For many parents, the question of preschool vs. daycare is a common one. What is the difference between these two places? And which one is best for my child?
In this article, we will provide a well-rounded look at both of these child-centric facilities, discuss their differences, and this will make it much easier for your family to choose whichever one is right for you.
Overview of Preschool and Daycare
Daycare is for children of all ages. You can find daycare facilities that can handle kids of all ages. Many of you parents out there are probably reading this because your child is approaching the age of 4, which is the age at which many kids attend preschool.
Perhaps your little fellow or lady is already enrolled in daycare and loving every moment of it. But if your daycare is mostly a free-play environment where kids are playing as they wish with supervision but no actual learning or activities, you may decide that preschool is a better option.
Keep this in mind: daycares and preschools are regulated and licensed by the same state agencies. So, don’t go feeling bad that your child is not involved in a rigid school program. And not all daycares are geared toward play- many sing songs, offer learning, and do activities with the children they oversee.
And, preschool can cost the same as daycare. Many cities offer Universal Pre K, which comes at no cost. But some parents do not desire public education for their children and instead send them to a private pre-K, which could cost even more than daycare.
But the differences run much deeper than that. Let’s begin by talking about the hours in which both of these learning institutions operate.
Hours of Preschool vs. Hours of Daycare
Preschools operate on short, daily hours. Most of these places are closed on government holidays, so you will need to find care on MLK Day, Columbus Day, Labor Day, and other holidays your company requires you to report to work.
These centers also close for summer break and winter break, but you might be able to send your children to summer day camp at the school for an additional price.
You might be able to do half-day or full-day programs at your child’s preschool, but this varies from place to place. Plus, your kiddo likely has to go for at least a few days each week; for our preschool, it is a two day a week minimum.
Meanwhile, we find that daycare hours tend to be much more flexible. They are open year round, and you can keep your little ones there for as many or as few hours as you like. For example, your child can stay for three hours at daycare while you run errands or the whole 8 hours while you work.
Age of Daycare vs. Age of Preschool
Daycare opens its doors to any and all kiddos of young ages. This is great because kids can interact with people of many ages: everyone from babies to “big kids” such as 7-year-olds can be seen when your little one goes to daycare.
This helps kids develop their social skills and learn how to interact with people that are different from themselves. That being said, if the staff spends too much time with a certain group of kids- such as the babies – it could lead to your child not getting the attention they need.
Now onto preschools. Kids aged 3-5 are the demographic you see attending preschool. And, the kids are usually separated at preschool.
For example, one teacher will work with all the 3-year-olds, and another will handle the 4-year-olds and the same for the age 5 kids. The only time they will interact is probably during recess or physical education.
Potty Training: It Matters for Preschool
Potty training is a big deal, and some kids take to it right away; other kids need that extra boost to learn how to “go.”
Here’s why it matters: Your kiddo is going to need to know his or her way around the bathroom to go to preschool. Meaning, they have to be able to go to the potty, use it, wash their hands, and come back.
If your child hasn’t quite mastered this skill yet, it may be wise to keep him or her in daycare until they are confident in their potty skills.
Meanwhile, daycares accept children that are still in diapers.
Teachers at Preschool Vs. Daycare Staff
Preschool teachers in many states must hold at minimum a college degree to teach young children. For some states, an associate’s degree could be enough, but for most states, a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood education is necessary.
Some states require a college degree plus a certificate that shows extra qualifications for early learners. You should absolutely ask your child’s potential teacher about his or her education requirements.
And remember, any teacher worth his or her salt is happy to talk about their qualifications and achievements in their journey as an educator. If they seem irritated or put off by your request, you should seek a different school for your child.
Meanwhile, daycare staff are, in some cases, not as educated. To work at a daycare, a person must have a high school diploma, although some daycares require college education.
Once more, never feel afraid about asking the daycare center about the employees and their qualifications/background checks. And if they seem put off, remember- that’s a huge red flag and one that indicates you should avoid the facility.
Are There Any Similarities Between Daycare and Preschool?
Yes, absolutely! Let’s round up the similarities between the two facilities:
- Staff has to be trained and qualified in order to interact with the children safely. Education, background checks, and experience are all necessary.
- The safety of kids is the number one priority for both preschools and daycare.
- Preschools and daycares must pass rigorous requirements for accreditations and licensure.
- Some preschools offer extended hours so kids can stay after standard school hours for enrichment and play.
Which One Is Right For Me?
This depends on your family’s needs, specifically your child’s.
- Daycare is better for parents who both work, especially those who work longer hours.
- Daycare is ideal for kids that are under the preschool age or whose parents feel they lack the social or developmental skills for preschool.
- Daycare is ideal if your child has not yet learned how to use the potty.
- Preschool is best if you prefer your child to be following a structured schedule.
- Preschool is best if you want your child to interact with kids their own age.
What to Consider When Choosing Daycare or Preschool?
Not sure what to think about when it comes time to choose? Here are a few things you should think about before signing up for a preschool or daycare.
The time your child will be there: How much time do you need somebody to watch your child? If you need a full 8 hours, daycare is likely the better choice as they offer extended hours. Meanwhile, if you work part-time or are able to pick up your child each day from preschool, that option will work.
Proximity: How close is the facility of your choice to your workplace or home? You want to be able to pick up your child after work with ease and drop them off seamlessly in the morning. This is true for both preschool and daycare.
Is there a combo facility nearby? Some daycares have a preschool built right in. This way, preschool kids can be escorted to the daycare area after preschool has been dismissed, so their parents can have someone supervising their kids whilst they are at work.
Curriculum: Preschools offer children education of the basic kindergarten fundamentals such as counting, hand-eye coordination, letters, play and socialization with others. Meanwhile, daycare is mostly a play-based childcare method, although some daycares offer educational activities during the day.
Make sure the facility you choose does the following for your child:
- Offers a combo of free play and structured activity for variety and more learning.
- If choosing a preschool, make sure they learn numbers, letters, phonetics, language skills, science, and social skills.
- Either of the two facilities should encourage children to learn in ways that enhance their cognitive, social, and emotional skills.
- Make sure expectations regarding homework are clear if your child is attending preschool. Most preschools don’t do homework, but it is best to ask.
- Make sure activities are appropriate for young kids.
- Make sure your child feels happy and excited to attend their school or daycare. Most kids really love school at this age, so if a child displays signs of anxiety or worry, you should investigate that right away.
Staff Qualifications: Preschool staff are usually college-educated, but daycare staff usually requires experience and a high school diploma at a minimum. We already talked about why asking about your kids’ caretakers matters, so be sure to do that. Here are some ways staff are chosen at each facility:
- Preschool employees are chosen based on qualifications and how they approach kids/teaching methods they prefer for kids of a young age.
- Daycare mostly looks for people who are safe around children and have some experience working with young kids.
How Teachers Interact with Kids: You can ask to observe a day in your child’s perspective preschool, and we encourage it. You can also observe your child’s daycare too. You might even walk in and observe for a few moments before approaching the staff, so you can see how the staff interacts with the kids and how the kids respond. Children should be happy while being there. Of course, you might hear some crying over things kids care about, such as toys or snacks. However, a child should not be fearful of their caretakers. Teachers and caretakers should also be engaged with the kids, not on their phones, on their computers, or otherwise distracted.
Payment and Cost: Cost is usually the deciding factor for most families, so think about this:
- Can I afford the daycare/preschool cost, and is there an extra cost for activities, field trips, or snack?
- Will I be charged extra for my child staying after hours?
- Does the preschool or daycare offer the chance to pay on an installment plan if I cannot come up with the full tuition at the time of enrollment?
Some institutions might even offer services based upon your income. If financial assistance is available, ask how you might be able to get help.
Staff to Kid Ratio: Daycares and preschools have to be properly staffed in order to operate. And, your kid is deserving of one on one attention at the place he or she goes each day. So, make sure that:
- There are enough staff members on to provide attention to all kids adequately- especially if you will be dropping off an infant who requires constant care.
- You might even seek a preschool or daycare, where the ratio of students to staff is low on purpose.
Allergen Care: Many kids nowadays deal with food intolerances or allergies. Gluten-free and nut allergens are real and should be taken seriously. Will your daycare or preschool handle this carefully? Make sure your facility of choice has a nurse on standby that can help a child who accidentally ingests a food they shouldn’t have.
Progress Reports: You want your child to make progress in their learning. So, how will your facility of choice measure and report this to you? Can you work with their teachers to create and achieve milestones such as learning the alphabet or counting to ten? Be sure your facility of choice offers this if you desire such an outcome.
The choice of preschool vs. daycare is hard because there are pros and cons to each. Wherever your child’s learning takes place, I encourage you to check out the great program Children Learning Reading. It’s a great way to get your little one to the head of the class, whether it’s kindergarten, pre-K, or reading books at daycare!