What Is the Difference Between Preschool and Daycare?

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    When the time comes to enrol a child in an age-appropriate program, parents find themselves with a huge decision to make. 

    They are looking at preschool vs. daycare or child care (here's a quick explanation of why we prefer to call it child care) and doing all the research to ensure they are making the right choice, one that will benefit their child for years to come.

    Not only is it essential to know that you are putting your child in a daytime facility that you can trust and where they can grow and have fun, but you have to consider the licensing, the educational program, and the overall reputation of the organisation. 

    So many questions may arise, and parents need to be well-informed on the schedule and curriculum of the program that they ultimately choose. 

    Let's take a different look so that when it comes time to make this all-important choice, parents have all the information needed to ensure that their decision is the right one.

    Maybe your little one is happily ensconced in daycare, but you think it may be time to graduate to preschool. 

    Maybe he's spent his first years at home, and you're scouting the best option for his classroom debut.

    Either way, you may be wondering: Do the benefits of preschool outweigh those offered by good daycare?

    Not necessarily. That's because daycare centres and preschools operate under the same general guidelines — they're even licensed and regulated by the same state agencies. 

    These days, daycare centres often provide more than care — they also offer learning activities to prep kids for kindergarten, which means the curriculum may mirror a good preschool's.

    Plus, sending your child to daycare can cost about the same as sending him to preschool. 

    Still, there are some critical differences between preschool and daycare — differences you'll probably want to consider before you turn over that (hefty) deposit. Here's what sets them apart:

    Daycare Vs. Preschool

    The words "preschool" and "daycare" or "child care" may be used interchangeably among parents, but this is incorrect. 

    While both offer significant advantages to children, it is essential to understand the difference between preschool vs. child care to make a choice that best suits your child's needs. 

    One of the most notable differences is the ages of the kids that attend either program. 

    Child care programs typically accept children in the age range of about six weeks and older, while preschool generally is for children ages 2-5 years of age. 

    In a preschool program, learning pre-academic skills is the main objective. The program focuses on the children's educational needs to prepare them for development in the years that follow.

    For the most part, child care is about providing services to parents when they need it most — during the day's working hours. As a result, it focuses much more on games and free play than a preschool does. 

    Babies, toddlers, and children have a safe and secure place to go where they will receive daily necessities such as feeding, napping, and activities. 

    Although people may not think kids are learning at child care, they are.

    Every child deserves the best possible care, so it is expected that parents will have questions when they are considering preschool vs. child care. 

    Parents can rest assured that licensing is required for both preschool and child care, so their children are as well taken care of as possible no matter which program they choose. 

    Staff is trained and qualified to deal with all the different situations that arise, and as any adult who has ever been in the presence of kids knows, no two days are alike! So now, every parent can be well-informed about the difference between preschool vs daycare.


    The purpose of daycare is to provide care, a safe environment and supervision for children. 

    Some daycares may offer some opportunities for academic learning, and others may only focus on providing a place for children to socialise and play.

    On the other hand, a preschool's mission is to prepare children for kindergarten. Therefore, a preschool provides lessons, activities and assessments toward that goal.


    Many daycares provide a daily structure, but this structure may not mirror a school environment. Typically, a daycare will offer more playtime.

    Each day of preschool is structured similarly to a regular school schedule where each activity and learning lesson takes place at a similar time each day. If kids are used to the daily structure of school, the transition to kindergarten will be much easier. 


    One of the most significant differences between daycare and preschool are the hours. Daycare centres usually offer more extended hours and are open during holidays and school breaks.

    Like regular school, most preschools are closed during the summer and on holidays. In addition, many preschool programs are half-day program at set times, whereas daycare pick up and drop-off times are more flexible around the parents' schedules.

    Preschools have shorter daily hours — most also close on holidays, for weeklong breaks and the summer (though some preschools offer a camp for an extra fee when the school year ends). 

    With preschools, you usually have to choose between half-day and full-day programs. And you probably need to enrol your child for at least two days each week.

    Daycare centres are more flexible when it comes to hours — they tend to open early and close late to cater to working parents. 

    Plus, they're more likely than preschools to remain open year-round. 

    Some daycare centres allow you to personalise your child's schedule (just an hour on some days so you can run errands at your pace and not your tot's; full days on others so you can go to work).

    Age Requirements

    Kids, from wee infants to grade-schoolers, are welcome at many daycare centres. That means your tyke may get a chance to socialise with bigger kids and be around babies (a huge bonus if your only child is soon becoming a big sibling). 

    Downside: It also means the caregivers may be more preoccupied with the tiny ones.

    Preschools usually accept children ages 3 to 5. 

    Plus, age groups tend to be separated at preschools—there's usually one classroom for the 3-year-olds and another for the 4- and 5-year-olds, though they may mingle by the swings and slides at the playground.

    Potty Prerequisites

    Many preschools require your child to be toilet-trained.

    Daycares accept kids in diapers.

    Caregivers and Teachers


    Preschool programs are more learning-oriented and are often based on a particular approach to teaching. 

    Many states have higher education standards for preschool teachers and directors than those at daycare centres so that preschool staff may have more formal training. 

    (Still, all states require a minimum amount of experience for preschool and daycare centres teachers.)

    Every Family Has Different Needs

    When it comes to preschool vs. child care, every family has unique needs that need to be addressed for the benefit of their child. 

    Every child is unique, and so is their development. 

    Children's programs are not one size fits all. In the first five years of life, the brain is constantly growing and developing; children learn new things all the time. 

    This is the time of a person's life when the brain develops the most, so positive experiences are meaningful. 

    These formative years are critical for every individual child to meet the milestones that they need to prosper. 

    Parents know their children the best, and they know what their children need to thrive. It is up to the program to provide just that, whether it be child care or preschool.

    What Are Some Benefits of Child Care?

    The most obvious reason that most parents choose a child care program for their child is that they need to work during the day. 

    But what are some of the benefits that a child care program provides for the child? One of the essential benefits of child care is interaction with other kids, vital for growth and development. 

    It gives them time to develop the socialisation skills that they need, and as a result, helps children gain a sense of confidence. 

    In addition, child care benefits children by giving them structure throughout the day, providing each one with a routine to follow and depend on as they grow. 

    Children will have the opportunity to make friends and learn the importance of relationships while engaging with each other during their time there every day. 

    Kids tend to form close relationships with their peers and caretakers, which is a benefit to everyone.

    Preschool Has Many Benefits

    When some parents think about preschool, they may not always know what to expect. 

    Fortunately, it doesn't have to be intimidating, and it may be comforting to know that preschool benefits each child in several ways. How so? 

    First and foremost, it is one of the most effective ways to prepare a child to enter kindergarten, with those who attend get a significant advantage that will help them in upcoming years. 

    It helps them learn more words by the time they start school, gives children a sense of security and increases the academic ability of children who attend. 

    Overall, kids enrolled in preschool gain better pre-reading and math skills than those who do not, which lays a more robust foundation when they are ready to enter school in the upcoming years.

    Ways Daycare Is Benefiting Your Kid

    No matter how much you love your job or your daycare centre, saying farewell to your little one every morning is never leisurely. 

    But take heart, moms, because an array of studies show that high-quality childcare, where there are frequent, positive interactions between caregivers and children, which usually correlates with low teacher-to-student ratios and teachers with higher levels of education, pays off in several important ways, well into adulthood. 

    Want proof? Check out these surprising perks of sending your kids to daycare, all backed by scientific research and guaranteed to make you breathe a little easier the next time someone tries to make you feel guilty for being a hard-working mother.

    Daycare Makes Kids Better Behaved

    The conventional wisdom would have you believe that daycare kids grow up to be antisocial bullies, but rest easy.

    A new study confirms that kids who attend "high-quality, centre-based child care" actually exhibit better behaviours than those who don't. 

    Researchers at Sorbonne University in Paris surveyed nearly 1,500 parents. 

    The parents were asked to chronicle their child's behaviour from birth until eight years, and a distinct pattern emerged.

    Children who attend daycare for more than one year demonstrated better social skills and fewer peer-related difficulties. 

    In the first years of life, access to high-quality childcare may improve children's emotional and cognitive development, prevent later emotional difficulties, and promote prosocial behaviours.

    Daycare May Lower the Risk of Cancer

    It turns out all of those daycare germs may be a good thing, strangely enough. 

    Researchers from the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale in France studied 280 cases of childhood cancer. They found that kids who had been in daycare were less likely to have acute leukemia than those who had only been at home. 

    They theorised that kids who aren't exposed to infections end up overreacting to germs, later on leading to immune system malfunctions like leukemia. 

    Other studies have shown that kids who attend daycare or playgroups have about a 30 per cent lower risk of developing the most common type of childhood leukemia.

    Daycare Makes Kids Smarter

    In 2006, the National Institute of Childhood Health and Human Development conducted a seminal study of over 3,000 kids, and the verdict should be reassuring to moms everywhere: 

    Overall, children cared for by others didn't develop any differently than children cared for exclusively by their mothers. 

    However, one encouraging caveat: Children in high-quality daycare had better language and cognitive development during the first four-and-a-half years of life. Even better, the benefits remain at least through the age of 15.

    Daycare Makes Kids More Likely to Get College Degrees


    Again, it's high-quality daycare here that counts. 

    A 30-year study led by the FPG Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that infants enrolled in a high-quality childcare program were four times more likely to have earned a college degree. 

    They also had significantly more years of total education than their peers in a control group.

    Daycare Makes Kids More Likely to Postpone Parenthood

    Sure, you want to be a grandma—a long time from now. 

    Well, good news: The same UNC study, dubbed the Abecedarian Project, found that the kids in high-quality care delayed parenthood by almost two years compared to the control group.

    Daycare Makes Kids More Likely to Stay Employed

    That's right—daycare makes kids more likely to hold down a job as adults, the UNC study found. 

    At age 30, kids in high-quality care were more likely to have been consistently employed (75 per cent had worked full-time for at least 16 of the previous 24 months, compared to 53 per cent of the control group).

    Daycare Makes Kids Less Likely to Inherit Their Mom's Depression.It makes sense: If Mom is hurting, kids are more likely to pick up on it if they're at home than at daycare.

    That's the conclusion from a 2013 study conducted by the University of Quebec, examining 1,759 children with mothers who suffered from depression. 

    Research shows that depressed women are more likely to have kids who also develop depression and anxiety disorders and that those problems can extend through the teenage years.

    But kids who attended daycare had a 79 percent reduced risk of developing emotional problems compared to kids who stayed home with their moms.

    Daycare Makes Kids Less Likely to Get Sick in Grade School

    If that isn't a reason to love daycare, we don't know what is. But, again, it seems that all those early childhood sniffles pay off down the road by toughening up kids' immune systems. 

    A study of 10,000 Australian children found that kids under 3½ were more likely to have ear infections than those exclusively at home (duh). Still, that ongoing problems with ear infections were lower in children who had attended daycare as babies. 

    So, take heart, moms: They're getting it out of their system now.

    Daycare Prepares Kids for School

    Beyond their credentials, teachers in preschool settings provide a more developmentally stimulating environment, too, researchers say.

    Quality, as always, is critical, but a 2016 study found that by age 5, children who attended formal childcare programs had substantially more vital reading and math skills relative to similar children who attended informal, home-based childcare settings. 

    According to researchers from the University of Virginia, Cornell University, the Urban Institute and Stanford University, teachers with lots of education and training in early childhood development are pretty good at developing little learners.

    Daycare Makes Kids More Efficient Communicators

    One key to effective communication is adjusting your speech based on who you're talking to, and it looks like kids in daycare may be more intuitive in this regard. 

    To study the neural mechanisms that support verbal and non-verbal communication, Dutch researchers watched 5-year-olds playing a two-person game and discovered that the more days children spent in daycare, the better they were able to adjust their communication style to the other player—likely because of their exposure to a greater variety of social situations, they suggest.

    Daycare Moms Are More Likely to Participate in Their Kids' Schools

    It's time to say goodbye to the stereotype of the busy working mom who misses the PTA meeting. 

    Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin studied 1,300 children. 

    They found that moms whose kids were cared for in daycare centres or others' homes were more likely to be involved in their children's schools starting in kindergarten—even more likely than mothers who cared for their kids themselves. 

    That participation included everything from regular communication with teachers to attending an open house and forging friendships with other parents.

    How to Decide Between Daycare and Preschool

    Are you still stuck? Since general guidelines will take you only so far, it's time to look closer to home. 

    Focus on the specific centres in your area. The best program is the one that best fits you, your child, your schedule and your budget — and in your neighbourhood, daycare or preschool may both be robust options.

    Daycares usually cater to young children, with ages ranging from 18-months-old to toddlers up to the age of three. Preschool is for children who are a year or two away from kindergarten, usually ages three and four.

    Based on CAP's models, the cost of providing care for an infant is, on average, 61 percent higher than the cost of serving a preschooler. However, the infant subsidy rate is, on average, only 27 percent higher than the preschool subsidy rate.

    The Center for Disease Control and Prevention defines the preschool age range as being between three and five years old. However, there are no hard and fast rules. Some preschools enroll children at three years old; others take children at four. The average starting age is between three and four.

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