What’s the difference between child care and preschool? Are child care and preschool programs so different? Is one elite and the other just convenient? Are there different requirements for teachers? I’ve worked in both types of programs, so I thought I would clear the confusion!
I live in the U.S., so I can only speak for where I live. Each country and even each state has different rules and regulations.I’ve worked in Colorado, but from what teacher friends across the nation have said, we have very similar experiences.
I’m going to use apples to apples here and compare and contrast a quality child care program to a quality preschool program.
Every school and program is different, so do your homework and research any location you are interested in.
I am not comparing the difference between types of preschools. For example, traditional, Montessori, Reggio, Waldorf, and Steiner schools are all different. Some Montessori programs are more like preschool and other Montessori programs are more like child care because of how long they are open. This has nothing to do with what is taught. I’ll explain more below.
The Difference Between Child Care and Preschool
Many times I see parents post on facebook groups that they want a referral for a preschool but they’re not interested in a daycare. As someone who has worked in both, I wonder if it is just the name that they are looking at, instead of the actual programs. As we all know, you cannot judge a book by it’s cover. There is always more to it.
So what exactly is the difference between child care and preschool? Here are the four biggest differences between the two, when both are offering quality programs. Then I’ll share briefly about some common misconceptions.
One of the most important differences between a preschool and child care program is how often and how long they are open. In general, a preschool has shorter days than a child care program.
Preschools typically last for a morning and some offer extended times. They follow school schedules and close during holidays and take summers off. You will see more closures due to weather (such as a snow day) and more holidays observed at a preschool.
Child care programs, on the other hand, are typically year-round with hours that are convenient for parents who work full time. Some offer overnight care, and even others are open 24/7. In general, they are open for more holidays, and they have less closures due to weather or other events.
I live in the 10th most expensive state for child care of all the U.S. so I can appreciate that child care and preschool are costly, no matter what the amount is.
A child care program will cost you more overall, but the price is almost always better when you break it down hour by hour. Sometimes it’s several dollars less for each hour. Enrollment fees, activity fees, and other related fees are usually lower too. In general, if you no longer need the services of a child care or daycare program, a two-week notice is standard for leaving.
Preschool prices will be less per month than child care, and it is a great option for families who don’t need full-time care. If you are looking to put your child in a program for only two or three mornings a week, chances are that the preschool will be much more affordable. Many times a deposit is required to hold a child’s spot because they plan enrollment about six months prior to when the school year begins. If you need to give notice to leave a preschool, it can be much more work to fill your child’s vacancy, so there is usually a longer notice required. In some cases, a commitment is required upon enrollment.
There are also free preschool programs in the U.S. offered by Head Start. These are typically in public elementary schools, although some are also in child care programs and family child care (in home) programs as partnership programs for families who need full-time care.
Most child care programs begin taking children around infancy or the toddler years, and children can grow through the program as they become preschool aged and some even take school-age children.
A child could attend for several years, depending on what the program accommodates. This could look different in the future though. I’m noticing that more and more programs are discontinuing infant care.
Preschools are typically for children three years old and older. Some begin as early as two-years-old though. They may have to turn three or four by a specified date, and there can be other requirements as well, which I’ll talk about next.
There is even a third type of program I’ve seen which is more like a mom’s morning out which offers parents care for a few hours and begins when children are younger, such as 12 months or 18 months.
Potty Training Requirements
Potty training is typically a part of child care as they will have changed your child’s diaper through those younger years and have the supplies and proper setup to help little ones in diapers or nappies. There might be specific classes that are designed for children who do not need diapers, but in general, there would be some sort of accommodation.
Many preschool programs expect children to be potty trained upon entering preschool. Some locations require extra licensing regulations with potty training, which may influence why a preschool decides to only accept potty trained children.
There is hope though for children who are not potty trained by three because there are programs that assist with this and look at it more in terms of readiness instead of age. My own program does not require potty training, and I’m glad because I’ve had some amazing children who I would have missed out on.
How do you choose?
I think the biggest determining factor in choosing between a child care and preschool program is what works best for your family. Do you work full time? Are you looking to find a program that is open year-round? Are you on a smaller monthly budget? Does your child do better when away from you for shorter periods of time? Are you looking for something close to your home, or are you willing to travel a little ways? Do you need a classroom for your child with extra staffing? Does your child thrive in a smaller setting? Do you have children of different ages who need care?
The best program is always the one that supports your family well and the needs that go along with it.
Here are some other factors to consider as well:
Many child care programs offer preschool classes, even with morning hours. I recommend calling around, and you may find you have many more options than you originally thought.
Both preschools and child care programs have experienced and educated teachers. Some of the best teachers I’ve known have been in both settings. It is important to look at each program individually though because turnover is high in the early childhood field, and staffing can vary greatly from program to program.
You don’t always get what you pay for, and in this instance, it’s a good thing. Quality programs can be very affordable, so I wouldn’t brush off a program based solely on price. There are even free programs available which offer children amazing opportunities and resources. You don’t have to break the bank to find a great program, so definitely do your homework.
Be sure that the preschool or child care program you are looking into is operating according to the minimum requirements set by your local government. Some programs require licensing, while others may not. I know of a few amazing programs across the U.S. that are not licensed, but are still legal and would be wonderful options for families. It’s important that parents do research, get referrals, look up ratings (if available), and truly find out what goes on inside of any program they have decided upon.