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9 ways to keep in-home child care startup costs low

There are unavoidable costs associated with starting a child care program in your home. Here are ways to keep those costs low.


Start a wishlist

Begin making a list of all the things you’d like to have for your program. Then, reach out to community centers, parent groups on Facebook, and neighborhood forums like Nextdoor letting them know that you are starting a school and ask if they have anything they’d like to get rid of (this is also a great way to market your school!)

From furniture and Legos to outdoor toys and science materials, you’ll be shocked at how many people are thrilled to clear space in their homes as their kids age. Plus keep an eye out on craigslist for other local programs who are closing and looking to re-home their furniture and materials.

Remember: less is more. It’s not good for children to be in an overly busy or cluttered environment. You don’t need to accept every item that’s offered to you. Anything that’s put in the classroom should serve a distinct learning purpose.

Often, gently used items make a great “starter set” for your tours and first few weeks of school, and then you can rotate them out for items you love once you receive your first few deposits and have a better idea of what will work in your space.

Connect with other providers

Maybe you already have a network of providers that you can tap into, or we can help connect you with other Wonderschool programs in your area with whom you can swap ideas, curriculum, and supplies.



Go natural

Teachers know that natural items and things discovered around the house often make the best arts and crafts and creative play materials—think pinecones, leaves, dried beans, paper plates, toilet paper rolls, empty egg cartons, the list goes on.

nature and discovery center and outdoor garden area are both enriching options that can be put together for next to nothing.

Natural materials also lend themselves to great outdoor play areas! Several Wonderschool programs have set up incredible outdoor spaces using natural materials that are free of cost.

Take a cue from Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) and emergent curriculum

Many of Wonderschool’s school directors practice these tried-and-true child care methodologies that take a simplified approach to classroom materials. The RIE’s Educaring® Approach encourages caretakers to provide infants with only enough help as necessary and to allow the child to master her own actions. This means open-ended toys and materials; a clear, uncluttered space with plenty of room for movement; and not a lot of specialized equipment.

Many of our teachers of older children practice “emergent curriculum,” which is a way of planning a curriculum that is based on the children’s interest and passion. Using this method, you can wait and see what your students express interest in before you invest in tons of materials at the beginning. Many things can wait until you’re further along with your school, know your students better, and have a more stable income.

Partner with parents

It’s not uncommon for family child care programs to ask parents to supply some of the materials for their child, including blankets, diapers, wipes, pack-and-play cribs, car seats, and sheets for nap time. While most of this is completely reasonable, keep in mind that if you ask parents to provide more labor-intensive items (like food), you may need to reduce tuition slightly.

Simplify food prep

It can be costly to serve fresh, healthy food. Contact your local child care resource and referral program to learn about the National School Lunch Program through the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services.

Administered by state agencies, the program offers monthly financial support to family child care providers for serving nutritious meals. There are some rules involved, including mandatory trainings and visits to your school. Once approved by your state’s education agency to participate in these programs, you must submit a monthly claim for reimbursement to receive payment for meals served.

To apply for the food program, you must have children currently enrolled at your school, serve meals that are in compliance with the USDA’s food requirements, keep daily records of food served and children in attendance at meals, attend a mandatory training, and comply with other program requirements.

Consider your age group

Generally speaking, family child cares that serve only infants (0-2 years) typically cost less to start than those that serve older children. Because of the high demand for infant care, you will have an easier time finding families and won’t have to purchase a lot of specialized equipment (especially if you follow the RIE method).

Think: lots of open-ended materials and open space for movement. By serving only infants, you can strategically optimize just one or two rooms of your home, and don’t necessarily need to transform your entire house into a full-fledged preschool the moment you open your doors.

Creatively use existing space

You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars in costly renovations to your home if you smartly use your existing space and take advantage of community resources, like libraries and parks. If your backyard space is limited, find a local park or playground to visit.

Don’t stress if you don’t have the resources to update every inch of your home—spending time outside in the community provides all sorts of opportunities for learning.

Be a smart shopper

Here are some great places to find deals:

  • Dollar Tree and Daiso – for science materials like magnifying glasses and gardening materials
  • – for art and cleaning supplies
  • Home Depot – for lumber to build outdoor play materials (such a planter box or sandbox). Mention that you’re a teacher and you may get some free extras lying around in the back!
  • IKEA – for furniture, toys, home décor, and kitchenware
  • The thrift store for gently used toys and furniture
  • Target – for storage and organizational items
  • Warehouse stores like Costco or Sam’s Club for stocking up on items in bulk, like paper plates, paper towels, and cleaning supplies

Before you buy anything to start your preschool or child care, ask yourself…

Do I have physical space for this item? And does this item have more than one use?

The more physical space an item takes up, the harder it will be to get rid of. If the answer to both questions is yes, it may be a good investment. If you’re unsure, then wait. You don’t need everything all at once. You’ll thank yourself later.

Join Wonderschool today and let us help you make your dream of starting your own preschool a reality!


Wonderschool is a network of quality in-home early childhood programs. Our mission is to ensure that every child has access to a home away from home that helps them realize their full potential. We work with experienced educators and child care providers to help them start their own child care or preschool out of their homes, whether they live in apartments, condos, or homes that they rent or own.