Start thinking about daycare before your child is born to get in line on year-long wait lists in Charlotte

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Talk to local moms and dads in the early years of raising kids here in Charlotte and they’ll be quick to tell you — childcare is hard to find.

Both state law and practicality keeps classroom sizes small, especially in infant classrooms. That ultimately means that most daycares and preschools have extremely limited capacity.

Getting a spot at one of the few options in your area, or at one that meets all of your criteria, can be a major challenge.

Complicating the process still more is the variety of outside factors that influence waiting lists. If a spot does open up, is it for your child’s age group?

And many daycares honor a sibling policy that offers priority to children with an older sibling already enrolled at the daycare or preschool. A newly opened spot my not go to your child, even if you are first on the waitlist.

Even if you’re just starting to plan a family, it’s not too early to start lining up childcare options.

Whether preschool or daycare, it’s wise to start touring options before your child is even born.

Start by inventorying your needs: Do you need half-day or full-day care? Beginning at what age? Do you want a daycare or preschool? What hours will you need your facility to offer? How far can you drive?

Once you’ve narrowed your search this way, you can start assessing the different values of childcare facilities here in Charlotte.

Some are play-based, while others are academically focused. Some have a religiously founded curriculum, and some have strong relationships with local private schools that you might be hoping to have your child attend once they start school.

“For families that are trying to figure out preschool, you need to figure out what’s important to you. Figure out what it is that you’re looking for, and then go tour,” says Joanna Hollings, assistant director at the Preschool of St. John’s. “You can tell the minute that you walk in somewhere if you belong there and if you feel comfortable there.”

Getting a jumpstart on touring can ensure that you are prepared to enroll and put your name on a waitlist in time to be accepted by the time you require childcare.

I spoke with Hollings on the last day in May, and she said that she’d already received five calls that day from parents seeking preschool for the upcoming year. Those families will now be on waitlists.

Parents seeking half-day preschool should plan on putting their name on waitlists first thing in January of the year they wish to attend, Hollings recommends.

For full-day care, put your name on a waitlist as soon as you are expecting (or as soon as the school allows). These facilities can have waitlists over a year long. Most schools charge a nonrefundable fee for joining a waitlist, often $100-$150.

“Waiting lists are long in Charlotte, and open enrollment is typically late January for the following school year,” says Sandy Patterson, principal of Ivybrook Academy. Private tours at that school begin November 1 each year.

How can I increase my chances of landing the daycare I want?

There aren’t many ways to increase your chances, except to be highly proactive.

Touring facilities before your child is born will help you figure out when you are able to place your name on waitlists, and maximize the chances that you’ll be an early bird.

If you have more than one child and want all of your children to attend the same facility, then you may be wise to seek out a daycare with a sibling policy. Even facilities that don’t honor sibling policies do find that parents with an older child already attending are better informed about when and how to get their next child on the waitlist — meaning they are likely to have taken the appropriate steps to increase their chances of having all of their children admitted.

What’s the reality of this process? A lot of stress.

“You have no idea where to look, and when you do start looking, it’s so disheartening,” said Sarah Baucom, founder of Girl Tribe in Charlotte. While starting the search for care for her children, she heard from parents that many facilities have 1-3 year waitlists.

Making time for tours as a working parent, shelling out for nonrefundable down payments for each waitlist, and finding a facility that is both safe and affordable makes childcare extremely tricky to navigate for working parents.

Baucom says she knows this is a national issue — though in a smaller city like Charlotte, she never anticipated the type of competition and waitlist length that you would envision in large cities like New York.

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