Daycare vs. Preschool – What’s the Difference?

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When considering the branding of your new child care business, you may be wondering what name is most appropriate to convey your center’s personality, philosophy and educational approach to parents. Terms like “daycare,” “child care” and “preschool” are sometimes used interchangeably, and may not be regulated terms. Knowing which one to choose for your center isn’t always obvious.

Whether you’re starting an academically-focused preschool program or a free-ranging daycare center, it’s worth thinking about the different types of child care services and what their names represent to parents and others in your community.

Or maybe you’re a parent who’s comparing child care programs in your area and trying to choose between a daycare or a preschool program for your child. You might be wondering what the real differences are between these programs, including the services they offer and how they’re licensed in your state.

In this post, we’ll take a look at the legal and practical meaning behind terms like daycare vs. preschool, as well as other terms for child care programs that you may encounter. We’ll examine the similarities and the differences between daycare and preschool, and what you can commonly expect from each type of program.

Daycare vs. Preschool: What’s the Same?

Across the United States, there is generally no legal difference between a daycare and a preschool.

Child care programs are regulated at the state level, with laws that differentiate between home-based and center-based programs – but not between daycares and preschool programs. Both daycare and preschool programs must be licensed by state regulators, and are usually subject to the same laws and regulations for everything from director and staff qualifications to safety, nutrition, staff-to-child ratios and recordkeeping requirements. Regardless of whether a child care program is called a daycare or a preschool, it will usually need to meet standards for early childhood education.

Both preschools and daycares offer kids a place to grow, learn and play while supported by caring staff. They make safety a top concern, focusing on the well-being of each child while supporting their healthy physical, emotional and cognitive development. Generally, the focus is on kids younger than school age (with some exceptions for daycare programs). They will both provide meals, snacks, naps and outdoor play.

Given that the standards for these businesses are mostly the same, names like “daycare,” “child care” and “preschool” are usually a reflection of each early program’s mission, child care philosophy, values and how it chooses to market its services in the community.

Daycare vs. Preschool: What’s in a Name?

Child care centers use different names to let families know what type of services they offer. The term chosen by a center for itself can indicate its emphasis on education, age group, curriculum or methodology, and more.

Of all terms, “child care” is the broadest and most neutral, covering most types of child care programs that serve kids before school age. Although “daycare” sounds similar, some child care providers consider it outdated, saying it carries negative connotations that early childhood education is just babysitting. Other providers are neutral to the term.

Words like “preschool,” “learning center,” and “early education center” signify that a center wants to be known for its academic qualifications. These centers are more likely to target older toddlers aged 3-5, and have a formal academic curriculum. “Nursery school,” on the other hand, often means a program for infants to three years old.

“Daycare” in the name of a center usually connotes a less structured, play-based program, without a set curriculum. “Playschool” can be a middle ground between a daycare and a more academic center, with a play-based learning curriculum.

Daycare vs. Preschool: What’s the Difference?

Understanding that a center can choose to brand their program in various ways, let’s highlight some of the key differences that commonly appear between centers that market themselves as daycare vs. preschool.

Daycare vs. Preschool: Educational Focus and Routines

Although both preschools and daycares offer education for kids, preschools tend to be the more academically focused of the two. Daycare typically has more free-play time and fewer structured activities, with more spontaneous learning opportunities.

In preschool, the emphasis will be on preparing kids to enter kindergarten, by teaching skills such as literacy and numeracy, science and art. There is likely to be a set educational curriculum based on a methodology such as Montessori or Bank Street, with lesson plans focused on learning outcomes, and more formal educational assessments. Staff are likely to have more advanced qualifications in early childhood education.

Both daycares and preschools will teach kids important socialization and life skills, such as dressing themselves, conflict resolution and group play.

Daycare vs. Preschool: Services

Compared to preschools, daycares are more focused on giving working parents a place to leave their children during the day. They tend to have more flexible services, such as offering drop-in child care. Since they provide more routine care, they will usually provide more meals than a preschool.

While daycares may provide services like diapering, preschools generally cater to older kids and require their students to be potty-trained. Preschools are almost always center-based, while daycares may be based out of a home, and preschools also tend to be larger, with more students. Staff-to-child ratios are sometimes lower at preschools, allowing for each child to get more individualized attention.

Preschools and daycare centers both share in a dedication to safety and security for their young charges. Fee structures may be similar or preschool may be more expensive, depending on the region.

Daycare vs. Preschool: Age Requirements

Broadly speaking, daycare can have a larger age range than preschools. Daycares offer services to children from infancy up to age five and even after school programs for school age children, depending on the center and its offerings. Some daycares offer services for children as old as 12.

Normally, preschool is limited to children between the ages of three and five, although some preschools start as early as age two and some private preschools may include kindergarten. Children entering preschool will usually need to meet certain requirements such as potty training and basic language abilities.

Because of the wider age range at daycare, there is more opportunity for between-age interactions. Preschools often separate the age groups more, to allow for developmentally-appropriate learning opportunities in keeping with their set curriculum and methodology.

Daycare vs. Preschool: Operating Hours

When it comes to operating hours, the biggest difference between daycare and preschool is that preschool tends to follow a schedule similar to schools for older kids. Hours are shorter and preschools may be closed during summers, holidays and inclement weather. Preschools usually offer half-day or full-day programs, and kids may attend as little as twice per week.

Because of their focus on supporting working families, daycares will have hours as long as needed for parents to pick up their children from work. They are usually open during the summer and sometimes on weekends. Hours will be more flexible, in line with the less structured environment, allowing for the center to accommodate the child care needs of parents.

A Note about Marketing

No matter what you call your child care center, you should make sure to pay attention to naming conventions when doing any online marketing. Parents tend to search more for “daycare” than they do other terms, so it’s important to make sure you use that word prominently in order to show up higher in searches. You can find more info about search engine optimization (SEO) here and here.

Make Your Child Care Business a Success with Procare Solutions

No matter what type of child care business you run, Procare has the expert tools you need to make your program a success. Trusted for more than 30 years by child care centers across the country, our simple-to-use software is the very best solution for managing every aspect of your program.

Our fully-featured child care management software takes care of everything, whether it’s giving parents ease of mind with secure drop-off and pickup and engaging parent communications, or freeing up administrative time with our simple solutions for child care billing and bookkeeping.

Both preschools and daycares can rely on our early childhood learning features to track individual progress, record milestones, manage classrooms and maintain compliance with state or Montesorri learning standards. Plus, our team of experts is there to support you whenever you need it, whatever you need.

Ready to see how Procare can support your child care business?


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About The Author

Amelia Schrader

Amelia is the Director of Demand Generation at Procare Solutions. A graduate of University of Colorado at Boulder with a Bachelor of Business Administration (Marketing emphasis), Amelia spends her free time outdoors with her husband and their energetic goldendoodle, Finn.

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