6 winning alternatives to day care: What parents need to know


If you’re a parent needing child care, you’ve likely taken the time to explore more traditional day care options like in-home day care or day care centers. While these options are popular for many reasons, they may not work for every family’s individual needs or simply feel as though they’re the best fit. 

The good news? There are plenty of alternatives to day care out there that provide parents with flexibility as far as scheduling goes. Plus, many more non-traditional options can help cut child care costs. 

Ready to learn more? Here’s a look at six day care alternatives that might benefit your current child care needs. 

1. Child care cooperatives

Child care cooperatives can either be informal, in-home care facilities run by a cooperative of caregivers, including parents — or conducted in a more formal setting, such as a nursery school. Similar to the foundation of a traditional co-op board, this child care option is often much more affordable because it relies on parent participation to help provide care. 

Co-ops are inherently more affordable for families, says Tiffany Alva, an early learning specialist. Because the state does not regulate these co-ops, she says background checks and other non-mandated safety measures are often part of the co-op protocol.

Pros of child care cooperatives

  • Often cheaper than traditional day care
  • May be more flexible with schedules 

Cons of child care cooperatives

  • May require parent participation for care
  • May not be an option for younger children

“All of us have different schedules, and we look after each other’s children when we can and when the other women need it. No money is exchanged.”


2. Babysitting exchange

“A babysitting exchange is where two parents come together to take turns babysitting their kids,” explains Taran Conwell, a former nanny and in-home day care provider who hosts The Undomestic Mom Podcast. A schedule is worked out where each parent who participates offers to watch everyone’s kids during a certain block of time. 

This method has worked well for Betsy Cornwell, a 34-year-old mom of one who was seeking a more affordable child care option. “The alternative I’m using is basically mutual aid with other single moms, and they are women I met through my local domestic violence support group,” Cornwell says. “All of us have different schedules, and we look after each other’s children when we can and when the other women need it. No money is exchanged.”

Pros of a babysitting exchange

  • Free child care
  • Less exposure to germs than traditional day care
  • Can be used as a full-time or part-time child care option

Cons of babysitting exchange

  • Schedules need to align to work well.
  • Backup options are needed if one parent can’t make their shift.

3. Shared babysitting or a nanny share

As child care costs continue to rise, shared babysitting has become a popular child care option for groups of families with similar care needs. Shared babysitting, or a nanny share, is when two families come together to hire one nanny to watch their kids simultaneously, explains Conwell.

“Nanny shares work well for families with the same number of children with similar work schedules,” she says. “Families would decide on which house the nanny would watch the children or if they’ll rotate.” The cost of child care is then split between families that are participating.

Pros of a nanny share

  • Depending on how many families participate, this option can cut the cost of child care down considerably.
  • Shared babysitters may earn more when watching multiple children in this scenario, which may make finding care easier for parents. 

Cons of a nanny share

  • May be difficult to coordinate schedules depending on work hours
  • Families need to align on care criteria for the shared babysitter
  • Backup options will be needed if the shared babysitter is ill. 

“Non-profit centers can offer safe, nurturing and exceptional care and education.”


4. Non-profit centers

Depending on where you reside, programs offered through non-profit organizations like the YMCA can be affordable options for kids to participate in — especially if a child care option falls through. These programs can also be more flexible than traditional day care options. 

“Non-profit centers can offer safe, nurturing and exceptional care and education,” says Alva. “I encourage families to visit the center a few times and do their research on the program to ensure that the center fits their needs and they are comfortable with sending their child to the program.”

Pros of non-profit centers

  • Affordable and fun for children
  • Offers a variety of enriching programs and activities


  • Not an all-day option for child care
  • May not fit every family or child’s needs and interests

5. In-home day care centers

“An in-home day care is child care run out of a day care provider’s home, rather than a day care center,” explains Alva. Though the parameters vary state by state, this day care option is typically limited to six or so children of various ages. 

“Depending on the provider, they may have an educational curriculum they follow, or they might be entirely play-based,” says Conwell. “Some providers include meals, while others require you to pack your child’s lunch daily.”

Pros of in-home day care centers

  • Smaller child to adult ratio. In-home day care often offers more one-on-one care between multiple providers at home versus a traditional daycare setting.
  • Children have the benefit of seeing the same in-home day care provider rather than a rotation of staff members.

Cons of in-home day care centers

  • Some in-home day care centers are not state or federally regulated, so it’s important to do research and make sure you feel comfortable with this option.
  • Less scheduling flexibility. In-home day care operates with contracted hours, so drop-off and pick-up times cannot fluctuate.

6. Family care

This can be a tough option to come by, but if you have a close friend or family member with a flexible schedule who is willing to provide child care, don’t be afraid to take them up on the offer. 

“My mom has provided child care for my daughter at my home since I went back to work after my maternity leave,” says Cher Cecchio, a 36-year-old content manager and mom of one who resides in Atlanta, Georgia. “This really has been a great option, because I trust her. She also comes to my home, so it doesn’t mess up my daughter’s routine too much.” 

Cecchio says this is an option she’d recommend to anyone who has it available to them. “It’s more affordable and should also provide more peace of mind,” she says.

Pros of family care

  • It’s cost-effective. Family and even close friends may provide this for free.
  • More flexibility than traditional day care.

Cons of family care

  • Requires a backup option in case of illness
  • Needs to align with the family member’s schedule

If you need child care but aren’t sold on traditional day care as the best option for your family, make an effort to get to know other parents in your area and learn what they’ve utilized for child care. You may find they also need a more non-traditional offering and want to go in on one of these alternate options with you.

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