Let me preface this by saying that the most overwhelming part of parenting for me are the number of decisions there are to make. I am slowly accepting that I will always be making decisions for my children. Decisions that, more often than not, leave me in a spiral of overanalyzing and questioning my choices. Currently, I am weighing the decision of if I should keep my toddler in daycare next school year or transition him to a school based PreK-3 program. My son has been at the same daycare since infancy, so this is a big decision for our family.
Often the words daycare and preschool are used interchangeable, so I did a little research on the difference between the two. Traditionally, daycare is focused on childcare and providing a safe and comfortable environment for children during working hours. While preschool traditionally has more of an educational focus on preparing children for later years in school.
There are similarities and differences in each:
- Schedule. Daycares are year-round and usually offer longer hours to accommodate working parents and those with less traditional schedules. They are closed for fewer days surrounding holidays and have few scheduled breaks.
- Less structured. Daycares are usually more relaxed and tend to offer more play/free time.
- Wider age range. Daycares are generally available for a wider age range from 6 weeks until school age.
- Curriculum. Daycares are less likely to follow a set curriculum or methodology like Reggio or Montessori, but each may borrow tools from a wide range of programming.
- Environment. The daycare environment won’t exactly mirror what kids will eventually encounter when they switch to “big kid school.”
- Cost. Pricing can vary depending on age, with younger children costing more.
- Toilet training. Most PreK programs will require your toddler to be fully potty trained.
- Longevity. Preschools are typically part of a school model with upper grades your child can progress through without additional applications or changing schools.
- Curriculum. Preschools will follow a more identified curriculum that likely mirrors what the kids will do later in school.
- Cost. Pricing is usually consistent across age ranges.
- Hours and schedule. Many preschools follow a traditional school daily and yearly schedule. They often open later and close earlier daily than daycares. For holiday breaks, they are often closed for longer spans of time and may or may not remain open during the summer.
- More structured. These programs usually have less free/play time and follow a structured schedule.
- Age range. Preschools will follow a strict age requirement for attendance and class designations. Kids will be in a classroom with students all the same age as them and usually are exposed to more kids than at daycare.
Both options provide a safe, comfortable, and developmentally appropriate environment for your child. Each option will have pros and cons for different families. For our family, I am pretty sure I will leave my son at daycare until PreK-4. We are very pleased with our daycare choice, and it works comfortably for our schedules and budgets. Our son is growing and thriving so we will wait one more year before we make the big switch. So, daycare wins for us. What worked best for your family?