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At What Age Can a Child Attend Day Care?

by Erica Loop, studioD

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, roughly 13 million young children attend some sort of child care program in the U.S. This includes day cares, preschools, family homes and other non-parental care arrangements. While many of these programs accept kids from infants on up, specific age requirements for attending day care often vary depending on the center, policies and the children themselves.


It's unlikely that your local day care will accept a newborn infant. That said, some centers will take on young infants that are just weeks old. The majority of day cares won't admit a child until he is at least 6 weeks old. Some centers may make exceptions for families that staff members know well, or in home-care arrangements can be made. For example, a home day care operator may decide that she has adequate adult help to care for a 5 week old.

Age-graded Programs

While many day cares accept children starting from infant-age, some may choose to only work with kids who are toddlers or even preschoolers. These specialized programs often put a priority on education and may have age requirements that reflect the expected developmental or learning level of the child. Day cares operating "toddler" rooms or programs may only allow parents to enroll children who are 2 to 3 years old. Likewise, "preschool" day care rooms may have age restrictions allowing only children who are over 3 years of age.

Ability and Need

Some day cares may only accept children of specific ages who have mastered, or are almost ready to master, specific tasks. This doesn't mean that a day care wouldn't accept a 3 year old who can't say his ABCs. Instead, a care center may ask parents to wait to enroll a child until he has certain self-care or self-control abilities, such as using the potty, feeding or dressing himself. This can help ease the burden on the staff and allow the adults to focus on other learning or care-related issues.

Exceptions and Considerations

Not every 6 week old, 2 year old or 5 year old meets a cookie-cutter picture of common developmental milestones. Some children may fall slightly behind or reach above early childhood expectations. These instances call for exceptions in the child's start age for a day care program. For example, a child care center may commonly accept infants who are 6 weeks old and up. A child who was born several weeks prematurely may not fit the developmental mold of a typical 6-week-old baby. This child, while technically eligible for day care, may need to wait for a few extra weeks.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

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