Preschool vs. Daycare: What's the Difference?

The question of whether or not to pursue early childhood education (i.e. some form of schooling before kindergarten) is one many parents of toddlers contemplate. In particular, moms and dads might be thinking about the options of daycare and preschool.

And while both have to meet the same licensing and accreditation requirements, each of these childcare options offers distinct advantages and disadvantages - the problem is that they are often used synonymously.

So just what are the differences between preschool and daycare? And is one more beneficial than the other?

Similarities Differences
  • Same requirements for licensing and accreditation.
  • You can always evaluate each using the same criteria.
  • Cost roughly the same.
  • Good quality preschools and daycare centers will offer activities designed to stimulate your child's physical, social and cognitive development.
  • Preschool is specifically designed for children between the ages of 2 and ½ and 5 or 6; Daycare is aimed at children of many different ages (infant to elementary school age).
  • Preschools have more limited hours (typically 3 hours at a time, 2 to 5 times a week). On the other hand, some daycares offer their services during the full working day, making it a desirable choice for working moms.
  • Curriculum: most preschool organized around a specific educational approach (i.e. Montessori, Waldorf), whereas most daycares are viewed as being more custodial than educational.
  • What's Does it All Mean?
    When you break it all down, daycare and preschool in principle are not fundamentally different. However, they do offer logistical advantages and disadvantages to every parent, depending on your circumstance. For example, working moms may prefer the option of daycare, as it offers more frequent and longer care hours than preschool. It may also be preferential for parents of infants, as preschool is generally not offered to children of this age group.

    The most important thing to bear in mind when selecting either a preschool or a daycare center is how comfortable you feel with the providers as well as the programs they offer. Just as is the case with finding a new doctor for either yourself or your child, you don't want to rush into a decision. After all, your child will potentially spending a lot of her time there; therefore, you want to be sure that time is spent in an environment that is fun and nurturing.

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