Family Day Care or Long Day Care? How do I choose?

Posted under Practical Advice


Rock paper scissors

Family Day Care and Long Day Care are different!

One of the hardest things to do when you have young children is DECIDE what kind of childcare you want for them, and then go out in the world to find somewhere that matches your personal goals, vision and desire for what that childcare might look like. There’s no right or wrong choice in theory, but in practice, there are plenty of things to look out for that will help you validate that your choice is the right one for your child and your family. Here’s a list of some things to think about:


Smaller Groups

Family Day Care wins this one hands down. A maximum of FOUR children, (or seven during before/after school care, and vacation care) means your child never gets lost in the bigger group. Your educator is well positioned to get to know your child, just as they would a family member. In our experience, FOUR is the magic number. Any more than that, and their ability to supervise a group of 0 – 4 year old, who run in different directions, may be questionable.



It may surprise you that not all educators in early childhood are there because they love children. Some are there because it’s the only job they could get. Others do it because they are not qualified for anything else. Yet others do it because they can work from home, individually, without too much intervention. Some do family day care because they couldn’t replace the income in any other job they could do. You need to dig a little to find those educators who truly LOVE what they do. They shine brightly but like anything else, they are sometimes hidden in amongst the dirt.

One of the biggest reasons some parents choose long day care over family day care is the belief that their child will be safer in a centre because there are more staff around. But let me tell you, this is not always true. It sounds good, but you’d be surprised how many people won’t dob in their co-worker for dodgy practice (which can be as “minor” as accidentally swearing in front of a child, or being a bit “mean” to a child, or “shouting” at them because you’ve got no other strategy to control a wild bunch) because they don’t want to rouse on a friend, or lose their job. Even the best childcare centre can have a few weak links. That said, not all family day care educators are sweet and loving either, and fortnightly or monthly visits by a field coordinator aren’t enough to catch them out.

So again, it’s up to the parents to look BEYOND the nice face that people can put on during a introductory visit. You need to do more research.

  • Drop in either early or at the end of the day when you know other parents will be there and ask them what they think about the place and the educator
  • Go with your gut. If your educator is sarcastic to you, or has a narky-type personality to face the world, it’s pretty much guaranteed they’ll be like that with your children behind closed doors too
  • Look at the space they inhabit. If it’s tidy, clean, well presented, organised, and they themselves are too, it’s a pretty good chance that they take pride in their work and can be trusted to provide a quality program.
  • Talk to co-workers where possible and ask their opinions.  Read between the lines if necessary.
  • Do they participate in ongoing training and professional development with a positive attitude?  Ask people in charge how the educator contributes (or doesn’t)  to these events.  This is a dead giveaway as to who is there for the wrong reason.
  • Be blunt and ask those tough questions of the Director or Scheme representative. While they can’t always tell you too much because of privacy and confidentiality laws, they can skirt things. “Would you hire this person again?” is a good one. Ask the right questions and you’ll get a better picture.

Programming for Individual Needs

It goes without saying that a maximum of four children per day, as in family day care, would suggest that an FDC educator could plan and program specifically for your child’s needs better than a Long Day Care centre where there will be anywhere from 8 to 25 children in the group. Whether or not that is true though is another question all together. That statement totally depends on your FDC educator’s desire to ‘work’, coupled with their scheme’s requirements. In the case where an educator is reluctant to complete required paperwork, the documentation necessities set down by the Government regulations that ALL educators in FDC and Long Day Care must abide by, the choice is not clear.

It may be the educator works much more organically doing amazing activities with the children each day but simply struggles to write things down but they , OR it could be that their reluctance to do paperwork is a sign of bigger things. eg they can’t be bothered or don’t want to do much work at all. The best way to make a choice of family day care or long day care regarding this question is to ask for evidence!  Ask to see the educator’s daily journal, or photographic records or books of their work. Look on the walls, the noticeboard, and at the front entrance. If you can’t see it, ASK to see it. While it is the educator’s responsibility in both settings, it’s also the expectations of the scheme or centre they work in.


Family-like environment

One of the biggest pluses of family day care is the mixed age group. Unlike long day care, where children are mostly grouped according to birth age (eg baby room, toddler room, pre-kindy room), family day care settings usually have a mix of ages. That said, most children in family day care are 1, 2 and 3, with the odd 4 or 5 year old in there for good measure.  Mixed ages is such a gift. The older ones learn patience and tolerance when in the company of the younger ones, and they are deigned as leaders (kings and queens) by the younger ones who tend to look up to them. The little ones have older children to look up to, as well as having role models who can help them achieve tasks, and model positive behaviour (mostly).


Set up of the toddler environment

When you put 10 toddlers in a long day care room together, with limited access to toys of the same kind, this is dynamite with the fuse lit!  But 2 or 3 toddlers in a family day care group is much more easily managed, both with regard to redirection and having others of different ages to bounce off, but also in the environment. It’s much easier to stock three blue buckets and spades than it is to store 10 blue buckets and spades (if blue is the colour of the day!), or provide a few matching yellow tonka trucks; two or three similar baby dolls in pink strollers; or two or three Cozy Coupe cars so that every toddler has access when they need. Some would argue that toddlers need to learn to share. We’d argue there is a time and place for that sure, but a toddler consciousness is not yet developed enough to manage sharing all the time so we support that too.


Preschool Program

Play is the most important thing for young children before school but family day care may be a bit limiting for the 4 or 5 year old child IF they are the only one of that age, with no peer of a similar ability or skill to play with. Likewise, a preschool program with 20 children has the staff numbers and the resources to set up a larger number of learning stations, craft activities, and play areas that children can move between at their will.  While most children love this flexibility, and enjoy relationships with a number of changing educators, for others though, holding their own in a group of 20 children (some of whom may display challenging types of behaviours) is too much. It’s really all about your child and where they best fit. Some children are better staying in family day care until time for formal schooling. The familiarity of the ONE educator, the relationship they have developed with that person, and their need to feel secure and stable might outweigh the benefits of the other.


Meal times

We think mealtimes should be a mini celebration of sorts. It’s a time for the children and the educator to sit down and socialise, to chat over food while they nourish themselves too. We always advocate that educators SHOULD eat WITH the children. How else do they learn table manners, how to use a fork, knife and spoon, how to pass things around, eat with their mouth closed, stay open-minded about all the different types of food available in the world by seeing what their friends eat, and learning to pass on foods they really don’t like with grace and tact.

This is really a personal choice of the educator in family day care, but in long day care, educators might not have a choice at all. Relief schedules might mean that they go on break just as mealtime begins, or perhaps they have cleaning that must be done during this time. Again, it’s a good question to ask. We’ve found through many years experience that when an educator sits with the children for a meal, relationships grow, behaviour challenges lessen, and the group becomes much more cohesive, tolerant of one another, and able to work together throughout the day.  It’s also a great time to include the children in ‘jobs’ they must do – setting the table, clearing up the table, putting their plate in the sink, washing up their dishes and cups, drying up their things and putting them away. It’s life learning at best.

Ask the question of your educator. Do you eat with the children?  Why, why not?  Asking means we don’t assume, which helps us to make better decisions in the long run too.



These are just seven things to consider when placing your child in childcare.  Have you any others?



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