By Kaitlin Madden
I first came across the concept of a drop-in daycare center when I had a childcare emergency: our nanny quit unexpectedly. My husband and I were suddenly left without someone to watch our then 10-month-old son. I reached out to a few of our regular babysitters, but most of them were only available in the evening or on weekends. I needed a plan B while I figured out a more permanent childcare arrangement.
During my research on back-up childcare, I came across the concept of drop-in daycare centers, which were something I hadn’t previously heard of. The idea is basically that you bring your child to a regular, full-service daycare center and pay a “day rate.” Not every daycare center offers this service (in fact, most centers in the city of Chicago don’t offer it). Luckily, I found a handful that did, including The Nook, a daycare center in Chicago with three locations that all welcomed drop-ins.
I’m going to be honest: At first the idea of using a drop-in daycare service made me pretty nervous. Leaving my infant son in an unknown environment, especially when he’d never been to daycare, freaked me out. Who knew how he’d react? But left with few other options, I went for it.
If you’re considering drop-in daycare and aren’t really sure how you feel about the concept or what to expect, here’s some insight into my own experience and a few tips on how to use drop-in daycare successfully.
You can also see useful drop-in daycare tips in this video:
Find a reputable childcare center.
I started my search by simply Googling “drop-in daycare,” which lead me to a few centers in the area that offered it. I lucked out in that the drop-in daycare closest to me, The Nook, was also the center that a friend of mine had recommended. My friend recommended it when I was looking at childcare options before my son was even born (it’s also where her son went). This made me feel more comfortable off the bat. I still evaluated a few other centers, though. I looked at each center’s website, as well as Yelp!, Facebook, and Google reviews. I suggest using these as a starting point to get a feel for other families’ experiences.
One of the things that sold me on The Nook as opposed to other daycare centers in the area (aside from the fact that it had the recommendation of a friend and glowing online reviews), was the ease of booking my son there.
The center uses a program called Hopping In, which is essentially an online reservation system that lets you see the availability of daycare centers in your area that offer drop-in care. After creating a profile, I could see when the center had openings a few weeks out. I could also book and pay for a drop-in right on the site. It was the clinching factor after calling a few other daycare centers to talk about their drop-in programs and not even getting a response.
I highly recommend looking for a drop-in center that uses Hopping In, simply to make the whole process more straightforward. If there aren’t any centers listed on Hopping In in your area, you can use the button below to tell a daycare to adopt their software. Another bonus about Hopping In: Now, as a full-time parent at our daycare, if my son will be out of school for a day, I can “drop” his spot on Hopping In and if another parent books it, I get a credit towards my son’s tuition.
Schedule a visit.
While it’s not always possible to visit a drop-in daycare center in advance, say if you nanny calls in sick an hour before you need to be at work, I do recommend it if possible. Touring the daycare was probably the biggest thing that put my mind at ease. (A suggestion: if you think you’ll ever be in the position to need drop-in care, make an effort to visit the center you plan to use. That way, if something does come up last minute, you’ll know what to expect and hopefully, feel comfortable with the center).
On our tour I was able to address my questions with the daycare director and get a feel for the cleanliness and environment of the facility. It also gave me the chance to see what a normal day looked like, and meet the teachers in the room my son would be in. Visiting also let me get familiar with the “commute” to daycare, figure out where to park and all of the other logistical things that go along with a new schedule. The visit was huge in making me feel okay about leaving my son at the center on that first day.
Download the daycare’s app.
Most daycares these days have an app that they use to keep parents updated on their child’s day. You can use it to see photos, find out when, what, and how much they ate, and even when they went to the bathroom (details about what was in the diaper and all). The app I use with The Nook 2 is called Brightwheel, and it also has a messaging function that lets me connect directly to my son’s teachers if I forgot to mention something to them or have a question. It also lets them get ahold of me, too.
Ask about the center’s app during your tour, or call ahead on the day of your drop-in so you can download and set it up in advance. I stalked the app in those early few days I left him at daycare (and I still check it regularly throughout the day even now that my son is enrolled there six months later).
Be open about the experience and ask all the questions you need. If a daycare center understands what your priorities are as a parent, they will appreciate it. If not, it’s easy to keep looking with Hopping In.
Good luck with your first drop-in!
Author: Hopping In Blog
Sholom Strick is an expert on the business of running daycare centers and founder of Hopping In, a tool that helps childcare centers and family daycare providers fill unused spots.
To contact him or for media inquiries email email@example.com