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Noodle Staff
Noodle Expert Member

December 18, 2019

A 4-minute guide to preschool and child care in New Hampshire. Learn about licensing laws, instructor training, and enrollment requirements — everything you need to know to choose the right program for your child.

Takeaway: In New Hampshire, there are a variety of licensed child care options, for which parents may access information concerning facility inspections and violations. Licensing regulations are highly specific and thorough, but unfortunately the oversight of licensed care providers is not as stringent as it could be. New Hampshire is one of a handful of states that do not support pre-K programs with any state funds, though early childhood development is supported in other ways.


New Hampshire does not offer state-funded pre-K programs{: target="blank" rel="nofollow" }, though the Department of Education does provide Early Learning Guidelines{: target="blank" rel="nofollow" } that align with Head Start{: target="blank" } standards. A new version of the guidelines is scheduled to be released in 2015. Preschool in New Hampshire{: target="blank" rel="nofollow"} is defined as part-time, center-based programs for children 3 years and older, and is overseen by the Department of Health and Human Resources.

The state offers a wide range of licensed child care programs. Recent incidents{: target="blank" rel="nofollow"} have led to greater consequences for negligence by unlicensed care providers. The Child Care Licensing Unit of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is responsible for the oversight of licensed child care operations, and maintains a searchable database{: target="blank" rel="nofollow" } that provides information concerning facility inspections and violations. The site is not to be considered an official record, however, and information should be verified through other sources. Licenses are valid for three years, during which time programs will be visited at least twice for inspection. Licensed providers are not required to have liability insurance.

Families are directed to <a href="{: target="blank" }, a nonprofit organization for child care resources and referrals that offers its own searchable online database{: target="blank" rel="nofollow"} of child care providers in the state, though it does require registration. Child Care Aware of New Hampshire recognizes providers that meet [higher standards](" target="_blank">Licensed Plus{: target="blank" rel="nofollow"} than those established by the state. The child care program licensing rules{: target="blank" rel="nofollow"} are available on the DHHS website, and these outline highly specific regulations concerning the safety of the child care environment, utilities, health requirements for personnel and children, emergency prevention and management, behavior guidance, nutrition and food safety, hygiene, yearly requirements for qualification and skill ehancement, and more. Additional guidance is provided concerning security and access{: target="blank" rel="nofollow"}, emergency preparedness{: target="blank" rel="nofollow"}, crib requirements{: target="blank" rel="nofollow"}, professional development{: target="blank" rel="nofollow"}, supervision during rest and sleep{: target="blank" rel="nofollow"}, and the accommodation of sleep schedules{: target="blank" rel="nofollow"}. All programs must encourage cognitive development; health and safety; communication and literacy; creativity; learning; and social, emotional, and physical development.

Center-Based Care

New Hampshire licenses several different kinds of center-based care. Group child care centers serve children between the ages of 3 and 6 with no more than four children younger than the age of 3, and up to five children who are enrolled in school full-time. Infant and toddler programs, otherwise known as child care nurseries, serve five or more children who are under age 3. The DHHS also licenses center-based programs for school-aged children, night care, and 24-hour residential care. All center-based programs must have directors who meet specific conditions outlined in New Hampshire’s code of administrative rules{: target="blank" rel="nofollow" }; these include being at least 21 years of age, having a high school diploma as well as a particular number of college credits in child care administration, having a minimum required number of hours working with children, plus fulfilling additional specific education requirements. Requirements are also specified for lead and associate teachers, assistants, and junior helpers.

Group child care centers must observe the following ratios: for children ages 36 to 47 months, 1:8; for children ages 48 to 59 months, 1:12; and for children ages 60 months and older, 1:15. Infant and toddler programs must adhere to the following ratios: 6 weeks to 12 months, 1:4; 13 to 24 months, 1:5; 25 to 35 months, 1:6. Maximum group sizes vary with age, as does the number of teachers and assistants required to be present.

Home-Based Care

Home-based care in New Hampshire refers to family child care homes and family group child care homes. Licenses are required for providers caring for more than four children who are unrelated to them. Providers must be either 21 years of age, or 18 years of age with a high school diploma as well as additional childhood education requirements. There are further age requirements for other family child care workers and assistants. A single caregiver can supervise up to six preschool-aged children in a regular family child care home, plus an additional three children who attend a full day of school, provided that no more than four children are under the age of 36 months, and no more than two are under the age of 24 months. The same ratios apply for family group child care homes — though if an additional child care worker or assistant is present, up to 12 preschool-aged children may be cared for, in addition to five children who attend a full day of school, and no more than four children who are under the age of 36 months.

Unlicensed Care

License-exempt providers{: target="blank" rel="nofollow" } are not under the authority of the Child Care Licensing Unit. Licenses are not required{: target="blank" rel="nofollow" } for providers caring for three or fewer children unrelated to them. Any providers caring for children outside of the home must be licensed, with certain exemptions, including programs sponsored by public or private schools, recreational programs, and complimentary child care services in locations where parents are on the premises and readily available.

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