Daycare Vs Preschool: Must Have Info To Make A Better Choice

Daycare Vs Preschool

Daycare and preschool are types of early childhood education that prepare children for the school years ahead. 

Both daycare and preschool are childcare programs, but there is a difference between the two. You will want to understand this if you’ve got a young child and are wondering about appropriate child care. 

In this article, we’ll look at the main differences between daycare vs preschool.

Daycare vs preschool

Before we look at the differences between preschool and daycare, let’s better understand both.

What is daycare?

Daycare programs provide professionally-led care for young children. The main focus of most daycare programs is free-play, carefully and safely watched by daycare staff. 

Social interaction is integral to learning and development in daycare, so play is emphasized above rigorous education. Hours are typically longer in daycare than in preschool.

What is preschool?

Preschool offers children space to play and learn together, emphasizing academic education and supported by social and emotional development. 

Typically offered to children aged 2-5, preschool prepares children to enter kindergarten. 

Children in preschool are sometimes separated by age. Preschool schedules follow typical school semesters – time off for holidays and summer.

Daycare vs. Preschool: Similarities

Both daycare and preschool programs help children grow and develop. 

They focus on children’s well-being, social development, emotional well-being, learning, physical activity, and communication skills. 

At this highly formative time in a child’s life, these childcare providers nurture children’s growing brains to set them up for health and success.

In daycare and preschool, providers focus on healthy, nurturing child-provider connections. 

Going into a child care program is usually a child’s first home away from home, so their connection with teachers and carers is paramount.

In both types of child care, children benefit from a whole-child health approach, which includes free play and structured play, outdoor time, hands-on learning, teamwork, music, art, and reading. 

Despite the many similarities, there are also critical differences between daycare and preschool that will help you as a parent decide which type of program is best for you and your child.

Daycare Vs Preschool

Differences between daycare and preschool

1. Approach to education

As mentioned, preschools are more focused on academic learning than daycare centers. 

In daycare, activities are less structured, leaving room for more free play and child-led learning. 

Preschool still involves play and spontaneity but focuses on academics to help children prepare for kindergarten. Art, literacy, communication, and science skills are explored and developed in preschool. 

In addition, a typical preschool will begin the academic year with a set curriculum and teaching methodology (e.g., Montessori).

2. Age of admission

Age is a significant difference between daycare and preschool. 

Daycare centers generally take on infants and toddlers. According to child psychology experts, the best age to send your child to daycare is around 12 months.

Some slightly older school-age children can still attend daycare depending on their parents’ needs and individual daycare capacity. 

Daycare is centered around play, so infants can attend without disrupting a preschool’s academic and structured atmosphere. 

Unlike daycare, infants and toddlers don’t attend preschool. Children at preschool are typically 3-5 years old.

3. Schedule

Daycares usually offer both full-time and part-time admissions. 

Not every daycare offers this option, so check with the particular daycare center in your area. 

One of the most significant differences between daycare and preschool is that daycare typically has more flexible, year-round schedules, which means that working parents who work over the summer can still rely on their chosen daycare center to mind their children while at work.

In contrast, most preschools follow the school term, which means they may not be open during the summer holidays and seasonal school breaks.

Unless you also have a break from work during these months, which is unlikely, you’ll need to find an alternative care program, child minding service, or trusted family member to take care of your children while you work.

4. Class sizes and ratios

Class sizes and child-teacher ratios vary between all preschools and daycare centers. As such, this is something you need to research on the programs and centers you have in mind.

Typically, parents prefer their child to enter a smaller class than a larger one, as a smaller class size means more attention and individualized care for their child. 

With individualized care and attention, children have a greater chance to learn and develop. Individual needs can be more effectively taken care of, and children will feel more confident and comfortable around teachers, staff, and other children. 

In daycare with infants and young toddlers, child-teacher/staff ratios are usually 1:5 or 1:3. Ratio laws vary by state and center, so you’ll have to check with each particular center or school.

The older children get, the greater the ratio allowed by law. Children 3-5 years old may enter centers and care programs with up to ten children in a class, and some go as high as 1:12. 

You can still find centers and programs that keep class sizes small to offer more focused attention and care to each child.

5. Potty training/Potty breaks

Children are generally required to be potty trained by three years old to be accepted in childcare programs like preschool. 

Since daycares accept children from infancy, potty training is not required for admission. Daycare centers and staff are required to be able to change diapers but bear in mind that groups with high numbers of kids may be less equipped to take care of your child as soon as you might like them to.

Of course, children grow and develop at different paces, so there’s no guarantee that every child will be potty trained by age 3. The problem is that not all facilities are equipped or prepared to handle every child’s potty needs. 

If you want to send your child to preschool, consider how familiar they are with potty use and adhering to a particular school or center’s schedule.

Preschool vs pre k

The significant difference between preschool and pre-kindergarten comes down to a child’s age and stage of development. 

Younger children, those aged around 2 to 4, are more suited for preschool, while slightly older children, those aged 4-5, are more likely suited for pre-kindergarten. These age groups are generalized as each child develops at their own pace. 

Children in pre-k are usually offered more in-depth learning and structured activities focusing on skill development than in preschool. Math and science are a part of pre-k education.

Preschool, while still more academically oriented than daycare, tends to focus on more basic problem-solving skills and understanding basic concepts like the alphabet, colors, numbers, and shapes.

Further, preschools typically offer a combination of structured learning and free play, while pre-k tends to focus heavily on structured learning with less free play. 

Daycare Vs Preschool

Should I send my child to daycare or preschool?

Deciding whether to send your child to daycare or preschool comes down to several factors, but it mainly depends on your child’s age, your schedule and needs, your budget, and what you want regarding your child’s education. 

The main things to consider are:

1. Your child’s age

Daycare is oriented toward a younger age group, such as infants and young toddlers. (Some child care centers take care of older children, but this comes down to the child care center’s own rules and capacity.)

2. Stage of development

Is your child ready for preschool? Are they potty trained? Do they show higher academic abilities, or would they be better suited to daycare at this stage of development? 

Avoid making a competition out of your child’s education and care needs. Some parents may boast about sending their child to preschool or pre-k at a remarkably young age, but it’s not a competition.

3. Class size preferences

As a parent, you naturally want your child to receive high-quality care. 

If you believe your child will benefit from more individualized care, preschool can offer smaller class sizes. 

Daycare centers typically take on more students per group. Still, that doesn’t mean daycare will be overcrowded. 

Both only take the number of children they are equipped to manage.

4. Time management needs

Choosing between preschool and daycare often comes down to your own time management needs. 

If you can organize care and support for your child during preschool holidays and early/late hours, then preschool may be suitable, but if not, daycare may be a better option.


Whichever type of childcare program you choose for your child, check with that individual provider’s rules, education philosophy, and capacity to make sure that it aligns with your needs and preferences. 

While there are some standard rules and regulations to which daycares and preschools must adhere, many centers and programs vary in what they offer. 

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