Child Care 101 for Manhattan Families

There’s no place on earth quite like Manhattan, and that goes for trying to find child care there as well. The Manhattan child care scene is an eclectic mix of diverse daycare options, prestigious preschools, universal pre-K programs, and sometimes mile-long waitlists. There are a lot of important things to consider when searching for the right child care for your kids, but there’s no reason why choosing one has to be a major source of stress.

Here, we’ve gathered everything you need to know about the Manhattan child care scene to help you pick the right preschool or daycare for your child.

What types of child care will I find in Manhattan?

First, let’s start with the basics. How is daycare different from preschool, and what about that whole universal pre-K thing?

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Daycare: Programs for infants to preschoolers that are meant to provide activities, learning opportunities, and socialization. These programs help kids adjust to learning and playing in a group setting and can be structured or more free-form, depending the type of program being offered and the ages of the kids.
  • Preschool: Programs for 2–4 year olds that are designed with kindergarten readiness in mind. Curricula can vary widely, but these programs are all generally more structured, follow a part-time or full-time “school day” schedule, and are meant to help kids adjust to a classroom environment.
  • Pre-Kindergarten: As of February 2018, NYC kids born in 2014 are eligible for universal pre-kindergarten (pre-K), which the New York City Department of Education describes as “free, full-day, high-quality pre-K in a safe learning environment with opportunities to participate in engaging activities and interact with other children and teaching staff.”

While preschool programs are among the most sought-after in many major metropolitan areas, in Manhattan the introduction of universal pre-K and the need most parents have for affordable, full-time care has led to a massive surge in the popularity of daycare. Preschool is, of course, still on many parents’ radars, but as our data shows, just the difference in the availability of daycares versus preschools in Manhattan is pretty staggering. There are 1,387 daycares in Manhattan, compared with 283 preschools, and the competition to get coveted spots at all of these different care centers can be fierce.

What are the different programs being offered?

Manhattan’s daycare and preschool options are as diverse as New York City itself. If parents are looking for a bilingual play-based co-op four blocks away from their office, they can probably find that. In fact, according to our data, kids in Manhattan have the option to learn Spanish, French, Japanese, Russian, German, Hebrew, and Mandarin, depending on which daycare or preschool parents choose.

And unlike many other cities where Montessori’s reign supreme, Manhattan parents are all about the play-based programs. Almost a quarter of care providers stick to a play-based curriculum. What’s the difference? While both play-based and Montessori approaches center play in the learning process, Montessori schools tend to be more child-focused, meaning the child sets the day’s activities based on what they’d like to do, while play-based classrooms give kids freedom to explore and experiment within teacher-directed activities.

Another 20% of Manhattan kids attend schools with an academic, tech, or arts-based curriculum. And a small group — around 3% of Manhattan kids — attend a school with a blended curriculum that exposes them to elements of many different teaching and learning styles.

Where to start your search

Most parents look for child care that’s either close to home or in the same neighborhood as their employer. In Manhattan, parents can easily find child care in either of these locations, though some neighborhoods have more options than others.

Parents looking in the northernmost parts of Manhattan (in Harlem and surrounding neighborhoods) have the biggest selection when it comes to choosing a daycare, likely because those are the areas that more and more families are calling home. Parents looking on the Upper East Side and Upper West Side also have a plethora of places to choose from — over half of all the preschools in Manhattan are located here!

Based on our data, the number of daycares and preschools starts to decline near Midtown and through lower Manhattan, though that’s not say parents who live or work in these areas are without options. Chelsea alone is home to over 100 daycares and preschools, while Murray Hill and Gramercy Park claim 95, Greenwich and SoHo have 50, and the Lower East Side is home to 171 different care providers. Basically, no matter where you are in Manhattan, you can find quality child care to meet your needs.

And no matter where you look, you can find daycares and preschools that accommodate all schedules. About half of all Manhattan daycares are set up to provide full-time care and more than a quarter provide after-care for kids coming from part-time preschool or other school-day programs.

Parents in most metropolitan areas are told to start looking for child care as soon as possible once they have kids, and that advice couldn’t be more true than it is for Manhattan parents. According to one local expert, the average Manhattan daycare has around a 1-year waitlist for infant placements, and the waitlist can be up to 2 years for kids over 12 months old. This means the golden rule for Manhattan child care is: start looking as early as possible.

Most daycares enroll new students year-round, with more availability in the early spring and in the fall, when kids are graduating into new classrooms or moving on to pre-K or Kindergarten.

That said, openings and enrollment depend largely on the type and size of the program. Parents should start searching and applying to programs especially early if they:

  • Know for sure they’re going to need full-time, full-year care in a specific neighborhood.
  • Plan to seek child care assistance through a subsidized or needs-based program, as these often have wait lists.
  • Are interested in less common programs in Manhattan, like a Montessori school or one with a blended curriculum.

So, how much is this going to cost?

Price is a huge factor for most families considering child care. According to a recent Winnie survey, about 36 percent of parents cite cost as the reason they end up skipping daycare and preschool altogether.

The average cost of child care in Manhattan is between $1,300 and $2,500 per month. On the high end, that is more than twice the national average. And unfortunately, most Manhattan daycares and preschools don’t offer scholarships or financial assistance.

There are a variety of factors that can influence the price of care.

Babies and young children almost always have a higher tuition. In Manhattan, the average cost of full-time care for an infant or young toddler is around $,1800 per month.

Child care will also be more expensive for parents who need care outside of typical hours — for example, if a parent works nights or weekends, or has to hire a nanny or find an alternate program. Prices also go up for more prestigious programs or if a particular preschool or daycare is located in a more affluent part of the city.

Now that you know what you’re looking for, here’s how to start your search.

At winnie.com/manhattan/childcare, we’ve gathered data on every licensed daycare and preschool in Manhattan, so everything you need to get started is all in one place, no matter which neighborhood you call home. Winnie is free to use, and the directory can be accessed with or without a sign-up. If you do sign up, you also have the ability to post questions to local parents and get answers in real time.

Start by entering your zip code of your home, office, or anywhere you prefer, to make drop-offs and pick-ups easy. When you reach the search results page, you’ll have the option to drag the map around, search for programs by age, and filter by type of facility and schedule.

The Winnie listing for each daycare and preschool is designed to give you a starting point in your search. It has descriptions of each place, hours of operation, photos, and sometimes tuition and enrollment information. And you can bookmark or pin the ones you‘re really interested in so it’s easy to go back and grab their contact info.

Finally, many people aren’t aware that information pertaining to the schools’ license is publicly available.

Definitely check this out! You can find a link to the school’s license on their Winnie page, under “Contact Information.”

All licensed preschools and daycares are inspected regularly and these inspections are public information. You can also see if complaints have been filed against the school and even subscribe to updates in case their licensing status changes.

Check out Winnie’s full directory of Manhattan daycares and preschools at winnie.com/manhattan/childcare

Posted in Daycare, Preschool ∙ Updated April 2019