In the world of early childhood education, one of the choices parents face is whether to enroll their child in a daycare center or a preschool. These days, the two actually have a lot in common, including being regulated by the same state agencies. Contrary to a common perception, many child care centers also offer educational activities that mirror those in a good preschool, and while daycares tend to be somewhat less expensive on average, they can sometimes match or exceed the cost of comparable preschools
. Some preschools also offer before and after school beyond the "official" school day. Nevertheless, there are some other key differences that parents should consider.
First, daycare centers almost always offer more flexible hours than preschools, opening earlier, closing later, and continuing to operate during school holidays, which makes them a fantastic option for working parents. Some will even offer customizable schedules, allowing children to attend during specific hour blocks throughout the week. Daycares come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny in-home daycares
with a single caregiver, to large age-separated child care centers employing dozens of employees including a director, assistant director, teachers, assistant teachers and child care providers. Preschools usually have a potty training requirement, while most daycares will accept children still in diapers.
Daycare centers also tend to accept a wider age range of children (sometimes as young as a few weeks), creating environments where infants and toddlers might interact with older preschoolers. This can make life easier for parents of multiple young children and may provide socialization opportunities unavailable in preschools that separate age groups. Mixed aged groups are, however, more common in home daycares, and less so in larger child care centers. Some preschools also offer mixed age group environments, such as Montessori preschools
The classroom layout of most large daycare centers will be similar to a preschool, while home-based daycare programs can offer intimate environments that are hard to find in any other context. Daycares are less likely to follow a particular teaching philosophy like Montessori schools or Reggio Emilia preschools
, and in general may be less oriented towards pre-academic skills and kindergarten preparation. A good daycare center will also offer quality early education for children, but will generally focus on play-based learning and fostering a warm, happy environment.
Daycare teachers might not be held to the same educational standards as in preschools, although there has been no significant disparity found in grade school children based on their participation in either a daycare or preschool setting. However, parents should always inquire about the educational background of the teachers when considering a daycare center for their child.