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Noodle Staff
Noodle Expert Member

December 18, 2019

A 3-minute guide to preschool and child care in Massachusetts. Learn about licensing laws, instructor training, and enrollment requirements — everything you need to know to choose the right program for your child.

Takeaway: Massachusetts requires and oversees licensure for all child care facilities, regardless of whether they are center-based or home-based. It is committed to building out universal pre-K, but thus far the state has been prevented from doing so by funding deficits. The state maintains an impressive database for licensed preschools.


Almost all child care that takes place outside of a child’s home in Massachusetts is required to be licensed. Massachusetts offers valuable resources for parents seeking child care and provides five criteria that all parents should consider when selecting a child care program.

The state launched a universal pre-K pilot grant program in 2007 with the aims of improving the quality of care and increasing access to universal care programs. Grants have been provided to 279 programs and 469 classrooms and homes, and are available in 97 towns across the state. The program currently has $8 million in total support, having recently lost funding as a result of statewide budgetary constraints. There is significant interest in a truly universal pre-K program for the state, but there are serious budgetary constraints as a result of a $768 million deficit. Boston has a separate universal pre-K advisory committee that intends to double the number of four-year-olds in high-quality pre-K by 2018.

The Massachusetts database search is fairly robust and filters results by location and provider type. Results are displayed on an interactive map and in list form, and provide contact information, hours of operation, special needs accommodations, financial aid options, and other pertinent information.

Center-Based Care

Center-based care is defined as any program that takes place in a community- or school-based setting. These programs welcome a wide range of ages, including infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children (the last defined as anyone at least 2 years and 9 months old, but not yet eligible for kindergarten). All center-based programs must meet the health, safety, supervision, and personnel standards set by the state — and all programs must be dedicated to child safety and growth. Additionally, personnel must be CPR- and first-aid–certified and have specialized training and experience in child development and curriculum design.

All centers must observe suitable teacher-to-children ratios. These are 1:3 for infants, 1:4 for toddlers, and 1:10 or 1:12 for full-day and half-day (respectively) preschools.

Home-Based Care

All family-based care takes place in a provider’s home with a small group of children. In Massachusetts, family-based care must meet the same standards as center-based programs for health, safety, supervision, and personnel. The primary differences, therefore, are location and group size. There are three types of family care: family child care, family child care plus, and large family child care. Family child care is the most basic form. It provides care for a maximum group size of six children. Family child care plus allows for up to eight children, as long as at least two of the children are school-aged. Large family care is for up to ten children, provided an approved assistant is working in the facility.

Unlicensed Care

Massachusetts provides very clear guidelines for the types of programs that are exempt from licensure; however, all programs that wish to operate as unlicensed facilities must apply to the state for an exemption. Typical exemptions include care by a relative or parent, infrequent or non-regular care, drop-in centers, instructional programs, informal agreements, and care that coincides with religious services.

Discover Massachusetts preschools near you using the free Noodle preschool search, the most comprehensive tool of its kind.