Choosing Quality Child Care
Children who have rich early learning environments are better prepared for school and are more likely to have the social skills needed for a successful start in kindergarten and beyond. Our Early Childhood Resource Directory has a wide variety of listings, but before you dive in, this page will provide you with more detailed information and tips for choosing the child care style that is the best fit for your child.
Sending your child to to a day care or child care center is a big step. When looking for quality child care, choose carefully – look for a place where your child is warmly welcomed, where safety and health are priorities and where learning happens through play. Choose a child care program or family child care provider where children experience language and develop early literacy skills through books, songs, and meaningful conversations with their caregivers. Click on any topic to see more information.
Details about Child Care Center and Preschool Listings in our Resource Directory
The listings in this directory include some preschools with extended day options. When exploring a school with extended hours, look at its preschool programming, as well as the quality of its child care facility.
Unless noted, all of the child care facilities listed have ongoing enrollment as long as there are openings. Please note that some programs may fill up as early as January or February for the following fall. While most programs start enrolling children in January/February for September, please contact programs directly for questions, enrollment options and to schedule a visit any time of year. Typically, the age eligibility listed is the child’s age as of September 1st of the upcoming school year. Many programs housed in religious institutions will give preference to members. Call for specific information if you are interested in a particular program.
By law, all child care agencies must be open to children with special needs. However, some facilities may work better for a child with special needs and this should be considered when making your decision.
Finding and Selecting a Nanny, Babysitter or Au Pair
Some parents may prefer the one-on-one contact that an in-home provider can offer.
A nanny works on a live-in or live-out basis performing child care and some minimal household duties. Usually unsupervised during the day, the nanny generally has a 40- to 60-hour work week. Check with an accountant or tax professional to learn about taxes you may be required to pay.
An au pair lives as an extended member of the family and provides up to 45 hours of in-home care per week. Au pairs cannot be left alone overnight with children or alone with an infant under the age of three months; they do not do housework that does not relate to the care of children. The au pair program in the United States [link: https://j1visa.state.gov/programs/au-pair] is closely regulated by the State Department; it is intended to be a cross-cultural exchange program with a child care component.
There are a number of ways to find nannies and babysitters in our community:
MomMail is a free local resource that sends out a weekly “Sitters Wanted/Available” email post every Monday to MomMail subscribers. Requests for inclusion should be emailed to OPRFMomMail@gmail.com. (For more information about subscribing to MomMail and to check the deadline for inclusion in the weekly email posts, go to the MomMail website.)
Social media provides a wealth of networking spaces for Oak Park area parents, sitters, and nannies on Search Facebook for “OPRF Area Parent-Sitter Network.” Group description: Childcare workers can share their credentials and parents can recommend reputable sitters, nannies, au pairs, mother’s helpers, etc. in order to provide a credible resource to help parents fulfill needs for short or long term services.
Search Facebook for “Oak Park Moms.” Group description: Designed to be a networking group to make each other’s lives easier—-carpooling, pick up help, deal finders, babysitting shares, selling items, promoting your own business, venting, etc..
University job boards are helpful for parents who need regular babysitting services. They can post their needs on job boards in the student career centers at Concordia and Dominican Universities:
If You Cannot Afford Child Care
Action for Children: If you cannot afford long-term child care, Action for Children can help (312-823-1100). This state agency oversees an assistance program for low-income working families. Action for Children will send you the necessary application forms if your family qualifies.
Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP): The Illinois Child Care Assistance Program makes it possible for families who qualify to receive financial assistance in paying for child care. Parents must meet the State of Illinois’ income and family size guidelines. You can search for child care centers that accept CCAP by selecting “CCAP” from the “Financial Assistance” filter in the Early Childhood Resource Directory.
Tuition Assistance: First United Church Nursery School offers a tuition assistance fund. Applications for assistance may be obtained from the school director and may be requested on the registration form. Pilgrim Community Nursery School offers tuition assistance through a partial scholarship. You can find both of these nursery schools in our Early Childhood Resource Directory.
Public Preschool: All children should have access to high-quality public preschool, no matter who they are. Oak Park and River Forest provide free, high-quality preschool experiences that support the development of the whole child to preschool age children whose families meet eligibility criteria such as veteran status, developmental delays, and income level.
Three agencies in Oak Park receive grants to provide state-funded Preschool for All programs: ABC Toon Town II Educational Center, Oak Park Elementary School District 97 and Oak Park River Forest Day Nursery.
To learn more about whether your child qualifies for Preschool for All, contact us.
Points to Consider When Choosing Quality Child Care
Sending your child to a child care center is a big step and can be emotionally difficult. But doing your research and following a few tips will help you feel confident in your choice. Start early. Many programs begin enrollment as early as January for the following year while others have ongoing enrollment. Schedule visits. Make appointments to visit each program on your list and watch what goes on. Stay in touch. Once your child starts the program, talk to your provider regularly to see how things are going and learn how you can support your child at home.
- Values learning through play
- Has clear educational and social goals
- Creates an environment where children learn words and prereading skills through books, songs, and two-way conversations
- Encourages kids to become deeply engaged in play and allows them to make choices throughout the day
- Offers a lot of books, blocks, puzzles, art, music and dramatic play activities
- Limits screen time (television/videos/computer/portable devices limited to 1 hour/week in full-day program)
- Provides space and equipment for indoor and outdoor gross motor (large muscle) play
- Monitors a child’s development in a valid, reliable way using research-based tools
Staff Background and Training:
- Licensed and/or accredited facility
- Low staff turnover
- Conducts background checks for all caregivers
- Staff participates in professional development programs
- Staff is trained to recognize and report suspected child abuse.
Culture and Atmosphere:
- Makes you and your child feel welcome
- Engages children in activities and creates a happy environment
- Respects each child’s individual cultural, ethnic and/or religious background
- Welcomes parents to drop in at any time
- Supports discipline policies that are fair, positive, respectful, and consistent
- Offers clear and ongoing communications between the center, teachers, and families through newsletters, conferences, and events
- Promotes cleanliness; equipment and play materials are regularly disinfected
- Requires current immunizations for staff and children
- Emphasizes proper hand-washing rules for staff and children
- Maintains clean diapering and toilet training areas
- Staff is certified in first aid and CPR
- Has policies in place for giving out medication and caring for sick children
- Provides adult supervision at all times
- Follows “safe sleep” practices
- Offers safe and age-appropriate toys and play equipment
- Regularly checks for safety recalls of toys, cribs, and playground equipment
- Locks away all potentially poisonous substances including medications and cleaning supplies
- Has clear emergency procedures for accidents, missing children, custody situations, fires and other disasters
- Serves healthy and appetizing snacks and meals
- Safely handles food allergies, dietary restrictions, and ethnic preferences
- Allows for flexibility in eating patterns, whether kids leave food on their plates or ask for seconds
If You Are Considering a Home-Based Child Care Provider:
- Is a current child care home license on display?
- Does the caregiver have written policies and a contract for parents?
- Are there others living in the home? Who and what age are they?
- Who, besides the provider, may be caring for my child?
- Are there pets or smoking in the home?
- Are bathrooms, diapering areas, and food preparation areas kept clean, safe and separate?
- Is the house baby-proofed?
- Are toys for older children kept out of reach of younger children?
- Is there enough safe space for play (indoors and out) and for naps?
- Can parents visit at any time when their children are in care?
- Are there opportunities for parents and caregivers to talk to each other about what is happening in the child’s life
If You Are Considering a Babysitter or Au Pair:
- Interview the prospective caregiver at least twice. Ask for and speak to at least two or three references.
- Conduct a criminal background check with the Illinois State Police, and a DCFS Child Abuse and Neglect Tracking System (CANTS) check. In order to do a CANTS check, the prospective employee must sign a release form giving permission.
- Offer “what if” scenarios on discipline, eating habits, etc., to discover responses on how the caregiver would handle different situations.
- Make sure your caregiver understands and is comfortable with your rules, expectations, discipline guidelines, and parenting philosophy. Also, help your caregiver establish his/her authority with your child.
- Draw up a specific contract outlining expected duties, hours, salary, paid vacation and sick leave.
- Include parental obligations and set up periodic review dates.
- Many websites have sample nanny contracts.
- Observe the caregiver’s interaction with your child routinely and without advance notice.
- As your child grows older, consider whether your caregiver will adapt to changing demands and responsibilities.
Rating Systems and License Requirements for Preschools and Child Care Centers
The Illinois Early Childhood Rating System: The state of Illinois rates all licensed early childhood programs with a quality rating system called ExceleRate Illinois. Gold, silver and bronze ratings all indicate that a center or a preschool exceeds the basic state licensing requirements. The ratings indicate increasing levels of program quality based on the physical environment, staff education and training, and curriculum and activities for the children. In addition to filtering by accreditation on our Early Childhood Resource Directory, you can search accredited programs across Illinois by zip code on the Illinois Cares for Kids Website.
Licensing Standards for Child Care Centers and Preschools: In order to be licensed, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) requires that child care centers and preschools meet minimum standards of health, safety, and appropriate practices for group care of children. The summary of DCFS licensing standards for homes and centers can be found on the DCFS website. These standards are also available at the Oak Park Public Library. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has developed voluntary measures of quality that show that a center has met higher standards that go beyond state requirements. You can search for NAEYC accredited programs in your area.
License-Exempt Child Care: Preschools that are part of an existing school system – public, faith-based, or Montessori – as well as government programs, are not required to meet DCFS standards; these centers are noted as “License-exempt” in the Early Childhood Resource Directory.
Types of Child Care
What’s the difference between a family-based center and a preschool? Is an early childhood center the same as day care? Child care is available in many forms and styles. Below, you can see explanations of many commonly-used terms used to describe child care centers. Be aware that many of these terms are used interchangeably, so what might be generally true about a center with a certain name might be different depending on the center.
Child Care Centers: Usually located in commercial buildings, child care centers are larger and care for more children than family child care providers. They are usually divided into groups or classrooms of similarly aged children. Child care centers typically have many staff members who are overseen by a director. They may be privately operated for profit by chains or individual owners, or operated by nonprofit agencies such as churches, public schools, and government agencies.
Early Education Centers: Also called “early learning centers,” early education centers tend to provide a purposefully structured setting with educators and other children. These facilities often embrace an emphasis on early childhood education.
Home-Based Child Care Centers: Also referred to as “family-based,“ “in-home child care,” or “family child care homes,” a home child care provider opens up his or her home to children – often with one adult in charge. Home child care providers must be licensed by the state if they are caring for four or more children (including their own or relatives), unless all children are from a single household. DCFS allows a single provider to care for 12 children (ages 12 and under), including the caregiver’s own. However, the Village of Oak Park has more rigorous rules and only allows a total of eight children in a home. The West Suburban Home Day Care Association is a non-profit organization of local home-based child care providers. A referral line (708-848-8931) helps parents find provider options among local members of the Association. National Association for Family Child Care provides accreditation for home child care providers that meet additional quality standards. When choosing family child care, be sure to request two or three references and, if possible, observe the home while children are present.
Nurseries and Day Cares: Nurseries and day care centers, like preschools, accept children between three and five, but also usually accept infants and younger children and have longer hours to accommodate a parent’s work day. They also usually have a more play-based approach and are focused on providing safe, supervised care for the children. They tend to be smaller than child care centers, although day care centers and child care centers are sometimes terms that are used interchangeably.
Preschools: Preschool programs are usually for children between the ages of 3 and 5 years old. They are often open only during the school year, for only part of the day. Many states offer free or low-cost pre–kindergarten programs. These programs are focused on getting children prepared for kindergarten and tend to have a more structured early learning curriculum. Sometimes preschools are referred to as “nursery schools” or “play schools.” Many organizations offer preschool programs, including schools, places of worship, nonprofit organizations, and child care centers.
Preschool for All (PFA), Pre-Kindergarten Partnership (PKP), and Head Start: Preschool for All is the name of all Illinois state-funded preschool programs. Here in Oak Park there are a few agencies that receive state funding. Oak Park’s District 97 calls their state-funded program, based at Longfellow School, the ‘Pre–Kindergarten Partnership,’ or PKP. For this reason, you may hear people refer to these programs as “PFA” or “PKP.” Head Start refers to programs that are federally funded. Learn more about these opportunities by visiting our Access to Preschool page.
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