Preschool Vs. Daycare: Which One Is Better?

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Whether you are joining work after a long maternity leave or want your little one to meet new people outside of family and socialize, choosing between sending them to a preschool or daycare can be a tough task. So, if you want to compare preschool Vs. daycare and decide where to send your ward, this post is for you.

Preschool and daycare have different objectives and look after your child differently. Either way, you want your child to be taken care of by loving people so that they don’t miss you and have a hard time spending time away from you. Read on to know the best option for your child.

In This Article

What Is A Preschool?

Preschools lay a foundation for future education
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A preschool, otherwise known as a pre-primary or play school, 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.

protip_icon Quick fact
Johann Friedrich Oberlin and Louise Scheppler founded an establishment in 1779 for the care and education of preschool children whose parents had to go to work during the day (3).

What Is A Daycare?

A daycare or creche is a place that provides childcare services. Daycare centers 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 a daycare in many ways, but they have some similarities as well. Read on to know what they are.

Preschool Vs. Daycare

Focus is on the child’s education and developmentThe child’s development is not the top priority here. Instead, the focus is on taking care of the child and keeping them active
Doesn’t open during the holidaysWorks during the holidays as well
Caters to the age group of 2.5 – 5 yearsIs suitable for a wide age group – from infants to older children
Open for shorter hours usually for three to four hoursProvides full-time care and is open for a longer duration, usually for eight to nine hours
Typically has day-scholarsTypically has children of working parents
Different preschools have different methodologies such as Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, play-based and religious modelsIt has free-play, nap time, and informal learning

Similarities between preschool and daycare

It should also be noted that both preschool and daycare can offer opportunities for growth and exploration. In addition, they can offer opportunities for creativity.

  • Several preschools have an extended daycare, where the children can stay back after the school hours.
Children can stay back in daycare after school
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  • Daycares and preschools require licensing and accreditations to run them.
  • Safety of the children is a top priority in both the 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.

protip_icon Did you know?
Model Day Nursery was one of the first institutions set up to cater to the needs of child care in 1893 by a group of New York philanthropists (4).

Preschool Or Daycare – What To Choose?

The major difference between preschool and daycare is the level of socialization and nurturing that is provided. 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 a 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 the 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 center to meet.

The female population in the labor force has been declining over the years, and the rising childcare in the US could be one of the reasons for it. According to a survey conducted by the Center for American Progress, in the US, more mothers would want to resume work or opt for higher education if they had access to good childcare.

The chart below shows that 20% of stay-at-home mothers would like to work, while 42% would want to look for higher-paying jobs. Sadly, women have opted out of their careers due to the lack of federal child care and paid family leaves.

Proportion of US children diagnosed with developmental disabilities (2015-2018)

Source: U.S. children diagnosed with a developmental disability; Statista/NCHS/CDC

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 taking a decision:

1. Distance: See how far the center is from your home/workplace.

  • If it is a daycare, choose the one which is closer to your work so that you can drop your child just before you go to work and pick up right after work.
  • If it is preschool, it is good to have it near your house.
Distance between the preschool and your home matters
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2. Time spent: Decide how many hours you want your child to spend in preschool/ daycare.

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

3. Preschool-cum-daycare: 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 find out 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 your child.

4. Curriculum: The preschool curriculum focuses on early life education while a daycare focuses on childcare services along with education and play.

  • The center should engage the child and help in their cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development.
  • A preschool should introduce a 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 enroll 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.

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

  • The employees of a preschool are, usually, selected on the basis of their approach to children and the methods of teaching they use for a certain age group.
  • A 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.

6. 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 the children to be independent and resolve their conflicts, while they keep an eye on them and interfere when required.
Teacher-child interaction, preschool vs. daycare
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7. Fees and payment method: This is one of the more important points to consider.

  • How much does the center charge? If their fee structure is too high, do they offer the convenience of installments? 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?

8. The ratio of caretaker to children: It’s fair for you to expect one-on-one attention on your child at the center. So, check if:

  • Your child gets the 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.

9. 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 they start 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 centers 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.

10. Be aware of the daily routine: Remember that your child needs to be happy and comfortable with the general routine at the center.

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

11. 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?

12. 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.

13. Interaction with other children: How do the centers 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.

protip_icon Point to consider
The Montessori teaching method contributes to early childhood education by enabling young learners to thrive. The activities help children understand more about themselves and the world around them (5).

Things To Remember

Here are a few important things to consider:

  • Check out the preschool and daycare center 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?
Talk to Head of the preschool
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  • 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 center’s timings with your work timings or weekend schedule.
  • Look at the age of the children who are attending the 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 center. Take feedback from them, find out if they are working parents or just leaving the kids there for some social interaction.
  • Find out about the activities offered at the centers. Do you feel the activities will be a great learning tool for your child?
  • Take a look at the children who are leaving the center 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 just rush out and want to go home?
  • Check if the center is following the rules stipulated by the state. Do a background check to know if the centers are being run legally. Check the ratings, get referrals, and inquire about them.

Deciding between preschool and daycare involves effort and research since each family has its unique requirements. Karessa, a mother and blogger, remarks that she enrolled her children in preschool to promote their social skills and confidence. She says, “We have enrolled Kinley and Kruz (the children) in a preschool that has wonderful reviews, is actually the most affordable in the area, and was highly recommended by friends that we totally trust! The administrators, teachers, and fellow parents were all so kind when we visited, and it feels like a great fit. I realize that them getting out and socializing with children their age is the entire point of preschool (i).”

Regardless of which option a family chooses, both preschool and daycare can offer valuable opportunities for socialization, nurturing, growth, exploration and creativity that can have a positive impact on a child’s development.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How do I know my child is ready for preschool?

You may know your child is ready for preschool if they are (1):

  • Independent and can engage in activities for some time without supervision
  • Expressive and can convey their needs and wishes
  • Attentive and can focus and follow directions
  • Emotionally ready to stay away from parents or caregivers
  • Physically strong to sustain the daily routine
  • Toilet-trained

2. Why should parents send their children to preschool?

Parents should send their children to preschool because these schools (2):

  • Allow them to learn new things and grow
  • EPrepare them for kindergarten
  • Focus on their social and emotional development
  • Develop the habit of following a routine and being in a structured environment
  • Teach them to care for themselves
  • Nurture their curiosity

3. How much should I expect to pay for preschool or daycare?

The overall pay for preschool varies depending on several factors, such as the neighborhood, types of facilities, programs available, the school’s popularity, the state you reside in, and family income. The prices may also vary based on whether the facility is public or private.

4. How do I prepare my child for their first day of preschool or daycare?

Visit the preschool or daycare before their first day to help the child familiarize themselves with the environment. Talk to your child about what preschool or daycare is and answer any questions they may have. Watch videos or TV shows that feature characters going to preschool, which can help build familiarity. Share experiences about your first day of school and arrange for playdates with children from the same preschool or daycare before the first day to help the child better understand the transition (6).

5. How can I stay involved in my child’s education and development in preschool or daycare?

Establish a strong communication link with the teachers to stay informed about the child’s progress. Participate in school activities to interact with the teachers, staff, and other parents. Help your child with homework, read with them, and discuss their time at preschool or daycare. Additionally, regularly review your child’s work or assignments to help them share their learning and experiences.

The debate on preschool vs. daycare is a difficult one to address as both have their pros and cons. Make sure that the daycare or the preschool facility is at a feasible distance from your house and that the staff is professional. It is also advised that you talk to the parents of the children already attending the institution to know better about their policies and management techniques. These institutions are your child’s first step into the social world, and it is essential that you choose the right one.

Infographic: Factors To Consider When Choosing A Preschool/ Daycare

Whether it is a preschool or daycare, you want a convenient place for you and your child. If you are off to work soon and need to find a center to keep your child safe while you are away, here are a few important factors to consider when choosing an ideal preschool or daycare.

factors to consider when choosing a preschool/daycare (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Get the high-quality PDF version of this infographic.

Download Infographic in PDF version

Key Pointers

  • Preschools and daycares serve different purposes, with preschools emphasizing early childhood education and daycares emphasizing childcare.
  • Preschools are best for kids aged 2.5 to 5 years, while daycares may accommodate kids of all ages, from infants to older children.
  • Preschools typically operate for 3 to 4 hours, whereas daycares operate for longer hours (8 to 9 hours).
  • The choice between a preschool and a daycare depends on individual demands and requirements, including the child’s age and the parent’s work schedules.
  • Factors to consider when selecting a preschool or daycare include distance from home/workplace, cost, safety, center objectives and methods, education, formal staff training, and the caretaker-child ratio.
Preschool Vs. Daycare_illustration

Image: Stable Diffusion/MomJunction Design Team

Personal Experience: Source


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. How to know if your child is ready for preschool.
  2. 10 good reasons your child should attend preschool.
  3. Learning is Fun at Kinder School.
  4. Social Welfare History Project The History of Child Care in The U.S.
  5. Montessori Education.
  6. How to prepare your child for preschool.
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