What’s the difference between daycare and preschool?

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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 important 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 organization. 

    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 right.

    The words "preschool" and "daycare" or "child care" may be used interchangeably among parents, but this is incorrect. While both offer great advantages to children, it is important 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 6 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. Thus, 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. It focuses much more on games and free play than a preschool does. As a result, 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! Now, every parent can be well-informed about the difference between preschool vs daycare.

    New parents want what's best for their children, especially when they have to part ways with their kiddos to go to work each day. One common decision parents must make whether to send their children to daycare or preschool. However, there are clear differences between the two that you should take into account when choosing.

    What Is Preschool?

    A preschool, otherwise known as a pre-primary or playschool, is a learning place that offers early childhood education to children before they start elementary school. Ideally, children who have crossed the toddler age (2 ½ to 5 years) qualify for preschool. It focuses on the child's development and lays the foundation for later school years.

    These children are learning and growing but not old enough to attend kindergarten. Preschool provides a foundation for older toddlers to build on when they reach elementary school. These facilities typically follow similar schedules to regular school, meaning they are closed on holidays and during the summer. Preschool is often just half a day long, but some offer full days as well. 


    • The focus is on the child's education and development.
    • It doesn't open during the holidays.
    • Caters to the age group of 2.5 – 5 years
    • Open for shorter hours, usually for three to four hours.
    • Typically has day-scholars
    • Different preschools have different methodologies such as Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, play-based and religious models.

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

    What Is Daycare?

    Daycare or creche is a place that provides childcare services. Daycare centres mainly cater to working parents and focus on taking care of the child, feeding them, putting them to sleep, and making them play for some time.

    It is typically for younger children (infants to 10 years) who have to spend five to eight hours away from home, but older children also go to daycare after school hours. A preschool is different from daycare in many ways, but they have some similarities as well. Read on to know what they are.

    Daycare is more geared toward providing a safe environment for children to stay when their parents are otherwise engaged. Kids here play with others of their age group. In addition, Daycare provides parents with the ability to go to work and not fret about leaving their kids with a babysitter or the expense of hiring a private nanny. 

    Daycares do not follow a school schedule, offering longer hours and are open during holidays and school breaks. Infants to kids who aren't yet old enough to go to kindergarten are typically accepted into daycare. 


    • The child's development is not the top priority here. Instead, the focus is on taking care of the child and keeping them active.
    • Works during the holidays as well
    • It is suitable for a wide age group – from infants to older children.
    • Provides full-time care and is open for a longer duration, usually for eight to nine hours
    • Typically has children of working parents.
    • It has free play, nap time, and informal learning.

    Similarities Between Preschool And Daycare:

    • Several preschools have an extended daycare, where the children can stay back after school hours.
    • Daycares and preschools require licensing and accreditations to run them.
    • The safety of the children is a top priority in both cases.
    • They need to have qualified and trained staff to educate and train the children. The fee structure is almost the same.

    If your toddler is ready to stay away from you for a few hours, you need to choose between a preschool and a daycare.

    Preschool Or Daycare – What To Choose?

    This is an individual decision and depends on your familial requirements.

    • Daycare may be suitable for working parents as it offers childcare services for longer hours.
    • If your child is too young, then you might want to opt for daycare.
    • If your child is a toddler and it's time for them to be initiated into formal learning, preschool might be a better choice.
    • Also, a preschool is a right place if you want your child to interact and play with the same-age kids.

    Whether your choice is a daycare or a preschool, you need to prepare a set of criteria for the centre to meet.

    Factors To Consider While Choosing A Preschool/ Daycare

    Determine what you want for your child and your expectations from the preschool/ daycare. Here are a few things you may consider before making a decision:


    See how far the centre is from your home/workplace.

    • If it is a daycare, choose the one closest to your work so that you can drop your child just before you go to work and pick it up right after work.
    • If it is preschool, it is good to have it near your house.

    Time spent

    Decide how many hours you want your child to spend in preschool/ daycare.

    • Preschools operate from 9am to 12 pm, and daycares operate from 8 am to 8 pm.


    Some preschools have daycares attached to them to provide childcare services after school hours.

    • If you are considering a preschool with an attached daycare, you need to learn about the transition period from preschool to daycare. What happens when most of the kids leave, and your child is alone?
    • If you are dropping your child at daycare even before the caretakers' arrive, you need to know whom to give instructions about.


    The preschool curriculum focuses on early life education, while a daycare focuses on childcare services and education and play.

    • The centre should engage the child and help their cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development.
    • A preschool should introduce language, phonetics, letters, numbers, environmental sciences, and culture-specific concepts to the child.
    • Children learn best through play, so there should be a combination of free play and structured play.
    • If the preschool is pressurizing the children with lots of homework, you might not want to enrol your child in such a school.
    • Check if the activities are age-appropriate.
    • The teacher-child relationship should be healthy. If the child is too scared of their teacher, it's not a good sign.

    Education and formal training of staff: 

    Preschool staff undergo any formal training, while the same may not be the case with the daycare staff. However, most preschools have a set of requirements that their employees have to meet.

    • The preschool employees are usually selected based on their approach to children and the teaching methods they use for a certain age group.
    • Daycare is more relaxed in its approach towards the teachers and staff. In most cases, the staff do not have to attend an examination or interview to get recruited.
    • In most states, the educational qualification required of a daycare staff is lower than that of a preschool employee.

    Teacher-child interaction:

    You need to check the qualification of the teachers/ caretakers, their experience, and their attitude towards the children.

    • A happy teacher/ caretaker will make a happy child. The teacher-child interaction should be affectionate and respectful.
    • If the children are engaged in activities, and the teacher is preoccupied with something else, don't assume that she is not responsible. Effective teachers encourage children to be independent and resolve their conflicts while keeping an eye on them and interfering when required.

    Fees and payment method

    This is one of the more important points to consider.

    • How much does the centre charge? If their fee structure is too high, do they offer the convenience of instalments? Is there any late fee policy?
    • How does the daycare charge for the additional hours?
    • Are there any extra charges for the snacks or activities?

    The ratio of caretakers to children: 

    It's fair for you to expect one-on-one attention from your child at the centre. So, check if:

    • Your child gets attention even when there are too many kids. Especially if it's an infant, they need to keep an eye on him constantly.
    • Select a preschool/ daycare where the teacher/ caretaker-child ratio is low.

    Diaper rules: 

    Diapers are necessary for preschoolers and infants.

    • Most preschools are strict in their diaper policies and require your child to be potty trained before starting classes. But in daycares, potty training is part of childcare.
    • If the child is already diaper-trained, it could be a bonus for you as there will not be any problems in starting a preschool.
    • Most daycare centres take in children who are still in diapers, as they also care for younger babies who are not yet potty trained.
    • Whether you are about to begin potty training your child or are already in the middle of it, you can still send your child to daycare and continue with the training at home.

    Be aware of the daily routine: 


    Remember that your child needs to be happy and comfortable with the general routine at the centre.

    • Do they have activities such as storytelling, playtime, and dance or music?
    • What is their snack time, study time, and playtime?

    Food allergies: 

    If your child has any food allergies, you need to inform the preschool/ daycare personnel.

    • Check how they are going to manage if your child develops any allergies.
    • Do they have a nurse or a doctor in case of emergencies?

    Tracking milestones: 

    • Your child will be spending some time away from you.
    • You need to check with the preschool/ daycare if they have any program to track the child's milestones.
    • You also need to keep the daycare personnel informed about the milestones your child is likely to reach during that specific time.

    Interaction with other children: 

    How do the centres facilitate social interaction and interpersonal interaction?

    • Children in daycares are exposed to a mixed age group of kids. So, they get an opportunity to socialize with everyone, including caretakers.
    • Interaction in preschools is limited to their age group of kids and teachers.
    • So, you must have gotten an idea of where you want to put your child. But before you finalize it, make a note of a few more points.

    Things To Remember

    Here are a few important things to consider:

    • Check out the preschool and daycare centre options near your home or workplace and ask yourself which one feels better.
    • Talk to the preschool/ daycare head, teachers, caretakers. Would your child instantly take a liking to them or seem intimidated or scared?
    • Take note of the environment and hygiene of the place — ventilation, safety, baby-proofing, etc.
    • What toys do they have? Is it safe to play with them?
    • Ask the teachers and staff about the teaching policies they adopt. Ask them how they deal with children, even with those who may be difficult to handle.
    • Compare the centre's timings with your work timings or weekend schedule.
    • Look at the age of the children who are attending preschool/ daycare. Do you want your child to mingle with the age groups you see?
    • Interact with the parents who come to collect or drop their children at the centre. Take feedback from them and find out if they are working parents or just leaving the kids there for social interaction.
    • Find out about the activities offered at the centres. Do you feel the activities will be a great learning tool for your child?
    • Take a look at the children who are leaving the centre at the end of the day. Do they seem happy and well-cared? Or do they seem tired, disinterested or bored? Do the children turn back happily and wave to the staff, or do they rush out and want to go home?
    • Check if the centre is following the rules stipulated by the state. Do a background check to know if the centres are being run legally. Check the ratings, get referrals, and inquire about them.

    Preschools and daycares are your child's first step towards regular social interactions. They also prepare the kid to be away from home for some hours not to miss their home when they begin their formal schooling. Therefore, choose a centre where your child feels warm, protected and is happy to go.

    While centre-based care is typically provided only to children from a few weeks to five years old, family day care provides care for children up to 12 years old. Ultimately, deciding on the type of care you want for your child will depend on your needs and your preferences.

    Family day care is where a child is educated in a small group in a family style atmosphere at an educator's home, seeing the same educator or educators each day. ... The educator's children must be counted in those seven children if they are under 13 years and not being cared for by another adult at the premises.

    Overall, the average child care cost for one child in 2020 was $612/week for a nanny (up from $565/week in 2019), $340/week for a child care or day care center (up from $182/week) and $300/week for a family care center (up from $177/week).

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