The Best Age to Start Daycare

What’s the best age to start daycare?

There are many considerations to take into account when deciding to commence daycare and as everyone’s circumstances and children are different, there is no definitive answer as to when the best age to start daycare is. 

Best age to start daycare for kids

Each child’s individual and social circumstances will be different and there are many factors to consider including such things as: 

  • Your work situation
  • Your child’s confidence levels when talking to other children and adults
  • Your child’s ability to adjust to a new unfamiliar environment
  • Your child’s ability to cope with noise and activity
  • Can you classify your child as a participator or an observer

Regardless of what your decision is there is child care and daycare available to suit your needs. Age group specific considerations are as follows.

0-18 months

young children playing at daycare with an assortment of balloons

As babies in this age bracket are really dependant on regular one on one attention, daycare options should be restricted to centres that can provide a small carer to baby ratio and a clean environment. This small ratio enables the carer to respond quickly to the baby’s needs.

Six months is usually the minimum age for daycare.

18 – 48 months

young children playing with building blocks at childcare both wearing multi-coloured sweaters

From the age of 18 months, the toddler becomes a little more mobile but still requires vigilant attention from the carer. Therefore it is essential that daycare centres can supply care with low carer to child ratios. Toddlers are liable to want to test limits and boundaries and they require constant attention and supervision. Home care options make good options at this age, but daycare centres with low staff/child ratios can be more than adequate childcare options.

3-5 years

an older daycare child painting with blue paint all over his hands

Preschoolers can gain great benefits from attending daycare centres as they are given plenty of opportunity to practice social skills and interact with others of the same age. A day care or childcare centre offers children the chance to build social skills in a safe environment while participating in a range of activities that they may not otherwise be able to.

What does the research say?

Much of the research indicates that the child’s development will be substantially affected by the quality of daycare provided. Indeed, it has been found by the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) that better quality care in the formative preschool years can lead to greater cognitive development in the early school years. By quality care NICHD mean that care givers were able to provide a positive environment by providing greater sensitivity to needs, encouraging cognitive simulation and exploration as well as fostering a positive regard in the child.

There is also some evidence to suggest that younger children in particular were prone to suffer increased cortisol levels when left in childcare. Children older than twenty months were still affected but not to the same degree. Cortisol is secreted when the body is subjected to stress. There is however, some debate as to whether the increased cortisol levels are due to stress or increased activity levels and stimulation in a childcare setting.

The cortisol level has been shown to decrease over time as children adjust to their new environment.

One area that requires further research is a condition known as disrupted attachment. While attachment to the mother and other family members mainly forms in the first twelve months although there is some thought that the first three years of development are sensitive years.

Disrupted attachment is a known condition that is largely found in children who have endured prolonged periods of limited parental contact. This is a totally different scenario where children know that their parents will return after a set number of hours. The research that has been done shows that mothers who invest the time into helping their 11-20 month old children adapt to childcare were successful in maintaining and securing attachment with their children.

How long should children stay per day

Just like there is no definitive worst age to start daycare, there is no set period of how long children should stay in daycare on a daily basis. When introducing children to daycare it is recommended that you spend some time initially helping them to adjust to their new environment and withdrawing after they settle in. 

In some circumstances, parents have little choice other than to leave their children in day care for the entire working day. This is not necessarily an issue, provided that the daycare offers quality care and has more than adequate carer to children ratios. Furthermore, the child’s acceptance and enjoyment of daycare will depend upon the levels of care and attention that they receive at home when in the company of their parents.


For many people, daycare is a necessity and for many there is some understandable degree of concern about what the best age to start daycare is and how long children should be left in daycare. Provided children are raised in a loving family environment and that the daycare facility has good carer to child ratios and delivers demonstrable quality childcare, daycare will prove to be an enjoyable and invaluable experience for preschoolers of all ages. Ultimately, the best age to start daycare will be the time that you and your child are ready for it and Kids Kinder will be able to help the adjustment no matter what age the child.