Preschool and daycare are both fantastic options for preparing your child for school and later life. In either setting, your child will enjoy the experience of bonding with other children and adults, learning new skills, and discovering who they are and how they fit into the world.
But while preschool and daycare have similar goals, the two environments are distinctly different. This article will discuss the key differences between the two educational settings and help you decide which option is best for you and your child.
Preschool vs. Daycare: What’s the difference?
Let’s start by defining the unique characteristics of preschool and daycare. We’ll then move on to a quick summary of what sets the two apart.
Preschool is a type of schooling typically for children aged three to five. Generally, preschool offers a range of activities and experiences to help children prepare for school life, focusing on skills including:
- Reading and writing
- Social skills
- Fine and gross motor skills
Common preschool activities include art projects, guided handwriting lessons, socialising with friends and educators, reading and telling stories, singing songs, and outdoor play. Many preschools also offer extracurricular activities like excursions, sports programs, and visits from community leaders.
Many preschools will offer healthy drinks and snacks throughout the day, but few offer scheduled in-house meals.
Compared with preschool, daycare has a stronger focus on care, creating a home-like rather than school-like atmosphere. Daycare is typically centre based, although in-home options are also available.
Daycare’s main goal is to provide a safe, nurturing environment for children while their parents are out working or running errands. Many centres offer half-day or full-day schedules that parents can choose from to suit their schedules.
A typical daycare or child care centre will offer activities similar to a preschool program, like arts and crafts, music lessons, and reading time. However, unlike a standard preschool, daycare centres may also offer scheduled naps, nappy changes, and meals including breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea.
Summing up the differences
So, while preschools and child care providers have many similarities, the key difference lies in their focus—preschools focus on early childhood education, while daycares focus on care.
In other words, your child’s experience with a child care program is more comparable to a home-based environment with a nanny or babysitter, while their experience in preschool will be more like a typical school environment with a teacher.
Many early learning centres combine preschool and daycare services with meals, naps, activities, and school readiness programs. How these characteristics mix and balance will depend on the individual centre.
Preschool offers an enormous range of benefits for parents hoping to prepare their children for the challenges of school life. Let’s dive into a few of these benefits now.
One of preschool’s main benefits is its strong focus on learning and development. As the name implies, the approach is largely about preparation for school.
Many preschools offer school readiness programs based on the Australian Government’s recommendations for early learning. The goal behind these programs is to foster a lifelong love of learning and instil essential skills across five key categories:
- Body and mind (i.e., health, movement, wellness)
- Academia (i.e., reading, writing, shape recognition)
- Creativity (i.e., dancing, writing, singing)
- Self-identity (i.e., confidence, empathy, independence)
- Culture and community (i.e., respect, environmental awareness)
These critical skills will help prepare your child for their transition to school and build a solid foundation for success and happiness in later life.
Preschool is also a fantastic way for your child to meet other children, form relationships, and build vital interpersonal and communication skills. These early positive reactions will help your child form their personality and interests.
Since preschool is typically divided into developmentally appropriate age groups (for example, children aged 3-4 and 4-5), your child is likely to associate with peers of their age group. This aspect contrasts with child care, with a range of children aged from zero to five may interact in the same group.
Early learning programs
Many of today’s preschools offer school readiness programs, as we touched on above. These programs typically follow the Australian Government’s Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), emphasising holistic, child-centred early childhood education.
Experiences under an EYLF-based school readiness program might include:
- Eating lunch from a pre-prepared lunch box,
- Participating in group games and sports,
- Building independence through self-help activities,
- Reading and writing,
- Visiting schools and undergoing orientation,
- Using tools and stationery like scissors, glue, pencils, and crayons.
These activities will help your child feel more confident, secure, and determined to succeed as they enter school life.
Now, let’s discuss some of the unique benefits of daycare and compare these to preschool’s offerings.
While preschools focus on development, daycares—as the name implies—focus on care. As a broad category, ‘care’ covers a range of important services, including:
- Safety and supervision,
- Guidance and support,
- Healthy meals (i.e., breakfast, lunch, dinner, afternoon tea, snacks),
- Scheduled naps,
- A nurturing, home-like environment,
- Scheduled feeding and nappy changes for infants.
While many daycares also offer educational activities, these activities are part of the overarching goal of ‘care’, not the primary focus.
Larger age groups
Many daycare centres offer care and early education for children aged zero to five years. This aspect differs from most preschools, where children are typically three to school age.
This exposure to different age groups will help your child expand their view of the world around them and become more comfortable interacting with a range of people. At the same time, many child care programs split their cohort into smaller groups, so your child will still receive care and support suited to their current developmental stage.
Personalised schedules and hands-on learning
One of the major benefits of daycare is its home-like atmosphere. This aspect is especially beneficial for children who may struggle to transition to an unfamiliar environment.
Following a similar schedule, including naps and mealtimes, may help ease the transition to a new space for your child, building their confidence and helping them feel secure, welcome, and understood.
A daycare’s homelike environment also encourages holistic learning, where children build skills, knowledge, and confidence through free play. In this way, daycare can expand and build upon the skills you’re currently working on with your child at home.
Making your decision
The preschool or kindergarten vs. daycare choice is critical. Your decision will affect your children’s learning, skill-building, personal, and interpersonal experiences, so it’s essential to be informed before deciding.
Here are some critical points to consider to help you make the best choice for your child (and yourself, too!)
Evaluate your situation
Start by looking at your current schedule and situation. Do you work full-time or part-time? Do you have errands you need to run throughout the day?
For working parents who are busy throughout the day, daycare is an excellent choice. Many daycares offer full-day care, including meals and naps, so you can feel confident your child is happy and cared for while you go about your day.
If you work part-time or within school hours, preschool is a great option. You could choose a sessional preschool, which can run from 2.5 to 7 hours per day and may include snacks or small meals. Some preschools also offer full-day programs with lunch included.
Consider your child’s age
If your child is in the three to five age group, they’ll be eligible for most preschools. If you choose to enrol your child, they’ll have access to age-appropriate education and training in the skills they need to transition to school.
If your child is younger than three, daycare centres are an ideal option for building foundational skills, confidence, and identity. Once your child turns three, you can consider enrolling them in preschool. However, if you prefer the balance of care and education daycare provides, they can continue in their current setting.
Look at preschool vs. daycare cost
Cost and convenience are major factors to consider when choosing between preschool and daycare. How much you should expect to pay will depend on a range of factors, including:
- The type of preschool or daycare (i.e. long daycare or part day),
- Extracurricular programs,
- Whether meals, transport, or other extras are included,
- Available subsidies or rebates.
In general, preschool costs range from $50 to $100 per day with fewer rebates or subsidies, while daycare costs sit between $100 to $180 with several benefits and rebates available for eligible families.
Daycare centres also offer more conveniences, such as in-house meals, free nappies, and feeding schedules for infants.
To make your choice, you’ll need to weigh costs against conveniences and decide whether the higher price of daycare is worth the extra convenience it provides.
Identify your child’s needs
The most crucial factor to consider is your child’s needs. At the end of the day, an environment that fosters your child’s development, recognises them as individuals, and personalises programs to suit their unique skills and interests will be well worth the costs.
Specifically, look at your child’s:
- Current developmental stage,
- Unique abilities and interests,
- Learning style,
- Care needs.
For example, if your child needs extra support in academic areas like reading and writing, qualified preschool teachers could offer the help they need. However, daycare may be a better option if your child needs more hands-on care or needs to follow a strict schedule.
Finding childcare in your local area
Finding childcare in your local area is easy with Space—a dedicated directory of early learning centres, daycares, and preschools in your area. Start searching today to discover the best child care space for your child.