How to get a day care job

Feb. 8, 2019

“Child care is really one of the hardest but also one of the most rewarding jobs,” says Angela Wolfe, owner of Children’s Lighthouse of Little Elm, Texas. If that statement excites you, rather than intimidates you, it’s a good sign that a job at a day care center might be right for you.

But getting a job at a child care center doesn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. Your job search will largely depend on your education, experience, aspirations, preferences and location. Here’s a step-by-step guide for turning your love for kids into a career — along with specifics on what can vary and why.

Know the requirements

Every day care is going to have different hiring requirements and preferences, says Wolfe. Before you start, research the specific requirements of your state for the type of day care position you want. You may also decide to call a few child care centers where you’d like to work, and ask to speak to the director. They may be able to tell you what they’re looking for when hiring.

“Typically the baseline for employment in child care in my area is a high school diploma with two years experience working with children — babysitting, volunteer work or other child care employment, etc.,” says Sabrina Walters, director of U-GRO Learning Centres in York, Pennsylvania.

What if I have no child care experience?

Looking for a day care job with no experience? It’s possible.

“You can start as an aide — a teacher who cannot be left alone with children — without the experience, if a program is willing,” says Walters.

Keep in mind that for some employers, experience could mean volunteering with a youth organization or babysitting. You might also have background that’s relevant. For example, customer service experience shows you can be a team player and communicate effectively with parents, coworkers and children. Put that on your resume and/or your job application, and it can make you an appealing candidate without experience that’s child-care-specific.

“We do sometimes hire good, loving people without experience if we find they are truly passionate about working with children,” says Wolfe. “In that case, we will put them through training.”

What about preschool jobs?

If you want to be a pre-K teacher, the requirements will likely be higher. Do a little research into what your state mandates. Many require a certain number of hours in a classroom before becoming a preschool teacher. And certain programs may look for a child development associate (CDA) certificate or higher education, such as an associate degree or even a bachelor’s degree in education. Others will help you earn your CDA.

“If your area has a quality initiative program, like Pennsylvania’s Keystone STARS program, teacher certification and/or college degrees may be more of an expectation than in other areas,” Walters says.

What about training and background checks?

Many states and child care centers require that employees undergo background checks and get training in CPR and first aid. SIDS and head trauma training may be required as well, says Amy James, franchise owner of Primrose School of Nashville Midtown and Primrose School of Brentwood in Tennessee. Often, they’ll let you complete those after you’re hired and some centers will pay for the training as well, but preference may be given to candidates who already have them.

You may also be required to do continuing education so you practice your skills and keep learning and growing throughout your early education career.

Check out your options

To find the right day care center job for you, logistics like your responsibilities, pay rate, benefits and the ages and the number of children you’ll be working with are always important to consider. Also, think hard about what type of organization you want to be a part of, what you’d like to learn on the job, and what you’re aspiring to do in the future.

Depending on the area where you live, there may be a variety of different child care settings where you can work. They could include:

Child care center: A typical day care or child care center provides care for babies as young as 5 weeks old up to perhaps preschoolers and even school-aged kids. Some centers are independently owned and operated; others are part of a franchise. You might find that some are strictly preschools that offer half-day or full-day options. Many extend the hours to early morning and evening to accommodate working parents.

In-home child care: There may also be an in-home day care looking to hire, but ask carefully about benefits like health care and paid time off, as they may offer fewer than a child care center does.

Before- and after-school care: There may also providers of only before and/or after-school care. If this is the route you go, you may not get as many hours — or at least continuous hours — as you would at a full-time child care center.

As you do your research, you might find many of the centers are similar, but you might find some variety in teaching styles and philosophies. For example, Wolfe says, some centers may have kids learning mainly from worksheets and coloring pages, but others create hands-on learning opportunities for kids through activities like drawing letters in the sand.

Here are a few of the types you may come across:

Montessori: A preschool that follows the Montessori method has multi-age classrooms, where students are meant to learn from each other, as well as direct their own learning through specific activities and playthings, with their teachers acting as a guide. Usually, teachers are required to have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Without a college education, you can become an associate at the infant and toddler and early education levels. Plus, you’ll have to have Montessori-specific training.

Waldorf: Waldorf (a.k.a. Steiner) schools use a curriculum that emphasizes individuality and respect. Kids are encouraged to direct their own play with simple toys. Learning is done through lots of activities and real-world experiences. Teachers must have Waldorf training.

Co-op: Co-op preschools are created by a group of parents who want a similar type of education for their kids. Parents take turns assisting the teacher and run the business of the school. So essentially, the parents would be your employer.

Head Start: Head Start is a government program designed to help lower income families afford preschool and help kids get ready for kindergarten. A preschool that participates in Head Start receives reimbursement for the kids’ tuition. That means that if your employer does participate in Head Start, you may be required to undergo certain training designed to maintain a high quality of care and education.

Religious: Some day care programs and preschools are run and/or affiliated with religious organizations, such as synagogues and churches. It may not be required that you practice the religion of the institution that runs the school, but part of your job may be participating in religious rituals, such as singing, praying and attending worship services.

Start your search

Online job boards are a good place to start when looking for jobs at a day care. Also, check local day care websites. Some of them have extensive websites where they’ll post openings and/or information on how to apply for jobs.

And don’t be afraid of making a direct inquiry. Call a day care where you’d like to work and ask them if they have openings and/or if you can fill out an application for them to keep on file for when they do. Maybe you’ll catch a director who’s not into posting online or who hasn’t had a chance to do it yet. Plus, you’ll be showing that you’re proactive, which might certainly catch an employer’s eye.

Read next: Celebrating caregivers!

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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