycares have higher overheard and tend to pass those costs onto parents in the form of higher fees. Ideally you get what you pay for, but the costs may be prohibitive for budget-conscious families.

Strict schedule. Run more like a retail store with strict opening and closing hours, parents may find a center-based daycare unable to accommodate unusual hours or overtime. Daycare centers may even charge fines and fees for late pickups.

So Much Information. How Do I Keep it Straight?

We understand it’s a lot to keep in mind. So we created this handy table to help show the differences between each.


At the end of the day home-based daycare and center-based daycare both have their place in the childcare ecosystems. Like all things it depends on what works best for you and your family. Hopefully now you’ll be better positioned to make that call for yourself.


Worried about planning ahead if your care falls through? Easel has you covered. We offer "Daycare When You Need It!" and help parents book spots at quality daycares near them—even at the last minute. Click here and fill out the “book care now” form if you need care. Or signup to stay in touch with Easel!