daycare vs preschool

Daycare vs. Preschool: A Comprehensive Guide

In a world where nearly 65% of households have two working parents, childcare has never been more important. If you have children under the age of six and work full-time, you may be considering daycare vs preschool.

But before you enroll your young learners at a school, it’s important you understand the difference between these two programs. Both offer their own unique benefits but are structured and run differently.

Choosing the appropriate program is step one. Step two is finding a school where your child is safe and comfortable. In this article, we’ll offer useful information to help guide your decision.

Daycare vs Preschool: What’s the Difference?

The main difference between preschool and daycare is the age group each program serves. As the name suggests, preschool focuses on early childhood development and education. It’s designed to prepare children under the age of 6 for entering kindergarten. (Hence the name, “pre” school.) 

Preschool days are usually structured like a normal school day, with students following a specific schedule. Programs may also be closed on federal holidays and during inclement weather. Many preschool programs also offer daycare services.

Daycare, which is also referred to as childcare, is a safe and healthy environment for multi-age children. Most daycares use free play and structured activities to keep kids entertained and engaged. There’s less focus on education and more focus on fun.

Daycare services aren’t just for toddlers and young children. These programs also accommodate school-aged children, with some daycares offering both before- and after-school care. 

Let’s take a deeper look at the main differences between daycare vs preschool including hours, services, age requirements, and more.

Educational Focus

Most daycares and preschools both have enriching activities and learning opportunities for students. Preschool, however, focuses more on academics than daycare. Daycare allows more opportunities for free play and spontaneous learning. 

One of the benefits of preschool is that it helps prepare young learners for kindergarten. Many programs teach reading, writing, math, and science. Preschool teachers follow a curriculum and use lesson plans to achieve learning outcomes.

Some may even implement assessments to track students’ progress. Preschool teachers are often required to have qualifications or a degree in early childhood education. 

Daycare, on the other hand, doesn’t focus as much on educational development. Most teachers are certified but aren’t trained as licensed educators.

Both preschool and daycare programs teach life skills, facilitate socialization, and provide a safe environment for children.

Services Offered

Most daycares provide parents with a safe, enriching place to leave their children during the day so they can go to work. Services and hours are flexible. Some daycares even offer full- or half-day programs to accommodate parent needs and schedules. 

The age span of daycare children also varies, ranging from infants and toddlers up to school-aged children. Preschools, on the other hand, are designed mostly for children between the ages of 3 and 5. 

Because of this, daycares may offer potty training, diaper changing, and other hands-on services you wouldn’t find at a preschool. Preschools are often independent buildings or housed at a school or other public facility. They’re also larger than most daycares and enroll more children.

Since preschools are focused on learning and development, the staff-to-child ratio may be lower. This allows for individualized attention and hands-on learning.

Daycares can be center-based but may also be run out of someone’s home and are generally smaller in size.  In a daycare setting, as children get older, fewer staff members are required. However, infants and toddlers do require a lower ratio to provide constant care and supervision. 

Operating Hours

If you’re looking for full-time care, you’ll want to consider daycare vs preschool. One reason is that most preschools follow the same operating hours and schedules as public schools. For example, starting at 8:00 AM and ending at 3:00 PM. Preschool programs are often closed for federal holidays, during the summer, and during inclement weather. 

Many preschools offer parents a choice between half-day and full-day services. Younger students can also attend just a few days a week or all five, depending on their age. 

Daycares offer more full-time care. Services run from early in the morning to much later in the evening. Most daycares are also open on certain holidays. The center may even offer extended care for school-aged children during long spring and winter breaks. 

It’s also common for daycares to offer summer programs and camps that accommodate children of all ages. 

Goals and Objectives

Both daycares and preschools are designed to provide a safe and enriching environment for children. However, they each have their own goals, objectives, and projected outcomes. 

Here’s a comparison of what you can expect from whichever program you choose. 


  • Prepares children between the ages of 3 and 5 for Kindergarten
  • Creates a safe and engaging environment
  • Heavy focus on developing academic, social, and emotional skills
  • Children may be separated by age group or kept together 
  • Help parents make the connection between their parenting styles and the lessons being taught in the classroom


  • Separate children by age group in a large center or create one large group in an at-home facility
  • Offers flexible options including summer camp, before- and after-school care, and drop-in care
  • Extended hours to accommodate working parents 
  • Heavy focus on safety and social interaction
  • Services children from infancy to school-age


The average family spends between $8,000 and $10,000 on childcare every year. The cost of daycare vs preschool varies greatly and there are many factors to consider. 

Your child’s age, the type of care they need, and location all play a role in how much you can expect to pay. Enrolling multiple children will cost more, however, most facilities offer a second-child discount.

Here’s a look at the national average weekly rates for daycare.

  • Childcare for one toddler at a center: $226
  • Childcare for two toddlers at a center: $429
  • In-house family daycare for one child: $221
  • In-house family daycare for two children: $420
  • After-school daycare for one child: $261
  • After-school daycare for two children: $269
  • Nanny for one child: $694
  • Nanny for two children: $715

While these are rough estimates, it gives you a good idea of how much childcare costs across the country. How many days a week and for how long you need care can also affect the final cost. 

Pricing a preschool program is slightly different. Because children are only there for a limited number of hours, the cost is generally lower. Although some states offer free preschool through the public school system, the national average ranges from $370 for a few half-days per week to $1,100 for a full-day program. 

If you choose to enroll your child in a preschool program but also require childcare services after their “school day” ends, you may be faced with additional charges. But remember, enrolling your child in preschool is an investment in their future. Preschool programs are designed to lay the foundation for your child’s education.

It’s also important to note that most preschool and daycare costs are tax-deductible. 

Tips for Choosing a Daycare or Preschool

Now that you have a better understanding of daycare vs preschool costs, activities, and schedules, you can start researching options near you. There are countless things to consider, from the price and hours of operation to the center’s location, staff credentials, and teaching methods.

First and foremost, choose a facility that both you and your children are comfortable with. The staff should be warm and welcoming. They should also have all the required credentials and certifications, especially if you’re selecting a preschool.

The facility itself should also be safe and secure. Choose a center that’s in close proximity to your home or place of work. Check the hours of operation, including how early you can drop your child off and what time pick-up is. 

Ask what curriculum is used in the center’s preschool program and what activities are available during daycare hours. You can also inquire about the center’s teaching style. Montessori schools offer a unique learning environment where students are encouraged to explore their natural curiosities and learn from others around them. 

It’s Never too Early to Invest in Your Child’s Future

Not all children attend preschool, but those that do are often more prepared for kindergarten — both academically and socially. Daycare also offers its own unique benefits including social interaction and enrichment activities. If you’re researching childcare options for your child, knowing the difference between daycare vs preschool is an important first step.

While both programs are beneficial, they do provide different services. You can also enroll your child in both a preschool and daycare or after-care program based on your family’s needs.

When you enroll your child at Montessori Downtown, you can rest assured that they’re getting the best care possible. Not only are our programs designed to teach self-motivation and confidence, but also foster a love of learning.

We offer comprehensive care for children aged 0 to 12 to accommodate families of all sizes. We also have an exciting summer camp. 

Start your child on the path toward success today and schedule a tour at one of our local campuses. We can’t wait to meet you!





AUTHOR: Montessori School of Downtown

It all began over 30 years ago with two newlyweds who were passionate about education. Together, Ms. Rita, a renowned professional educator, and Mr. Hersh, a natural teacher and entrepreneur, created a child care education program that focused on the concept of self-inspired learning.View all posts by Montessori School of Downtown |