This annual list of the best childcare franchises was revised and updated on January 6, 2022.
Childcare plays an essential part in the economy. In 2020, the US population included nearly twenty million children under the age of five. For their parents to go to work, these children need access to daytime childcare, and in many cases, older children also need after school care. Wider economic growth has been built on a foundation of good childcare.
Though much childcare is provided informally by friends and relatives, the past decade has seen a growing reliance on childcare centers, with franchises playing an increasingly important role. There are now over 635,000 childcare businesses in the United States, employing over 1.4 million people.
Historically, the industry has been made up of two kinds of providers: small home day care and larger center-based businesses. Franchises are built on the larger sorts of facilities, which can provide more variety and cater to a larger number of children. This has worked in franchises’ favor, as the number of home-based providers has been falling in favor of the larger childcare centers.
Expectations for what these facilities will provide have also been changing. Fifty years ago, they were often glorified babysitters. Now, parents expect daycare to encourage their children’s development and set them on a path for academic success. For those with an interest in children, it can be both rewarding and challenging work.
The industry was worth $53.7 billion in 2021, built on decades of growth. However, this hasn’t always translated into big profits for business owners. High overheads and slender profit margins mean that, while childcare can provide a living, it tends to attract those who are passionate about the work, rather than those seeking the biggest earnings. The average childcare center director earns $49,160 per year.
COVID-19 had a powerful and immediate impact on childcare businesses. Almost half of working parents with children under six were working from home, and two-thirds changed their childcare arrangements. 25% of parents took their children out of childcare because of safety concerns, even without factoring in local closures. Regulations brought in to reduce the spread of the disease added expenses for new equipment and cleaning. 86% of childcare businesses lost customers, with enrollment dropping on average by two-thirds, while 70% incurred substantial additional costs.
This led to a shrinking industry, in which a quarter of childcare workers lost their jobs. There was a 14.8% fall in revenues, as the industry shrank from over $60 billion in 2019 to $51 billion in 2020.
As vaccinations and better anti-COVID measures have allowed the economy to reopen, childcare facilities have benefited from their essential role. Customers have returned, though not yet in the numbers from before the pandemic, and government stimulus funds have supported childcare franchises in rebuilding their business. The American Rescue Plan includes a significant increase in childcare tax credits, which will make it easier for parents to afford childcare.
Childcare facilities are changing with the times. Digital communication with parents is increasingly important. 82% of babies born in 2016 were the children of millennials, who are habitually used to being able to access information instantly through their phones. They want to feel connected and appreciate both messaging and regular updates. A growing number of centers provide parents with streaming of activities in the center or pictures during the day, to show how their children are getting on. This sort of engagement encourages retention of customers.
Like so many businesses, childcare franchises benefit from social media and digital marketing. The children themselves might not notice, but this is the way to reach parents, and to raise awareness even before they start thinking about where to send their children.
Technology can also be used to automate work such as billing, enrollments, and tracking attendance. A suitable management system can reduce the workload on this by as much as 50 hours per month, making back the software’s cost in time saved.
Focusing on the children, there’s a growing shift back towards more time spent on play. A drive towards better educational outcomes had pushed childcare centers toward a narrower view of learning over the past decade, but there’s increasing recognition of the importance of play in children’s development, and paying attention to this can make centers more enjoyable spaces to work while also benefiting their attendees.
But there are more fundamental challenges for the industry to face. As the impact of the pandemic fades, commentators are drawing attention to the problem of pay and staffing. Staff providing childcare have historically been poorly paid. One study in Louisiana found that they were so poorly paid that more than 50% of staff struggled to cover their food and medical bills. Poor pay and conditions have led to extremely high staff turnover, which makes it difficult to develop a stable and highly skilled workforce. Long hours and low wages mean that it can be hard to recruit staff, and this problem has been worsened by so many being laid off during the pandemic. Not all staff want to return to the industry.
For franchise owners, this creates a difficult dilemma. If they offer wages high enough to attract and retain quality staff, this may push their costs up past what parents are willing to pay. The industry is approaching a crunch point for dealing with this question. The shortage of childcare is causing problems for the wider economy, but no one wants to bear the cost. How this will play out for businesses remains to be seen.
Despite its difficulties, there are some promising signs for the childcare industry. The birth rate is expected to increase in 2021. Combined with the growing proportion of two-income households, this should create greater demand for childcare services. The challenge is finding a stable way to make this demand pay, and to reward employees for their hard work.
The Top Childcare Franchises of 2022
1. The Goddard School
The Goddard School recently welcomed Dennis Maple to the company as he takes over the role of CEO from Joe Schumacher, who was in the position for ten years. Schumacher will remain involved in the company as the chairman of the board of directors.
The Goddard School provides a more educational approach to daycare. Preschool programming is available to children six weeks to six years old. Its proprietary F.L.EX. Learning Program builds the emotional, academic, social, creative, and physical skills of children through play-based learning that goes beyond the basics to include sign language, yoga, music, foreign languages, and more. Parents receive daily activity reports and regular conferences during the year to discuss progress.
Founded by Lois Goddard Haines in 1986 and franchising since 1988, the number of locations has continued to steadily climb from 386 in 2011 to the current total of 575 (up from the previously reported total of 538), of which none are company-owned and all are located in the US.
2. Primrose Schools
Primrose Schools has joined a growing number of franchises entering what’s called the “whole-business securities” market. The company is able to borrow by issuing investment-grade bonds backed by various assets of the business. Primose is aiming for $275 million.
The company’s focus is on education utilizing its proprietary Balanced Learning curriculum. CEO Jo Kirchner has been with the company since 1990, but was sending her own kids to a location for years before that. Primrose provides year-round programming for children from six weeks to six years old that includes after-school enrichment and summer programs.
A primary focus for each school is social responsibility and community involvement. Each school is accredited by AdvancED as well as either the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council or the North Central Association along with its own internal Service Excellence Assurance (SEA) quality assurance program that reviews each school three times a year.
Founded by Paul and Marcy Erwin in Marietta, Georgia in 1982 and franchising since 1988, the number of locations has been on a steady upward trajectory from 230 in 2011 to the current total of 454 (up from the previously reported total of 430), none of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
3. The Learning Experience Academy of Early Education
The Learning Experience Academy of Early Education combines childcare with early education programs to focus on the key educational and care principles covering a child’s cognitive, physical, and social development or, as the chain puts it, “learn, play, and grow.” Its proprietary L.E.A.P. Curriculum covers all the basics but also includes sign language, phonics, foreign languages, manners and etiquette, physical fitness, and a philanthropy program.
The company mascot, Bubbles the elephant, is loved by children and has inspired the related BubblesU.com that creates personalized books featuring your child as the star.
Founded by the Weissman family in Boca Raton, Florida in 1979 and franchising since 2003, the number of locations has risen in recent years from 116 in 2011 to the current total of 283 (up from the previously reported total of 243), of which 26 are company-owned and all are located in the US.
4. Kiddie Academy
Kiddie Academy has been making waves recently with its campaign called Storytime LIVE! These free community events at participating Kiddie Academy locations allow children to not only have a great story read to them, but they also get to meet beloved PBS characters like Curious George and Pinkalicious.
Kiddie Academy was founded by George and Pauline Miller to provide education-based childcare. Its Life Essentials curriculum allows children to learn at their own pace by stimulating their curiosity and instinct to learn through age-appropriate activities designed to make every experience a learning opportunity. It is a standards-based learning curriculum but also includes a strong character education component as well as a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education.
Founded in 1982 and franchising since 1991, the number of locations has grown over the past 10 years from 98 in 2011 to the current total of 280 (up from the previously reported total of 263), of which only one is company-owned and all are located in the US.
5. College Nannies, Sitters, and Tutors
College Nannies, Sitters, and Tutors is different from other education-based childcare companies because it focuses on providing nanny sitting and tutoring services in the home rather than standalone centers. It helps match college students, graduates, and teachers with families who want in-home care and education for their children. The overall approach in CNST is one-on-one role modeling, whether a family just needs babysitting, more extensive nanny services, or tutoring to help their children achieve academic success.
Founded by Joseph Keeley in Minnesota in 2001 and franchising since 2005, the number of locations just declined for the first time in eight years to the current total of 185 (down from the previously reported total of 193), of which none are company-owned and all are located in the US.
6. Kids ‘R’ Kids Learning Academies
Kids ‘R’ Kids Learning Academies is a company founded by husband-and-wife duo Pat and Janice Vinson that has its roots all the way back to the early 1960s. Pat’s mother, June, renovated their home into a day nursery for kids called Kiddie City, when group childcare was a very new idea. Janice worked at Kiddie City and she and Pat married in 1963, ran the location for more than two decades, and then decided to build their own facility from the ground up, which became the first KRK location.
The company motto is “Hug first, then teach,” which means showing children unconditional love is the first order of business, and only when a child feels loved can they be properly engaged in educational programming. The company’s whole-child approach ensures attention is paid to all areas of the child’s development, including character, intellect, creativity, and physical growth.
Founded in 1985 and franchising since 1988, the number of locations has bumped up in recent years to the current total of 182 (up from the previously reported total of 176), of which none are company-owned and 11 are located outside the US.
7. Children’s Lighthouse Learning Centers
Children’s Lighthouse Learning Centers has established a partnership with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and will contribute to St. Jude’s with fundraising activities such as the national Trike-A-Thon program and the St. Jude Walk/Run in September, which is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
Children’s Lighthouse provides both academic programming accredited by AdvancED and a character values curriculum for children from infancy through 12 years of age. Focal character values in its Lighthouse CARES curriculum include cooperation, kindness, honesty, fairness, integrity, diversity, and gratitude.
Founded by Pat Brown and his brother G. Michael Brown in Fort Worth, Texas in 1996 and franchising since 1999, the number of locations has grown from 28 in 2010 to the current total of 63 (up from the previously reported total of 55), none of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
8. Lightbridge Academy
Lightbridge Academy got its start as the Rainbow Academy with a vision that went beyond mere daycare to include creating a “circle of care” to provide educational programming and parental support. The chain has kept up with technology by offering ParentView internet monitoring and an eCommunication app to provide parents with an ongoing connection to their children throughout the day.
Founded by Guy and Julia Falzarano in 1997 and franchising since 2011, the number of locations has grown from 10 in 2011 to the current total of 53 (up from the previously reported total of 47), of which 15 are company-owned and all are located in the US.
9. Discovery Point
Discovery Point fosters a love of learning through child-centered activities promoting self-discovery, problem solving, and creative thinking. The company partners with Teaching Strategies to implement its nationally-recognized Creative Curriculum focused on helping children grow intellectually, physically, emotionally, and socially through a “whole-child” approach where the children feel loved and nurtured.
Founded in 1988 by Cliff and Diane Clark in Duluth, Georgia and franchising since 1990, the number of locations has been slowly declining over the past decade from 58 in 2011 to the last reported total of 47 in 2019, of which three were company-owned and all were located in the US.
10. Creative World School
Creative World School has a 3 E’s philosophy grounded in education, exploration, and enrichment. Each location puts it into practice with an Exploratorium – a unique learning environment where children are steeped in iSTEAM – Inquiry is Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. The hands-on approach lets children develop critical thinking skills and explore real-world ideas, encouraging curiosity as they develop problem-solving skills and build a foundation for lifelong learning. An inquiry-based approach to learning is all about asking questions and then collaborating, investigating, and exploring to find answers.
The proprietary curriculum is accredited by Cognia. Franchisees enjoy a tiered royalties system where no royalties are paid until at least 75 children are enrolled. The franchise fee doesn’t even have to be paid until the company has helped find a site for a school. With this system, no franchisee has ever failed or defaulted on a loan, which is impressive.
Founded in 1970 and franchising since 2000, the last reported number of locations was 33 in 2019 (down from the previously reported total of 35), of which seven were company-owned and all were located in the US.
11. Genius Kids
Genius Kids calls itself an “accelerated learning” franchise with the motto, “Never 2 Little 2 Learn.” The inspiration came from the founder noticing how many otherwise smart adults showed a lack of confidence and interpersonal communication skills. Knowing this was something best addressed when people are kids, she developed her own accelerated learning programs that incorporated speech and public speaking into every aspect of learning. The idea is to nurture children in a way that results in confident thinking and creative expression without fear.
Founded by Rennu Dhillon in Fremont, California in 2001 and franchising since 2011, after a rapid rise from seven in 2011 to a high of 37 in 2018, the number of locations has since declined to the current total of 29 (down from the previously reported total of 34), of which two are company-owned and all are located in the US.
12. KLA Schools
KLA Schools sees and values each child as strong, capable, resilient, and endlessly curious about the world around them. The concept is inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to education developed by psychologist Loris Malaguzzi and parents in the villages around the Italian city of Reggio Emilia. It is best described as student-centered and constructivist, making use of self-directed experiential learning in relationship-rich environments. In this approach, learning isn’t an activity, it’s an experience in which what is taught is how to love learning.
Founded in 2007 by Candy and Roberto Ortega along with a group of investors in Miami, Florida and franchising since 2009, the number of locations has climbed from five in 2011 to the current total of 24, of which seven are company-owned and all are located in the US.
KidsPark offers childcare by the hour and back-up full-day care when a family’s primary provider is closed or parents have an all-day commitment. The focus is on play through imagination, movement, art, and socialization for both preschoolers and school-aged children. Organized activities include arts and crafts, games, cooking, sensory exploration, music, stories, and hands-on science. Play components have been chosen that promote cooperation, socialization, listening skills, and motor development. Each location’s “no walls” floor plan lets children follow their interests while also allowing for continuous teacher and parent observation.
Founded in 1988 by Debbie Milner in San Jose, California and franchising since 2003, the number of locations has risen from 14 in 2012 to the current total of 23 (up from the previously reported total of 20), of which two are company-owned and all are located in the US.
14. Adventure Kids Playcare
Adventure Kids Playcare puts more emphasis on fun and adventure than many of the more academically-oriented childcare franchises. The staff or “play crew” at each location are all certified in CPR and First Aid. It provides drop-in childcare and entertainment for kids ages 6 weeks to 12 years old, with a clear emphasis on giving parents a break so they can do things they need and want to do. It calls its approach “guilt-free childcare when YOU need it!”
Kids are allowed to play, explore, and learn in a safe and secure environment. Much of it is free-play, but there are also organized games and craft activities. Each location includes a huge “playscape” with video game systems, computers, LEGO, play kitchens, costumes, and more. Weekend play opportunities are also offered.
Founded in 2004 and franchising since 2006, the number of locations currently stands at 16 (the same as previously reported), of which four are company-owned and all are located in the US.
15. LeafSpring School
LeafSpring School used to be called Rainbow Station, but with “rainbow” already being so overused in the early childhood education market, the company chose a new name. LeafSpring is an allusion to the leaf springs that are an essential foundation in a locomotive train’s suspension system to support the engine.
The company was founded by Gail W. Johnson, a nurse who was interested in supporting parents in returning to work even when their children are mildly or chronically ill. Full-time, on-site nursing care remains a distinguishing feature of this chain. It is also very focused on development beyond academics and calls itself a “leadership preschool” that instills 21st century skills such as compassion, responsibility, and teamwork to help children “learn early, live well, and lead.”
Founded in 1988 and franchising since 1999, the number of locations had risen from nine in 2011 to a high of 24 in 2018, but has since declined to 13, of which only one is company-owned and all are located in the US.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.