Find Quality Child Care and Early Learning

As a parent, you want the best for your child. Licensed high quality child care and early learning programs support safe and healthy growth and development. Learn about your child care options and apply for a program online.

What does quality licensed child care look like?

Quality child care is early learning. It means positive experiences and outcomes; it helps children prepare for school and beyond. Learn about the characteristics of a quality child care program below so you can ensure your child gets the most out of their experience.

Your child is safe and engaged.

image of child looking closely at flower outsideIn a licensed child care centre or home, programs must meet provincial standards around health, safety, and the ways children are encouraged to learn and grow. These programs are regularly inspected for compliance.

A quality child care program also lets children explore the world around them with their natural curiosity and exuberance. Being engaged in this way helps them learn to think creatively and to problem solve.

Your child can explore, interact and learn through play. 

Image of two children banging sticks on outdoor playground equipment.A quality child care program offers indoor and outdoor play spaces that are equipped to allow children to explore their ideas, investigate their theories, and interact with others. 

Educators support children by gently extending their level of thinking and understanding. This helps children gain knowledge and develop problem solving skills.

Your child is valued as active and competent.

Image of educator engaging in outdoor activity with child.Quality child care programs help each child build on their own unique strengths and abilities. When educators take the time to observe and listen to your child and engage with them as a partner in play, they gain insight into their interest and abilities.  This understanding really helps determine how to support and extend your child’s learning more effectively. 

Quality child care programs believe each child is competent, capable of complex thinking, and curious.  These programs celebrate all social, cultural, and linguistic perspectives.  This ensures all children feel included and can thrive.

Your child is guided by knowledgeable, caring educators.

Image of educator interacting with three children at the whiteboardEducators in quality child care develop positive, responsive relationships with children and their families. This involves daily communication between you and the educator to share important information about your child. Together you talk about your child's accomplishments and interests, and problem solve if you need to.

Educators develop supportive, nurturing routines that respond to your child’s needs. They provide materials and experiences that build on your child’s strengths and interests, and support their learning.

Educators enhance their learning to benefit your child. 

Image of educators gathered around table watching a video on how learning happens.Educators in quality child care are lifelong learners. They continually reflect on their own work and they work with each other to explore new ways to help children learn.

Did you know? Harvard University researchers say that in the first few years of life, more than 1 million neural connections are formed per second. These connections build the foundation on which all later learning, behaviour, and health depend.

For more information on what a quality child care program looks like, see the educator's guide, How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years.

Explore your options

Browse the licensed child care options below to see the differences between them. This may help you choose a provider. The Ministry also has a list of common questions (available in 30 languages) to ask a provider when looking for child care.

Learn more about your child care options in our Parent Guide to Licensed Child Care PDF.

Parent Guide to Licensed Child Care

Licensed child care centres
  • Also known as day programs, nursery school or preschools
  • Care for children from birth to 12 years of age (some centres care for only certain age groups)
  • Care usually available Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Staff include early childhood educators in good standing with their regulating body

Licensed home child care

  • Care for up to six children (including their own, under age 6), from birth to 12 years of age
  • May offer more varied hours of care than the centres (including weekends, part-time)
  • Provided by approved caregivers in their homes under contract with a licensed agency
  • Licensed home child care agencies have consultants trained in early childhood education who offer support to caregivers
Before and after school care
Unlicensed child care
  • Provided by babysitters and nannies in the child's home or in the caregiver's home
  • Caregiver can care for up to five children (including their own, under the age of 6), and no more than two under the age of two. 
  • Caregivers are expected to follow the same standards as licensed home child care, however, the Ministry of Education does not inspect unlicensed caregivers unless it receives a complaint
  • Babysitters and nannies providing care in a child's home are exempt from the Ministry standards

Apply for licensed child care

OneList Waterloo Region is where you apply online for all licensed care in Waterloo Region. You can also apply for financial help to pay for child care, and special needs supports (if you have concerns about your child's development). View answers to our commonly asked questions about One List Waterloo Region and the application process.

Apply for child care

Once your child(ren) are on a waitlist for a program, contact the program to ask questions and set up a tour. If you tour the program, look for a decal that shows it is licensed. Their licensing documents will also tell you things like how many children they can care for and the results of the Ministry's most recent licensing visit.

Quality improvement

Continuous learning and growth is important for children and for early years partners. The Region's quality improvement program is centered on this belief. Early Years Engage helps child care and early learning programs take an ongoing approach to improving.

 Logo: Early Years Engage, Continuous quality improvement in Waterloo Region


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