Daycare vs Preschool: What’s the Difference?

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There are so many terms for childcare that they start to run together. For example, I remember being rebuked by a mom when I referred to her child’s preschool as daycare.

Apparently, there aren’t just differences but enormous differences in how they function and what you should expect.

*FYI, some of the links in this article about daycare vs preschool may be affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, we may get a commission (at no extra cost to you). For more info, please see our disclaimer.

The Differences Between Daycare and Preschool

There is a clear difference between what a daycare offers and what a preschool promises.

Keep reading to learn more about each type of childcare, what services they provide, which ages they cater to, and the pros and cons of each.

Make sure you know everything there is to know about a daycare center and preschool before you make a choice for your kid.

Looking for a Good Quality Daycare?

Find an affordable and qualified daycare center that fits your needs.

What is Daycare?

a daycare teacher playing with kids

Daycare is a place where children are supervised in a group setting. A daycare can take place in a corporate facility, a church, or a private home. Daycare providers generally need some type of licensing, though the requirements vary from state-to-state.

The minimum service offered by a daycare facility is the safe oversight of children. This usually includes meals and playtime, though no education is required. Daycare employees do not usually have to have any specific training or certification.

Daycares are able to accept children as young as six weeks if they’re licensed to do so. Most daycares provide their services for children through school age and some offer after- and before-school care through age 12. There are no requirements for daycares to accept specific ages; this is determined by the daycare owner.

The cost of going to a daycare facility varies depending on the state where you live. You will almost always pay less for in-home and church-based daycares, but you also rarely have the oversight and amenities of corporate daycare centers.

As the name implies, daycares are primarily open during the day. They generally are available from early morning into the late evening with a focus on the typical parent workday.

Some may have longer hours, but these may charge extra for overtime. There are very few daycare centers that provide overnight care for those parents who work the third shift.

Pros of Using Daycare

  • Available from infancy
  • Many options in most locations
  • Flexible schedules are sometimes an option

Cons of Using Daycare

  • Caregiver certifications can be iffy
  • Children are not guaranteed a learning environment
  • A large number of children can mean your child is not given adequate attention

Related: Is Daycare Cheaper than a Nanny?

What is Preschool?

a preschool teacher teaching kids in a preschool classroom

Preschool is an educational institution that teaches early childhood learning. A preschool may be independent or part of a chain. Publicly funded preschools may be run at the local, state, or federal level. The school offers childcare along with a curriculum that focuses on age-appropriate lessons.

Licensing standards for preschools are not standard across the country. Each state sets their own guidelines, which are generally similar to or the same as daycare licenses.

A big difference is that quality preschools almost exclusively hire teachers with early childhood education degrees or other types of certification.

A preschool rarely accepts children under the age of two. Most follow CDC guidelines that state preschool age is from three to five. Children younger than three often cannot manage a steady curriculum, which means their attendance at a preschool would be frustrating at best.

The cost of preschool is similar to daycare, but it varies widely depending on the type of preschool and your location. For instance, a public preschool may have no charge, while a private preschool with specialized care may cost a small fortune.

My husband and I chose nursery school for our children, and we were very happy with our choice. It was a part-time school that started children at age three. It taught the basics: letters, numbers, shapes, and sounds. It also taught Spanish, which was important for our multilingual household. We paid a high price, but to us, it was worth it.

Many preschools are open during typical working hours, like daycares. However, they often do not offer flexible days or extended hours because they have a structured curriculum.

Other preschools are only open during a standard school day. Some preschools are half-day programs. The nursery school my kids attended offered two or three days per week from 8:30 to 11:30.

It wasn’t a substitute for daycare so much as a way to introduce my kids to socialization and education.

Some daycare facilities refer to themselves as preschools as part of their marketing plan.

It’s very important when researching preschools that you learn about their curriculum and teachers to verify learning is actually taking place.

Pros of Using Preschool

  • Early childhood education is beneficial for young children
  • Certified and licensed staff
  • Specialty preschools offer unique opportunities

Cons of Using Preschool

  • Schedules rarely offer flexibility
  • Can be more expensive than daycare
  • Many are not in session during the summer months

Looking for a Good Quality Daycare?

Find an affordable and qualified daycare center that fits your needs.

How are Daycares and Preschools Similar?

Preschools and daycare are not the same, but they do have similarities. They both offer an environment for your children while you are away.

They both provide a nurturing atmosphere where they can thrive. Both daycare and preschool encourage socialization.

A childcare center that provides a safe environment for children while their parents or guardians are away.An educational facility that offers curriculum-based instruction.
May be franchise-based, church-based, private or in-home.May be franchise-based, church-based, private or public.
Children range from infancy through school-age and beyond.Children are typically ages three to five.
All staff must pass background screenings. Staff may or may not be certified.All staff must pass background screenings. Staff is certified and may have degrees in early childhood education.

The Choice is Family Dependent

Sometimes daycare is the right choice. Sometimes preschool is preferred. You can be assured that your child will be safe, happy and healthy when you explore all possibilities and make an informed decision.

What form of childcare have you chosen? Tell us in the comments!

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Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions when it comes to preschool vs daycare, and child care centers in general.

Daycare and preschools are similar in that they both will look after your child but very different in that a preschool’s focus is to educate your child while a daycare’s primary purpose is solely to watch and look after your child. Typical hours of operation for both are also different. Preschools are usually half days while daycares operate from early morning to early evening.

A child can still be successful later in life without going to daycare. There are some benefits to a child going to preschool or a good daycare, such as academic preparation and socialization that they might not otherwise get.

Daycare is typically more expensive than a preschool. The cost of daycare in the U.S. is almost $12,000 a year or almost $1,000 a month. Depending on your area, you may be able to find a preschool for as low as half the cost of daycare.

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