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The complete list of child care options, along with cost comparisons

Learn about all the child care options, along with price points, comparisons and considerations for each.

The complete list of child care options, along with cost comparisons

Whether you’re looking for child care for the very first time or need to switch things up because your family’s needs have changed, it’s important to weigh your options — all of them. “Different child care options work for different families,” says Lydia Thibodeau, founder of Sommet Nannies in Boston. 

“When it comes to infants, a nanny may be the best choice,” she says. “This way, the baby gets to nap in their own space and any feeding intricacies can be tended to. On the other hand, a single parent may do well with an au pair who lives with them.”

Read on for expert input on the different child care options, along with cost information and factors to consider. 

A comparison of child care options

Check out our table below for a comparison of child care options, including the best type for your care needs and important factors to consider.

Care optionBest for Considerations
Nanny• Parents who want individualized at-home care for their kids (particularly babies).
• Families who have the financial means.
• Higher cost than most other child care types. 
• Socialization must be arranged.
Nanny taxes if you pay $2,700+ in a calendar year.
• Benefits for nanny.No built-in backup care.
Part-time nanny• Parents who want/need individualized, at-home help after school or for other portions of the week. • Higher cost than other types of care. 
• Nanny taxes if you pay $2,700+ in a calendar year.
• No built-in backup care.
Nanny share• Personalized care in a home environment.
• Flexible scheduling.
• Socialization with at least one other child
• Shared costs.
• More affordable than 1:1 nanny care; typically two-thirds what you’d pay a private nanny. 
• Nanny taxes if you pay $2,700+ in a calendar year
• Benefits for nanny.
• No built-in backup care.
• More to search for — a nanny and a family
• Increased coordination among more people.
• More complex communication and logistics.
Daycare center• Socialization with other kids.
• Parents who need full-time care.
• Parents who want a back-up care option.
• Kindergarten and school preparation.
• Higher child-to-teacher ratio.
• May not offer infant care.
• May have age and potty training requirements. 
• Exposure to shared germs.
• Must abide by daycare sick policy.
• Closed most holidays.
• Strict pickup and drop-off times.
• Wait times and waitlists.
In-home daycare• Socialization.
• Parents who want siblings to remain in care together.
• Parents who can’t afford a full-time nanny. 
• Families who need full-time child care
• Flexibility. 
• Families who need care immediately.
• May not have built-in backup care.
• Exposure to shared germs.
• Often no curriculum. 
• Some states do not require them to be licensed
• Lower child-to-provider ratio than daycare centers.
Preschool • School readiness.
• Socialization.
• Parents who don’t need full-time care.
• Families who want care that’s licensed and regulated.
• Often half-day programs.
• Higher child-to-teacher ratio.
• Typically limited to children ages 3-5.
• May have potty training requirements. 
• Exposure to shared germs.
• Must abide by preschool sick policy.
• Closed most holidays.
• Strict pickup and drop-off times.Waitlists. 
Babysitter• Flexible scheduling.
• Short notice availability.
• Parents who want individualized care in their home. 
• Families who don’t need full-time care. 
• Date night coverage or part-time, after-school care needs. 
• No built-in backup care.
• Not ideal for full-time child care needs. 
Au pair• Personalized, in-home care.
• 1:1 attention.
• Flexibility.
• Cultural exposure.
• Au pairs are not professional caregivers.
• The “spirit” of the au pair program is cultural immersion. 
• You need to provide room and board and potentially transportation. 
Mother’s helper • Personalized care.
• 1:1 attention.
• Flexibility.
• Extra set of hands for multiple kids 
• Mother’s helpers are generally on the younger side, so their experience is limited. 
• No backup care. 
• You typically need to be home when they’re there. 

The cost of care calculator can help you estimate current child care costs in your city.

1. Nanny

Find a local nanny

One of the most convenient child care options for parents is hiring a nanny, which is a “child care professional responsible for providing holistic, experienced children’s care,” explains Danielle Sadler, marketing director at Adventure Nannies

A nanny, Sadler continues, “manages all aspects of child care within the home, as determined by the hiring family, from carpooling and coordinating activities to meal preparation, as well as nurturing childhood development and ensuring that the children’s social and emotional needs are met.” Put another way: Nanny care is as personalized as it gets. 


  • Convenient. 
  • Highly personalized, at-home care. 
  • Less disruption to child and parent’s schedule.
  • Continuity of care.
  • Household management (Some nannies take on a hybrid role as a nanny/family assistant, notes Sadler.)
  • Newborn care. “Some highly skilled nannies pursue additional education and become newborn care specialists,” Sadler says. “The newborn experts provide the space and time for birth recovery, infant sleep training and so much more support for families navigating those early months.”

Cost: $766 a week (that’s $19.15 an hour or $39,832 annually), on average, according to’s 2024 Cost of Care Report. The cost of a nanny will vary based on a number of factors, including experience, location and number of kids. 

2. Part-time nanny

Find a local part-time nanny

The job scope of a part-time nanny is the same as a full-time nanny — they offer highly-personalized care and are invested in the overall development and upbringing of the kids — but their hours are shorter. Part-time nannies generally work either a few days a week or a few hours a day (often after school); but unlike babysitters, they have guaranteed, set hours. 


  • Convenient. 
  • Highly personalized, at-home care. 
  • Less disruption to child and parent’s schedule.
  • Continuity of care.
  • Potential household management. 
  • Extra set of hands during hectic after-school/dinner/bedtime hours. 

Cost: $19.15 an hour is the average hourly rate for professional nannies, according to’s Cost of Care. While you’ll pay a part-time nanny less than a full-time nanny due to the hours they’ll accrue, the base hourly cost is still the same. 

3. Nanny share

Find a local full-time nanny for a nanny share

Find local families interested in a nanny share

In a nanny share, two or more families agree to share one nanny, which ticks off both individualized, hands-on care, as well as socialization. Nanny shares, which typically alternate between the family homes, are also more affordable than having a full-time nanny all to yourself. 

The child care providers are just as skilled as nannies providing one-on-one care, but keep in mind, the care isn’t one-on-one and there are logistics to work out.


  • Convenient. 
  • Home environment.
  • Cost-efficient.
  • Offers opportunities for socialization. 

Cost: About $12.77 an hour, on average, or $26,554 annually per family, as the cost of a nanny share is about two-thirds of the cost of a full-time nanny, which annually is $39,832. 

4. Daycare

Find a local daycare

According to Gigi Schweikert, parenting expert and CEO of Lightbridge Academy, daycare refers to a “structured, formal setting where children ages 6 weeks through 6 years old are taken care of during the day” while their parents are at work or at home with another child. 

While no two daycares are the same, many providers go beyond providing only here and now care, Schweikert notes. “Many daycares offer a high-quality educational curriculum in a nurturing and safe environment, while also teaching foundational skills that will enable social, emotional and cognitive development.” 


  • Offers opportunities for socialization.
  • Prepares kids for school. 
  • No need for backup care
  • Provides structure (for all). “Daycare helps to provide a structured routine for children and parents,” Schweikert says. “And this ultimately streamlines family schedules and promotes work-life balance for working families.” 
  • Extends support. “Daycare also offers a support network, allowing parents to connect with caregivers and other families and access resources for child development,” Schweikert adds.  

Cost: $321 per week, on average, for one child, according to the most recent Cost of Care Report. Depending on location and other factors, that price may be more or less. 

5. In-home daycare

Find a local in-home daycare or family daycare

Much different from daycare centers, in-home daycares, as their name suggests, are run out of a private residence, and they may also be referred to as family daycare or family care centers. “Quite often, in-home daycares are run by a mom with young kids, who’s caring for other kids in the community at her home,” explains Thibodeau. 

Depending on the number of kids and the state you’re in, an in-home daycare can be licensed or unlicensed, and generally, they’re “pretty unregulated with no set curriculum,” adds Thibodeau.


  • Cost-effective. 
  • Offers opportunities for socialization.
  • Usually small group setting. 
  • Flexible (“In-home daycares often operate on their own schedule,” Thibodeau says. “So if you need to drop your child a little early or pick up late, it may not be a problem.”)
  • They generally offer immediate placement. 

Cost:  $230 per week, on average, based on findings in the latest Cost of Care Report. Cost may vary depending on location and other factors. 

6. Preschool

Find a local preschool

As Marquita Davis, chief academic officer at KinderCare Learning Companies, describes it, “preschool is an early childhood education class or program specifically geared toward 3- and 4-year-olds. 

“These children are out of baby and toddlerhood, yet not quite old enough or developmentally ready for the rigors of a kindergarten classroom,” she continues. “In a high-quality classroom, preschool is a time to learn through play. Teachers should build on each child’s natural sense of curiosity and wonder to help them explore the world around them, while also helping children learn how to be part of a community — to develop the social emotional skills necessary to play and learn with others.” 

It’s worth noting that preschool is different from daycare in that it’s generally offered in half- or full-day (school) options; so for parents who work 9-5, it may not be the best bet.  


  • Offers opportunities for socialization.
  • Prepares kids for school. 
  • Helps improve academic achievement
  • No need for backup care. 
  • Provides structure.
  • Extends support.

Cost: Varies widely. The cost of preschool is heavily influenced by school and location. For instance, the annual average cost of private preschool in New Jersey is $12,753, whereas the average annual cost in Florida is $9,697.

Something to note: “Some states have free preschool, pre-kindergarten and programs for 4-year-old children transitioning to kindergarten the following year,” notes Donna Whittaker, vice president of curriculum and education at Big Blue Marble Academy. “These programs should focus on age-appropriate school readiness skills, as well as preparing children for the social world of kindergarten.” 

Education Week has an interactive chart that shows which states offer universal preschool.

7. Babysitter

Find a local babysitter or part-time babysitter

In many cases, a babysitter provides “here and now” care. Parents may hire them for occasional date nights or to fill one-off child care gaps. They’re hired to entertain the kids and keep them safe through play, supervising playdates, making simple meals and more. Generally, they’re paid by the hour. 

“We don’t use our babysitter weekly, but she’s always our go-to for date nights or outings with friends,” says Serena Ramos, a mom of four in Newark, New Jersey. “We don’t see her super often, but she definitely plays a big role in our lives!”

Another popular option for families with school-aged kids is hiring a regular part-time, after-school sitter to cover the hours between the end of the school day and the end of the work day. These sitters can even pick kids up from school and take them to activities. 


  • Convenient. 
  • Cost-effective.
  • Less disruption to child and parent’s schedule.

Cost: $16-$23 per hour, according to recent Care data from top U.S. cities, but it may be higher for multiple children, last-minute care, or sitters with more experience. Find the current cost for babysitters near you with our cost of care calculator.

8. Au pair

An au pair is a “motivated young adult from another country between 18 and 26 years old, who matches with an American host family to provide live-in child care assistance,” explains Jean Quinn, director and senior vice president at Au Pair in America.

They offer up to “45 hours of work per week,” notes Thibodeau, “in exchange for a weekly stipend [as well as room and board].”

Generally, au pairs, which are regulated by the Department of State, live with a family for one year, but, Quinn adds, they have the “option to extend for longer.”


  • Cost-effective.
  • Convenient.
  • Personalized care. 
  • Exposure to different cultures, languages and customs.

Cost: $195.75 per week minimum, along with room and board. In addition to the weekly stipend, host families are  also required to pay program fees (around $10,000/year) and a $500 education allowance, as well as registration and other fees, which vary from agency to agency.  

9. Mother’s helper

Find a local mother’s helper

A mother’s helper, explains Thibodeau, is essentially “an extra set of hands.” Traditionally, mother’s helpers help out when mom and/or dad are home, and they’re there, for the most part, to play with the kids and keep them safe. 

“Mother’s helpers can be helpful to full-time parents, who have a number of kids, and in turn, find it hard to be fully present anywhere,” Thibodeau says. “They’re sort of like a second in command, and while many have Red Cross training or certifications, most of their training is done on the job.”


  • Convenient. 
  • Cost-effective.
  • Allows for a deeper bond between parents and kids.
  • Personalized care. 
  • Less disruption to child and parent’s schedule.
  • Helps days run smoother. 

Cost: Varies widely. The hourly rate for mother’s helpers can fluctuate based on location, duties and experience, but it generally falls below the average rate of a more experienced nanny or sitter. 

To learn more about mother’s helper rates, check out: How much should I pay a mother’s helper?

10. Hybrid child care plan

Few parents’ schedules are completely the same each day, which is why many opt for a hybrid plan — a few days a week where a part-time nanny or sitter is an option, other days where daycare is an option, etc. Essentially, you get to pick and choose what works best for your family’s individual needs, schedule-, financial- and development-wise. 


  • Tailored to your particular schedule.
  • Backup options.

Cost: Pick and choose care options, based on your budget.

More unique child care options to fit every need

Didn’t see what you were looking for? Check out these other child care option lists: