Choosing Day Care: Upper West Side Moms Share Why and Where

Photograph courtesy of MetroKids Playschool.

By Sara Lewin Lebwohl

Upper West Side parents are faced with many decisions, but the one that often tops the list is what to do about child care. Whether they need it to work or to retain a semblance of their lifestyles and sanity (and they can afford it!), parents often turn to outside resources to help care for their children.

The two most popular child-care choices are hiring a nanny or day care. This article focuses on day care: its quality, cost, and availability on the Upper West Side.

Day care used to be thought of as a default decision for those who couldn’t afford nannies, but that is no longer the case. First of all, day care can be as or more expensive than a nanny. There are currently 85 programs on the UWS, with an average cost of $2,300 per month for five-days-a-week care, according to Upfront, a startup business that is currently collecting and analyzing child-care data for local governments, including New York City.

Second, there are some advantages to day care, experts say, in terms of socialization, cognition, and language development, as well as some disadvantages, i.e. behavioral problems down the line. But Psychology Today reported these differences to be “relatively minor,” adding, “Parent and family factors (such as parent education, the home environment, and the quality of the parent-child interaction) have a much greater impact on child development than the type of child care you choose…. Accordingly, parents should choose the type of child care that works best for their family and their individual child.”

Photograph courtesy of Purple Circle.

But finding the right day-care program and attaining a spot in it can be challenging on the Upper West Side. “The official NYC portal is atrocious and has a ton of old, incomplete information,” said Dana Levin-Robinson, CEO and Co-Founder of Upfront, in a telephone conversation. “And only 60% of UWS [day-care programs] have a website, so parents can’t see 40% of their real options.”

With all the challenges, moms rely most of all on word of mouth and Facebook groups for recommendations. The following moms have come forward to share their experiences, recommendations, and tips for choosing day care for their kids. The list is a random sample, neither comprehensive nor an endorsement.

One UWS woman who chose to remain anonymous said that she found a great fit for her son at MetroKids day care. “We love it. We considered hiring a nanny, but we really wanted the socialization aspect,” she said. She looked at quite a few options around the UWS. “[One] was much more expensive than MetroKids, so I thought that would mean better quality, but when I went to visit, I did not feel that way.” She had been nervous that selecting day care over a nanny would mean “less attention to details she felt were important” for her son’s care. Those concerns quickly dissipated when she saw how her son was thriving.

Sara Frantzreb, UWS mom of two, had looked at day-care options and found a nanny was less expensive. “There was one center that was $45,000 for a 9am-2pm program. That is just a massive amount of money!”

Rivka Einy has two sons, one with special needs. “I know that the Upper West Side is an incredible place to live with a lot of resources for children. And, yet, it’s been really hard for me to find the right fit for my younger child. For my older son, it was easier. “I really liked Purple Circle’s child-led approach; they are very warm and progressive. They are not focused on meeting standards, but rather on learning through experience. It’s a wonderful social-emotional curriculum.”

Courtesy of JCC.

Meredith Oppenheim, a full-time working mom, said that when she went looking for a day-care program, she wanted one that felt “warm and welcoming.” She decided that the JCC was a good fit for her daughter and was very happy with her choice, “I felt like they are part of something bigger than our family, and I liked the value system,” she said.

Melody Solowky sends her daughter to Goddard and despite the “huge, huge bill,” she is very happy with the consistent care and curriculum her daughter receives. When asked why she chose Goddard over hiring a nanny, Melody said, “I didn’t want to worry about the logistics of being an employer.” She noted that “it’s not just the hourly rate a nanny could charge, but also transportation costs, classes they take children to, and food, which can really add up.”

Samantha Keene, mom of two, did part-time day care for her kids. Samantha encourages parents to explore options outside of the traditional two, and suggested looking into nanny-shares. “People want the home environment, but also want socialization for their kids,” Samantha said. This could be a cost-effective, happy medium.

Not all parents interviewed found programs on the UWS. Christine Palma, owner of an acupuncture business on 84th Street, needed immediate coverage when she adopted her child, because she had a business to run. She discovered that UWS daycare programs had long waitlists. She finally found an open spot in Harlem. Some of her clients are single moms, she told the Rag, and have struggled to find affordable child care on the UWS. She has reached out to Rep. Jerry Nadler, but has yet to hear back.

In April, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that the state budget would include $7 billion for child care, which is double the current amount, reported Chalkbeat. The expansion would be spread over four years, with the goal of attaining universal affordable child care.

Despite the challenges in finding and securing child care, UWS moms are always willing to share information to help each other out. Hopefully, the city will catch up and provide more effective resources for parents as they navigate this important family decision.

NEWS, SCHOOLS | 13 comments | permalink
    1. J Connor says:

      I’d love to hear about more experiences. And from moms who chose a nanny or other options. Crazy there isn’t a place to find all of this information. Thanks for starting this conversation!

      • Dana says:

        100% agreed- Upfront actually creates public portals for families with all of this info, but NYC can be tricky to work with because the data belongs to the state. The industry could use some changes!

      • Love for the 10025 says:

        Had kids in Morningside 2016 and 2019. What worked best with our parenting style and budget was a part-time nanny. It meant sacrificing work and pay for both mom and dad (yes, especially mom), but that’s what we wanted for our children when they were young (less than 4).

        My children got so much individualized attention and they went to so many cultural institutions that were great for exploration and learning. The NY public library and park system were our other early childcare providers. It was here where the children got socialization in — we met many friends for both the children and adults this way. The daily offerings for young children at libraries throughout the city is a tremendous resource for families.

        I read before becoming a mom that prioritizing parenthood in the early years (0-3) is akin to making an investment in the emotional well-being of your children. Yes, I know this is not financially possible to even consider for everyone. The argument could be made our arrangement was not the best financial move for us, but my husband and I were OK with that.

        At 3.5 we started the play-based nursery school at Broadway Presbyterian, which is so nurturing. Honestly had I known about them sooner I would have enrolled at an earlier age, especially since they offer a couple mornings at a time for the youngest set. But overall no regrets. Starting my children’s life on the Upper West Side was a gift I’ll always be grateful for, and if it wasn’t for my husband’s career taking us out of the city last summer, we’d be there forever.

      • Laurie Kalinowski says:

        You can try Parents League of New York or Robin Aronow – both are helpful with information regarding schools. There is also usually a childcare fair through Columbia University in October. Many schools are represented and hopefully they’ll hold an in-person event this year. The pandemic has made it so much harder for families to find information.

    2. Dana says:

      Hi everyone- I’m Dana Levin-Robinson, fellow UWS parent and CEO of Upfront, who is mentioned above. Happy to answer any questions about child care in the UWS (or anywhere!). I’m happy to share the full list of programs if people want it!

    3. Chuck d says:

      Purple Circle was amazing for my kids. Having said that, my #1 piece of advice is to find a place very close to your home. One day, covered in your precious child’s bodily fluids but not in a cab or on a bus, you will thank me thank me.

    4. Angela says:

      Absolutely,let’s keep this convo going! It’s so tricky navigating daycare and all of the pre-school options in our neighborhood. Would REALLY love to see more content like this. Thank you for this!!
      sincerely,
      a stressed out UWS FTM

    5. Tasha says:

      Love this article! More like this please! Highlighting Upfront and hearing from the various UWS parents was incredibly insightful.

    6. SO happy to be a part of this conversation and so thankful for this article! I am the Assistant Director for Purple Circle, and also a mom of two within the program (one now in Kindergarten, one currently enrolled.) Purple Circle is a special place because of our families – thank you, Rivka, for the great endorsement! If you ever want a real conversation about our school from both the parent and admin experience, please reach out any time.

    7. 10025 parent says:

      I wish this article would have highlighted the perpetual closures daycares and preschools are still forced to do via outdated DOH rules. My daughter has been shut out off and on last 4 weeks. Let daycares and preschools operate like the rest of NY state and DOE “test to stay” vs mandatory quarantines. A nanny avoids this insane rule daycares are forced to comply with.

    8. Kat S says:

      I have sent 2 kids to the ECC at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue! It is a wonderful school and they offer different programming for kids 0-5!