Contrary to popular belief, preschool and daycare are not interchangeable terms or different names for the same thing. In reality, although they have some fundamental similarities, they are very different. 

Difference Between Preschool and Daycare

Let’s look at what both types of child care entail and the similarities and difference between preschool and daycare. That way, you can make the best decision on preschool vs. daycare for your family, and most importantly, your child.

What Is Daycare?

Daycare is any facility or program that provides safe supervision for children while their parents are absent, usually working. It is sometimes used interchangeably with childcare since the services provided aren’t necessarily limited to daytime.

The laws and regulations governing childcare and daycare vary from state to state, but usually, an institution must meet stringent requirements to qualify for licensure.

What Can You Expect Your Daycare to Provide?

A quality daycare program should provide a safe and loving environment for your child when you cannot act as the primary caregiver. They absolutely must meet your child’s basic needs

These include: 

  • Adequate food to meet their nutritional needs 
  • Time and space to rest and sleep
  • Time and space to learn, play and grow 

They also must be kept clean (regular diaper changes), and you should also expect these needs to be met immediately, as soon as your child shows distress. 

For Whom is Daycare a Better Option?

If the items above are all you need from your childcare provider, you don’t need anything more than daycare. Daycare is more than appropriate for infants and young toddlers, from six weeks to two years. They’re simply too young for preschool.

A daycare environment might also be preferable if you only need part-time care. You can help your child meet educational milestones on your own time spent with them at home or through other enrichment programs.

What Is Preschool?

Preschool is a little bit different. Certainly, preschools provide for all of the basic needs that daycares do. They will make sure that young children eat an appropriate amount of food at the correct times. They will keep them clean, teach good hygiene, and even help with toilet training.

Above all, preschools will provide a safe environment for children to grow and explore, overseen by caring adults that your children can trust.

What Does Preschool Provide that Daycare Does Not?

Preschool often provides a more structured environment with defined educational and developmental milestones for children to meet. In this way, it is much more like school than daycare. 

By the time children “graduate” from preschool (typically between ages 4 and 6), they can usually:

  • Recognize and write letters and numbers 
  • Say the alphabet 
  • Count 
  • Write their names
  • Know other essential skills needed for entering Kindergarten

For Whom is Preschool a Better Option?

Preschool is meant for older children. Some developmentally advanced two-year-olds might be ready, but typically, children enter preschool around age three. 

Many daycares transition children to preschool classrooms around this age, so you don’t necessarily need to find a new facility when your child’s developmental and educational needs increase with their age.

Finally, if your child is in childcare full-time, you’ll want to make sure that they’re in a structured environment that preschools provide, much more so than daycares. That way, their trained teachers in their classrooms can help you ensure that your kids meet those all-important milestones and have the skills they’ll need to enter Kindergarten.

Making the Right Choice for Your Child

Knowing what’s suitable for your child is the constant stress of parenthood, no matter the question. You have to make dozens of significant decisions for them every year, and it can be overwhelming. 

Use the information in this article and speak to your pediatrician about the best educational plan for your pre-Kindergarten-aged child.

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