Director Tips


Nov 11, 2022

How to Open a Preschool or Child Care Center in California

Dr. Tamar Andrews

Table of Contents:

  1. Which Child Care Type Will You Open?

  2. Is there an actual need for a(nother) child care center in your area?

  3. What are other child care centers doing?

  4. Budget Analysis

  5. Do you have the education necessary to operate a child care business?

Thinking of opening up a child care center in California? Not sure how to open a preschool or child care center in California? Child care centers provide a very much needed benefit to the communities that they are in. They provide jobs to teachers and more importantly, they provide the care needed by families so that parents can work and earn a living themselves.  However, to be successful both financially and professionally, you should do your homework and make sure that this is the path for you. This guide will give you insight on how to open a childcare center in California and the requirements to open a preschool in California.


What are the requirements to open a child care center in California?

Family Child Care

In California, the requirements to open a family child care are simple and almost anyone will qualify. You usually do not need any formal education but you will likely be limited to just a small number of children, usually no more than 12.

The benefits of this type of program is you are in your own home, you can easily care for your own children and you can set your own hours and number of children. The downside is that you are very limited in how many children you can take and so your profit will be limited.

Here is a great link on how to open childcare center in California from the Department of Social Services, the government agency that would license your home Through June 2023, the State of California is offering an incentive of $500 to open a home child care program.

The actual rules and regulations governing a Family Child Care can be found here:

Child Care Centers

In California, child care centers are regulated through the Department of Social Services and all rules and regulations can be found here:

Whether you are choosing to open up a Family Home Child Care or a Child Care Center in California, your first step is to attend the orientation set up by the California Department of Social Services. You can find both the orientation for Family Child Care and Child Care Center here.  These orientations cost $27.43 and really provide the details you will need to determine if you are eligible and if you want to go through opening up a child care program in California.

Online orientation:

In a home child care center, there is absolutely no restrictions to the type of home you can operate your program in. It can be a one bedroom apartment on the fifth floor or a large house in a cul-de-sac.

For a child care center, you have to ensure that the zoning for the center is appropriate. This would be done by checking with a real estate agent who can easily ascertain the zoning for the property you are looking at. Additionally, for a child care center, you will need 35 square feet of usable space indoors for each child and 75 feet of usable space outdoors for each child and the facility will need to be on the ground floor.


If your area has a licensing agency for child care and/or a Resource and Referral agency, you will want to contact them and get a list of the child care centers already established in your area. They may also be able to help you understand the child care landscape in your area. For example, maybe you would have stiff competition if you opened up for three-to-four-year-olds but there may be very few to no infant care facilities. Maybe there is a need for a child care center that is open with longer hours. Are there more families moving into your area with small children so that another child care center would help fill a need and actually not be perceived as competition. The link for the Resource and Referral Network in California can be found here


Make sure to look at what the average cost of child care is in your area. California tends to have higher costs of operation so you will likely be charging higher tuition compared to other states. This is especially true if you live in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or San Diego. Do a market analysis so that you are not underselling yourself nor are you pricing yourself too high and out of reach. Find out if there are any child care subsidies in your area and where can parents access these. If you were to accept these subsidies, how would you need to configure your center in order to accept these subsidies?


Based on the number of children you would be able to enroll, what would it cost you to operate your center? To do this calculation, you would need to know what you would be earning in total for the number of children enrolled. You would also need to calculate how many teachers you would need and what the total cost for their salaries would be including payroll, taxes, insurance, benefits, etc. Now budget for recurring monthly costs such as utilities, phone, rent or mortgage, cable, food, consumable goods (glue, paint, paper, chalk), cleaning supplies, anyone else you may need to hire such as gardener, cleaning crew, office staff, preschool management software, etc. This is your expenditure line.

You also will need to take into account start up costs and figure this amount into the first few years of operation. This would include any repairs you need to make to the facility, purchasing furniture and non-consumable supplies such as puzzles and blocks, and any computers, phones, insurance, etc.


In many states, there are educational requirements that are necessary for you to complete depending on which type of child care business you are opening. In California the education requirements are as follows:

  • For home day care, there are no formal education requirements for the owner, director or employees.

  • For child care centers, teachers must have a minimum of 12 semester units from an accredited college or university. These units must include 3 units in child growth and development, 3 units in working with young children, 3 units in any early childhood curriculum, and 3 units in home, school, and community. To be a qualified director, you need an additional 3 semester units in the administration of child care programs.

Pay careful attention to the courses you are enrolling in to ensure that they are accredited by WASC and that the courses meet the unit requirements. For example, if the program is on a quarter system, 3 quarter units are equal to 2 semester units.

In addition to this, do you understand how to manage a business? This includes understanding the labor laws in your state and for the United States in general. For example, do you understand the difference between an exempt and a non-exempt employee? Do you know how to keep track of employee hours and when you are obligated to provide rest and meal breaks? Do you understand how to manage employees and provide professional development to them?  If not, that is ok, but you will need to add this to the budget so you can afford someone from outside of your business.

Licensing regulations:

Most states have licensing agencies that regulate the child care industry and provide guidance and procedures for the operation of both home day care and commercial child care centers. In the State of California, the majority of child care centers are regulated by the Department of Social Services Child Care Licensing Division. The rules and regulations for the types of child care programs fall under Title 22.  While there are some programs that are governed by Title 5, those are the programs that receive state funding.

Here is the link to the full child care licensing documents. Note that this a cumbersome and very laborious document to go through. If you need help, reach out to groups of directors who have already gone through this process. You can ask in our Playground Child Care Director group and you will find ample assistance and guidance.


If you are invested in opening up a child care business in California of any type, it can be an amazing opportunity to not only support yourself and your family, and you will also be providing a valuable service to your community. Make sure to reach out to those of us who have done it already.  There are so many resources out there including Facebook groups, companies such as Playground, and state certified mentors who want to help you.

Playground is the only app directors needs to run their early child care center. Playground manages billing, attendance, registration, communication, paperwork, reporting and more for child care programs. Tens of thousands of providers, educators, and families trust Playground to simplify their lives. Learn more by scheduling a personalized demo here.

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