Daycare Dilemma: Choosing the Right One is Just the First Step; Getting in is Another Matter

Tips to help you select the best daycare, as well as local resources for daycares in Whatcom County

Flickr user USAG-Humphreys

Flickr user USAG-Humphreys

You haven’t had your babe yet, but may be starting to consider daycare options for when that time comes.

Daycare centers have many benefits to offer you and your family (aside from the obvious supervision one!). They provide socialization, not only for your children, but also for you and your partner. According to this article published by the Greater Good for UC Berkeley, daycares can be a great way for new moms to meet and create friendships. Anyone who has just had a baby knows how important forming these bonds of support can be.

Daycare germs and bugs used to get a bad rap, but we now realize that exposing our children to all those nasties can help boost their immune systems, making preschool and kindergarten just a little easier. And then there’s the recent study, reported by Reuters, that claims children who go to “high-quality” daycare actually scored higher than their non-daycare peers “on measures of academic and cognitive achievement years later as teenagers.”

So daycare is looking pretty good, right? The only trouble is, you weren’t aware that you should have been calling these places weeks ago to get on the waitlist, like way back in your second trimester. And it’s not just a challenge here in Bellingham, Washington, but elsewhere across the country as well. Daycares book up fast and early; some waiting lists can last a year or more.

So what’s a mom to do? Our best advice is two-fold. First: call every daycare in town and add your name to their wait list (if it’s free of charge to do so) regardless of your schedule and future plans. It’s better to have your name in the hat and not need it then to be left at the final hour without any options.  And as we all know, things change on a daily basis, so you want to make sure you keep your options open. Once you’ve added your name to the various waitlists, then you can take your time interviewing the daycares and conducting site visits. As you approach your due date, you can start to narrow it down to the daycare that best fits your needs and place a deposit to secure your child’s spot, should you be so lucky to get into your first pick.

If you are considering daycare, we recommend (after getting on those waiting lists!) that you determine what works best with your parenting style and schedule, and formulate a list of questions to ask the daycare director. This list from What To Expect offers great guidance on choosing the best daycare facility that’s right for you and your partner, and we have also created a list below, based on questions our own Bellingham moms have asked.

Questions to Ask Daycares: 

  1. What is the care provider to child ratio? Per Washington State, daycares should have one caretaker per four infants, no more. Some local facilities offer even better ratios than that.
  2. What is the cost and schedule? Some daycares only offer full-time rates, regardless of whether your child attends part-time or full-time. Does the daycare have a flexible schedule, or do you have to commit to specific days in advance? Most places require you to pay for your days even if you don’t use them in order to reserve that space for your child, but it can’t hurt to ask. Does the daycare offer credit for vacations and/or days not used?
  3. How often is the facility cleaned (including beds, play areas, and toys)? How often is the bedding changed?
  4. What accreditations does the facility have?
  5. What security measures does the daycare building have? Are the doors locked from the outside? Windows secure?
  6. What is their childcare philosophy for soothing, feeding, education, discipline, and conflict resolution? Some daycares do not swaddle, while others subscribe to a “cry it out” philosophy. It’s important to know whether their childcare philosophies align with your own.
  7. Who are the individual caregivers and are they certified in CPR and first aid? How long have they been on staff?
  8. Does the daycare provide diapers and wipes or are they to be provided by the parents? Does the facility provide formula? Is there a fridge to store mother’s breast milk?
  9. Are special toys from home permitted?
  10. Will your child have their own bed or will she rotate with other babies?

 For toddlers and older:

  1. Is there a sample menu? Are you able to bring special snacks and food from home?
  2. How much time do they spend outdoors? Is there a rain policy?
Flickr user Donnie Ray Jones

Flickr user Donnie Ray Jones

For more information on The Department of Early Learning’s (DEL) regulations (also known as rules, Washington Administrative Code, or WAC) visit their website.

After you’ve conducted your armchair research and made your calls, it’s time to go and tour the facilities. The sooner the better because in many cases, you have to make a cash deposit to secure your spot, should one become available. Here is a listing (in no particular order) of Whatcom County Daycares.

If you are a daycare and you are not included in this list, please email us at so we can add you; please also email us if your policies we have listed below have changed and you would like us to update them!

Daycares in Bellingham, Washington

Tips: Email your name, phone number, name of baby (if you have it), due date, month you’d like to start, and # days/week to: Additional location: Whatcom Family YMCA, 1256 N. State. St., 360-733-8630.

Tips: Hillcrest doesn’t accept children under 12 months of age, but it doesn’t hurt to get on their wait list as soon as possible. To do this, you will need to fill out a schedule request online or in person.

Tips: To register for waitlist: $105 deposit due to secure spot, first come first serve.

Tips: To register for wait list:

Tips: Requires a $50 deposit to secure spot. No part-time options; flat weekly rate. Additional locations: 4085 Home Rd., 360-527-8952; 1635 Main St. (Ferndale), 360-738-4967.

Tips: Tour is required to secure a spot. flat-rate tuition; no part-time rates.

Do you have other questions you think should be added to the list? If so, comment below or email us at 

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