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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