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What Is the Difference Between Center-Based Daycare and Home-Based Care?

Written by | Updated October 12, 2018

The difference between center-based daycares and home-based daycares is primarily in the location. Center-based daycares are operated in commercial care spaces—not in the owner’s home; home-based daycares, on the other hand, are run in residential spaces.

Which Option Is Better: Home-Based or Center-Based Childcare?

That really depends on what you’re looking for with childcare. If you work odd hours, a home-based daycare might be able to accommodate your needs. However, there might be fewer workers to keep the center staffed if someone gets sick. Your child’s care is ultimately up to you, so trust your gut when making decisions about what’s best for your family.

Home-Based Daycare

By definition, home-based daycare is a small childcare business operated inside someone’s home.


  • Lower Costs: Surprisingly, home-based daycare centers are normally cheaper than center-based facilities. Based on a National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) study, Americans spend more on center-based daycare than on home-based childcare in most states.1
  • Smaller Class Sizes: At-home daycares typically have one to three caregivers for three to twelve kids. This allows kids to get more bonding time with their caregivers and grow in a nurturing environment with more personalized attention.
  • Home-Like Atmosphere: Smaller class sizes and the facility being in someone’s home could make home-based daycares feel more familiar to your kids. If you have shy or timid children, this can help them come out of their shells faster.
  • Flexibility: Home-based daycares aren’t necessarily nine-to-five businesses. Since they’re smaller, home-based daycare owners may be able to accommodate a trickier schedule for parents who work late shifts or long hours.
  • Less Germs: Fewer kids means less germs. When kids are little, they pick up everything—and end up getting sick constantly. While this process is important in building a strong immune system, it makes for unhappy kids and parents. Limit your child’s or baby’s exposure to a mecca of germs by sending them to a home-based daycare.


  • Mixed Ages: Smaller daycare facilities will most likely not have enough separate spaces to keep newborns and toddlers separate. On the upside, it will teach children to be aware of each other.
  • No Back-Up Plan: If your home-based daycare owner gets sick or goes on vacation, you might lose childcare for that day or week. This can be catastrophic for working parents who can’t stay home with kids.

Center-Based Daycare

Center-based daycare facilities are in commercial buildings. These businesses are usually much larger than home-based daycare centers and can therefore take in more kids.


  • Greater Peer Interaction: The larger class sizes of center-based daycare facilities can be a good thing. Your child will be able to play with lots of kids their own age. This will help with sharing, conscientiousness, learning from others, and making friends.
  • Lots of Staff: You know when you’re about to head out the door and the babysitter cancels? Well, you won’t need to worry about being flaked on with a bigger childcare facility. These businesses have lots of caretakers, so there’s always someone there during business hours. This consistency is something working parents count on.
  • Regulation: More kids means more organization. Center-based daycares open and close at strict hours. They also normally regulate children’s schedules with mealtime, naptime, playtime, and more. These kinds of schedules can help your children learn organization.


  • Strict Hours: While regimens can be good in some ways, they’re not in others. If you’re running late at the office or stuck in traffic, you may have to pay a fee for picking kids up late. Center-based daycares don’t revolve around you—you revolve around them.
  • Higher Costs: Center-based daycares are typically much more expensive per month than home-based daycare facilities. The overhead on these businesses is more expensive since the owners need to rent space, pay salaries, and buy insurance for many employees and children—and you end up paying more as a result.

Other Childcare Options

Nannies and au pairs are also great alternatives to consider for daycare.

  • Nannies: Some parents aren’t comfortable sending their children to daycare. If you’re among that group and have the budget, a nanny is a great option. This way, you know your child is in your home, under surveillance of your own indoor video cameras, and with someone you know. Your baby will get personalized attention since they will be the only one in the nanny’s care.
  • Au Pair: Au pairs are nannies from other countries, and they’re generally less expensive than other kinds of nannies—though they do often live with the host family. If you want to welcome a caretaker into your home, getting an au pair is a fantastic option that will allow your kids to form a bond and give you peace of mind knowing someone you trust is with your kids when you’re not.

Whichever type of daycare you choose, make sure you know what sort of baby proofing equipment they use. Check out our guides to baby gates and baby-proofing locks to get a feel for what types of devices your childcare center—or your home—should have.

  1. Child Care Aware of America, “Parents and the High Cost of Child Care 2016