Drop-In Day Care

Life often happens unexpectedly. And gaps in child care can spring up at a moment’s notice — maybe the nanny’s sick, or your go-to babysitter canceled. Perhaps your child’s school or regular daycare is closed for the day. That’s where drop-in day care can come in handy.

What is this type of daycare center, though? How is drop-in day care different from other care programs? Read on to find out.

Mom walking kindergarten-aged daughter to school

What is a Drop-In Day Care? 

Drop-in day care mixes convenience with fun. These centers provide schedule flexibility and can cover child care while you’re at business events, at weddings or other adult functions, running errands, out for date nights, or any other time care is needed. Maybe you need last-minute drop-in day care; or, maybe you’ve been planning an event for weeks or months. Drop-in day care is suitable for all of these options. 

And while it’s convenient for you, it’s also fun for your child. They’ll get to play with other children and participate in structured activities that keep them engaged. There may even be a specific theme — a pajama party, talent show, beach luau, safari hunt, or pirate night. 

Drop-in day care might be more exciting for your child than an at-home babysitter. Why? When they’re at home, they probably won’t be around a group of other children (unless they have siblings), and they won’t have the allure of new activities, toys, and fun things to do. Changing up your daycare routine can spark excitement! 

Differences Between Drop-In Day Care and Back-Up Care 

You might initially think that drop-in day care and back-up care are the same thing. However, there are some stark contrasts between the two.  

With drop-in day care, your child will probably only be at the center for a few hours — enough time for you to run errands, attend an appointment or business event, etc.  

Now, are you wondering, “What is back-up child care?” Or, “How does back-up care work?” 

Back-up care is an emergency care service available for employees. If your employer offers this perk, it means you have an easily accessible child care option. When kids are home from school on a snow day, the babysitter is sick, or whenever you need an extra hand so you can make it to work, back-up care comes in to save the day.  

Back-up care might be provided in child care centers, dedicated back-up care centers, or through providers who will come to your home — it all depends on what your employer’s specific benefit package includes. Back-up care makes last-minute child care much less stressful, and gives you the peace of mind you need to focus on work.  

What to Look for in a Drop-In Day Care 

Next, it’s important to know what to look for when searching for a high-quality drop-in day care center. These centers are often run very much like traditional daycare centers. In fact, some regular daycare facilities may offer drop-in care in the evening and on weekends.  

A daycare center should follow all local, state, and federal regulations; they should also conduct background checks on all staff members. 

Be sure to check each drop-in day care center’s credentials. Care facilities should be licensed by the state in which they operate, and staff should have experience working with children, early childhood training, and CPR/First-Aid certifications. 

Additionally, ask about the four things we’ve listed below. 

Hours and Days of Operation 
Hours that match your schedule are essential — some drop-in daycares might just be open during the workday; others might be open until 9 or 10 p.m. (maybe even later on weekends). Some might even be open on Sundays. Check holiday schedules —New Year’s Eve, Christmas, the day after Thanksgiving, etc.  

Staff-to-Child Ratios 
A low ratio will typically mean your child receives more attention; it can also help ensure safety at the center and in the classrooms.  

While you might think “drop-in” implies that the center offers walk-in child care, this may not be the case. You’ll likely have to make a reservation, even for last-minute care needs. Each center has a maximum capacity, and they often fill up. In the event that a center is full, you would be added to the waitlist.  

Finally, find out how much it costs to use drop-in day care for a few hours — or a whole day. You might find that it’s equivalent to (or maybe even more affordable than) hiring a babysitter. Of course, it depends on the area in which you live, the quality of the center, activities and meals offered, and more.  


What does drop-in mean at daycare?

Drop-in day care — or short-term child care — is used by parents that need temporary care for their children or dependents, typically for errands or to participate in leisurely activities. Common reasons parents use drop-in day care include date nights, schedule changes that pop up last minute, and simply running errands. 

What is play education?

You’ll probably hear about or observe play-based learning at high-quality child care and early education centers. Learning through play helps children develop social-emotional, problem-solving, and language skills, and has numerous other benefits. It’s child-led and open-ended — and it’s often seen in Discovery Driven Learning at educational daycares. 
mother holding child

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Bright Horizons is a United States–based child-care provider and is the largest provider of employer-sponsored child care. Employees looking to become a child care teacher are offered the opportunity to earn an early education degree for free as part of their corporate benefits. Search by zip to find a child care center near you. Bright Horizons Global Headquarters are in Newton, Massachusetts, USA.