Pre-School Vs. Day Care: What's the Difference?


day care pre-school differenceWhether you're in a family with two working parents or you just think it's time for socialization (and a little break), you may be eyeing a local day care or a pre-school for your toddler. You may also be wondering if they aren't the same dang thing, as in some cases it can be fairly difficult to ascertain. But there are some pretty big differences between the two types of facilities that care for your smallest children. One may be right for you and wrong for your neighbor.

While you need to visit, investigate, and thoroughly discuss which option is best for your family and your baby, here are the 5 biggest differences to consider when choosing your child care option.

1. The Hours

A day care is generally a place where working parents can have their children cared for by professionals for most, or all, of the work day. Most day cares also start taking care of children as young as 3 months old, which also happens to be when most working moms have to be back on the job. Pre-schools, on the other hand, can be in session for as few as three hours a day and only a few days a week. While some pre-schools do offer options for working parents, many focus more on the school's schedule than accommodating work schedules. This is also why you'll have many more holidays and vacation days to cover when your child is in a pre-school versus a day care setting. And sometimes even an entire summer off.

2. Philosophy

While most day cares don't have a specific education philosophy, most pre-schools do. (Note, I say "most" -- there are exceptions in both cases.) Whether it's Montessori, Reggio, or an Eco-Friendly bent, pre-schools usually focus their curriculum and activities with a goal for your child in mind. Some day cares have been known to adopt styles similar to an early childhood education model, but mostly it's about playing, napping, and making sure the kids stay happy and healthy.

3. Parental Involvement

As I was sitting down to write this article, I got a call from my 2-year-old's pre-school. His nose was running, and I had to come and get him. This, I think, may be the biggest difference between pre-school and day care. At his former day care, if he did not have a fever -- and had not had one for 24 hours -- was not throwing up, or listless, you could drop that kid off. ´╗┐There were rules, and you knew exactly where you stood. A pre-school is going to take a different approach, and if your child seems "off" or in need of a parent, they'll let you know. Be prepared to sit in a classroom during "transition" for days, maybe weeks, and be prepared to use your sick and personal days for her illnesses and off days. Also, get ready for parent/teacher conferences!

4. Fundraising

You don't fundraise for a day care, but be prepared to have "socials," "galas," or just plain old book fairs to help keep a pre-school up and running. It costs a lot of money to pay qualified teachers, pay rent, and keep up with all of the academic accreditation rules. Plus, you know you want your child to have the latest in educational toys, so you'll be showing up and buying baked goods all year long. Which brings us to ...

5. The Money

Again, not always, but most of the time you'll pay more for pre-school. I realize this may not make sense since your child isn't there for as many hours, and you have to be involved and fundraise. Which is a great reason to choose day care if you have a time and/or money crunch. The idea is your child is learning more from a pre-school, and you'll pay a premium for that. However, my son did learn to speak Spanish at his day care, and his pre-school doesn't seem to be introducing any new languages just yet.

Before you make your decision, take a long, hard look at your family life and finances, and be realistic. Spend time at each facility and talk to other parents who send their children to your potential schools and day cares. Investigate both thoroughly for any safety issues or any complaints. In some cases you'll get just as much enrichment at a day care as you would the local pre-school. It's all dependent on who is running the show. Either way, your child will be socialized, and you'll have more freedom to work, care for a new baby, or simply get yourself together. They're both fantastic options, and we've been equally happy sending our children to pre-schools and day cares.

Do you send your child to a pre-school or a day care?


Image via shellroz/Flickr


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Mrswbray Mrswbray

I send my daughter to a daycare but that's only because the school I want to send her to requires the kids to be potty trained and she just recently got the hang of it. So, next year, she will be in an actual preschool. Nothing against the daycare she is in because her teacher is very good with her. 

Rhond... RhondaVeggie

My son went to preschool three mornings a week and the tuition was almost one eighth the cost of daycare per month. If you think preschool costs more than daycare then you're either looking at some very fancy preschool or you're looking at the kind of daycare that shoves five kids in a pack and play for hours at a time.


My son does 4K, 4 hours a morning , 5 days a week. He was really bored at home w me, so he started halfway thru the year w 3K last year. He was so ready, had never been in a parents day out program or daycare-- he craved it and even though I had him out and about, he needed the classroom setting too. He LOVES going to school!!

Plan to do the same with my girl.

Katt709 Katt709

My 2 year old goes to preschool. It's actually a preschool and kindergarten. As well as a day care. Once the kids are 2 they start "classes". He goes 3 days a week for 3.5 hours. He loves it and is really learning. We sent him there bc I just couldn't seem to teach him anything else. Now he's talking more, knows colors and shapes, and is making friends. And I get a small break! Love that place!

Anast... Anastazia975

If only more of these would cater to those of us in the restaurant business. Not everyone works 9-5.

nonmember avatar Helena

Anastazia975 you took the words right out of my mouth... Its hard when you work evening/night hours. I mean it great because I get to spend the daytime with my daughter and then go make money at night. But finding a sitter is impossible.. and forget a preschool

aj23 aj23

My son goes to preschool 5 days a week from 7:45 til 1:15. Its free and since its part of the school system it has the same calender as the other grades. The only health requirement was no fever and without one for 24 hours. I'm part of the PTO and volunteer to help with things but most parents don't do anything with the school. There are fundraisers but its not too bad.

ReiRe... ReiReally

As a helper to my MIL's in-home preschool, this seems I get some funny looks when i say that because it seems like an impossible hybrid but, it really is school to our kids. We have a classroom with seating stations for all the children, curriculums for our different age-groups, even though there's only 6 kids, worksheets, teacher's (kid-friendly) lectures they have a folder with a calendar that parents sign each night after they turn 3 y/o and we also encourage (although don't require) a backpack. We also provide a supply box that stays in class. But, our hours are from 6am-6pm like a lot of daycares out there. It seems natural to me that this is how things should be done for babies and toddlers whom of which have parents that work.

ReiRe... ReiReally

Also, Anastazia975 and Helena, i have TRIED teaching/watching a child of a waitress and found it to be utterly exhausting because my day would start at 6:30/7am and end at 11pm 3 days of the week plus the weekends left me with NO personal time whereas she could have the morning to herself because she chose to start her daughter in time for class to be with the other kids, which i had no problem with, of course. The problem i had is she didn't stop to think where i get my free time at, which i didn't because even if her daughter wasn't there on Tuesday and Wednesday, i still had to work an 11 hour shift with the other children. Maybe the downfall was because we're a small facility, or perhaps it was in the fact that i was discouraged from treating the child i watched as one of my own and just doing things like i had twins (they were four months apart and i watched her from the time she was 5 months old) by the girl's mother no less! It over-all kept me frazzled and extremely fatigued even though i really, really wanted to keep watching her because i adored her, it was too strenuous on me and my family to do so and because of that, i will never do that again unless i do exclusively afternoon and evening hours.

jessi... jessi2girls

I never did day care for either of my kids, I had family that would babysit for me instead.  My oldest is three and in preschool now... However a lot of day cares include the preschool course in with their day care kids that are of age now (or at least near where I live). So while most of the day is more of a play time for the day care kids, from 9-11:30 they are a part of the preschool program as well.   Perhaps it's because we live in smaller towns out here and it's just simpler to handle small class sizes this way. 

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