Mother's Day Out Programs: How to Choose One You Feel Good About

Mother's Day Out programs are essentially a type of playgroup, but often have more structure. Here are things to consider when picking the right place.

Published February 22, 2023
Preschool students playing with wooden mosaic

There often comes a time when parents of young children realize their child needs more than just mommy and daddy. Since preschool programs don't typically allow enrollment until at least the age of three, this leaves many parents puzzled about what to do with their little ones during the day to ensure that their social emotional needs are met. Mother's Day Out programs are an option to explore. Get started with these tips.

What Is Mother's Day Out?

Mother's Day Out (MDO), also referred to as Parent's Day Out and Child's Day Out, is a program that gives young children the chance to interact with kids their own age, build their independence, and even learn along the way. Many churches offer these services at an affordable cost to families. They're available at many local YMCA and YWCA locations. Similar programs may also be available at various community centers and locations under different names as well. Jewish community centers and YM-YWHA's, for example, may have programs for two and three-year olds.

While there are other types of playgroups, MDO's and similar programs may have a few differences. Various playgroups can be for a variety of ages, have less structure, or may include the parents in the playtime and activities along with the child. They may also meet with less frequency (such as once a week) or vary the times and locations. MDO's and similar programs, however, are a little more structured. These programs normally follow the same school calendar as the school district you live in, so there will be summer and winter breaks, as well as federal holidays where the classrooms will be closed.

During your child's time away from home, they'll have plenty of opportunities for play, and most programs have a music hour and chapel time as well. Classes are normally two to three days a week and last for three to five hours per day. However, some programs also offer the option of more days and the choice between full and half days.

Why Are Mother's Day Out Programs Beneficial?

Turning two is a big milestone. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that between the ages of 24 and 30 months, your child should begin following basic instructions, be building a solid vocabulary, engaging in pretend play, and recognizing different emotions. This is also a time when they learn to engage with others, share, and exhibit empathy. But how do you teach your toddler these things?

The answer is quite simple - children learn through observation and imitation. This is why play is so important at this age. Mother's Day Out programs provide them with fun opportunities to engage with other kids, which allows them to reach these various developmental milestones. Your child will also have the chance to learn proper school etiquette, like sitting in their seat, waiting their turn, paying attention to the teacher, and interacting with others in a constructive way.

It's a chance for mom and dad to get a bit of a break as well! Mental health is important and these small moments of reprieve can help you recharge and be better prepared to take on the rest of the day. This also helps prevent parental burnout.

Qualifications to Look for In Mother's Day Out Programs

When choosing a Mother's Day Out program, there are four main factors to consider - what you want your child to get out of the classes, how long you want your child out of your care, the distance from your home, and your financial situation.


What do you want your child to get out of this program? This is the most important consideration for parents. Mother's Day Out programs can be a great option, but they're not suited for all families. When determining if this is the right program for your child, there are a few factors to keep in mind.

  1. MDO classes have educational aspects within their curriculum, but it's important to note that most of these programs are not accredited educational institutions. Instead, the classes are comparable to the services that one would recieve in a daycare setting. This means that the people who are caring for your kids are not certified teachers.
    • Why does this matter? First, while these classes will teach your kids to interact with others, it may not give them an academic advantage over others. Second, kids with speech delays, learning disabilities, and special needs may find trouble functioning in this type of classroom environment. It's important to speak with the program director with concerns prior to enrolling your child. This can allow you to determine if they have the staff can accommodate your child's needs.

    • Potential Solutions: Search for accredited Mother's Day Out programs or consider early preschool classes with a Montessori or Reggio Emilia school. These are private institutions that can facilitate children of various learning types.

  2. Since churches are the primary providers of these programs, there is usually a large religious aspect to the curriculum. This can pose an issue for agnostic families and those who live in smaller communities that don't have religious institutions that honor their beliefs.
    • Potential Solutions: As mentioned above, Montessori and Reggio Emilia schools offer a fantastic learning environment without religion built into the curriculum. In fact, these schools have licensed teachers and allow toddlers to learn an array of concepts, including math, Spanish, and science. A downside, however, is that these programs are normally more expensive.


How long do you want your child in MDO? Most programs offer parents the choice of a three or five-hour day. For working parents or the moms and dads of many, a longer program may be a better choice for you. However, parents should ask about the itinerary for the day. Is the extra two hours filled with activities or is it lunch and a small nap? For the parents who enjoy their kid's long afternoon slumber, this can pose a problem. Therefore, do your research and decide what is best for you.


If you're only signing up for a three hour Mother's Day Out program, then is it worth a 30-minute car ride each way? One perk of these programs is that they give parents a much needed break. However, if you spend more than half of your child's time away in the car, it's not necessarily worth the investment. Not only that, but if there's ever an issue, most parents want to be close by.

Also, if you run late during the pickup window, it can cost you. For example, some places charge a set fee of $25 for the first ten minutes that you are late, with an additional $1 per minute after that. This can add up quickly if you find yourself stuck in traffic. Save your gas and your sanity by choosing a program that is conveniently located to you.


What can you afford? Depending on where you live and how many days you want to enroll your child, the cost of these programs can be as low as $200 a month - all the way up to $600 a week or more. There are also enrollment fees that accompany these costs. Examine your finances to determine which program will fit your needs and your budget.

Next Steps When Choosing a MDO Program

Once you have found a program that you think will be the best fit for your family, schedule a tour and bring your child along. Many times, they'll let you come in during a school day to give you a clear view of the experience that your child will recieve in their facility. While you're there, take the time to ask any questions that you may have about their specific program.

Preschool girl sits in her mother's lap in school interview

Questions to Ask:

  • What is the teacher to student ratio?
  • What will a regular day look like at school?
  • Will they get time outside?
  • Is a snack or meal provided?
  • How do you handle food allergy concerns?
  • Are you equipped to teach kids with speech delays and/or special needs?
  • Do you allow therapists to come with my child to their classes?
  • What is your discipline method?
  • Do you do student assessments?
  • What makes your program unique?
  • What is your wellness policy?
  • Are the children required to be vaccinated to attend?

Do Your Own Research

Remember that these facilities want your business. You need to find out if their program is as good as they say it is, so do your due diligence. Ask friends and family if they have school recommendations, as well as if they have heard of programs to avoid. If the MDO is at your church, ask other members about their experience. Also, scour the internet for reviews, check their Facebook page for ratings, and post in local mom groups to see if others have tried out this particular program.

Finally, go with your gut. If you tour and ask your questions and feel good about the classes, then sign up. Take your time and find the program that is best for you.

Register or Get on the Waitlist ASAP

Sign-ups for Mother's Day Out programs normally occur at the start of the calendar year (January/February). This is to enroll your kids for the fall semester. If you're reading this article past this time frame, don't fret! Remember that people move and plans change, so spots will pop up in most programs. If this is your first choice, get on their wait list as soon as possible. This can ensure that you get a spot when one opens up.

Try Out a Program and See If It's Right for Your Child

Mother's Day Out programs can be a great way for your kids to socialize, learn, and even become less attached to you. Separation anxiety can be a real struggle for the kids who don't enter group classes until kindergarten. If you're still hesitant about the idea of being away from your baby, consider signing up for a short-term program.

Since these programs follow the area school district's calender, many of them offer summer school options that can allow parents to try MDO without a long commitment too. These will normally run for a shorter time each day, but the kids attend four to five times each week. Alternatively, you can also choose to enroll your toddler one to two days per week and work up from there. Either way, this can give you a good idea of how the program works, if the class schedule melds with your daily routine, and whether the MDO is the right environment for your child.

Mother's Day Out Programs: How to Choose One You Feel Good About