Preschool vs. Childcare: What’s the Difference?

May 19, 2020

One question our preschool in Raleigh is frequently asked is, “What's the difference between daycare and preschool? Are they the same?”

While many people use the terms interchangeably, there are actually several factors that differentiate the two. To help you decide which option is best for your children and your family's needs, we're going to break down the two and provide an in-depth look at what they have in common and what makes them different.


Choosing Between Childcare vs Preschool

The key differences between the two child care programs are their goals, purpose, age requirements, and ways in which they prepare children for their educational futures.

The Goals and Purpose of Preschool Programs

The main goal of a preschool program is to ensure young children, typically between the ages of 30 months and five years old, are having their development fostered. This means the top priority is to support the child's development in cognitive skills, fine and gross motor skills, and social skills.

Another goal for children who attend preschool is to be prepared to enter kindergarten. Often, parents and caregivers will send their children to preschool to help them get ready for school and give them the opportunity to learn and socialize in an appropriate environment, even if they don't specifically need child care at that time.

When is My Child a Candidate for Preschool?

Childcare providers ensure your children are taken care of while also providing foundational elements that focus on preparing children for kindergarten.

If you are wondering when to start your child in a preschool program, children who exhibit the following traits are great candidates to begin preschool:

  • Shows signs of independence
  • Can engage in activities unsupervised
  • Capable of expressing their needs and wants
  • Can follow directions
  • Ability to focus on tasks
  • Has the emotional ability to be separated from parents during preschool hours
  • Can sustain the daily routine
  • Is potty trained

When to Choose Childcare Over Preschool

In contrast, daycare centers provide a safe environment for infants and children to stay in when their parents or primary caregivers are working. At daycare there is a wider age range, from babies as young as six or 12 weeks, older toddlers, and older kids up to age 12 are cared for, typically on a full-time or after-school basis.

The focus at daycare is on overall care for the child's safety and well-being rather than education and development. While there may be educational activities planned, typically parents and caregivers don't send their children to a daycare center unless they need a specific child care option, rather than an educational option.

Education and Learning in Childcare vs. Preschool

Because the main goal of a preschool program is to get younger children prepared to enter kindergarten, a preschool uses a structured curriculum and has mapped out lesson plans geared toward teaching a specific lesson each day. They also have measures in place to track each child's social and emotional development and report those learning outcomes to parents more thoroughly.

This doesn't mean that preschools adhere to a rigid learning program– in fact, most preschools use a curriculum that blends play and discovery to make learning fun. Preschool programs will use different methodologies, such as Waldorf or parochial-based learning to facilitate blending fun activities with valuable educational foundations so children learn pre-academic skills.

Often, parents and caregivers will send their children to preschool to help them get ready for school and give them the opportunity to learn and socialize in an age-appropriate environment, even if they don't specifically need child care.

What Will My Child Learn at Childcare?

Childcare centers often provide learning activities and educational experiences to enrich children's development as well. The biggest difference between a daycare vs preschool approach to educational foundations is a daycare center may be less likely to have a set curriculum in place or to create lesson plans for the children in their care. At a daycare, more time is spent in free-play and informal learning experiences in a mixed-age environment.

At daycare, it is more likely your child will experience foundational lessons in life skills, rather than academics. Some things you can expect to see daycare workers spend time on with infants or young toddlers under their care are:

  • Potty training
  • Social skills
  • Sharing with others
  • Independence
  • Confidence
  • Respect
  • Curiosity and exploration
  • Communicating their needs and wants
  • Artistic skills
  • Motor skills
  • Language skills
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Adapting to schedules and routines
  • Foundational academics like learning their colors, numbers, and letters

Preschool Teachers and Childcare Staff

Both preschools and daycare centers are licensed by the state of North Carolina through the Division of Child Development and Early Education. Each child care program must meet specific national and state standards, including caregiver-to-student ratio, safety protocols, having qualified staff with formal training, and other guidelines that ensure the child care services focus on offering a safe and secure place for children.

Preschool teachers usually have bachelor's degrees in early childhood education and/or a Birth-through-Kindergarten/Preschool Add-on License in North Carolina. While daycare staff is not required to hold a degree in early childhood education, they are required to have completed 12 semester hours in child development, child psychology, or a related field.

Additionally, preschool lead teachers in North Carolina must also receive licensing from the Early Educator Support, Licensure, and Professional Development Unit and if someone runs an in-home daycare center, there are additional requirements to adhere to in order to offer those childcare services.

Childcare That Blends Aspects of Both

Today, more child care centers blend the care and extended hours of daycare with the structure of a preschool. For example, at our Raleigh preschool and child care development center, we support families by offering three programs:

  • Infants & Toddlers: A stimulating environment for infants and toddler age groups to learn early childhood developmental skills.
  • Preschoolers: Children can expand their skills and knowledge within a curriculum-based approach to learning.
  • K-5 After-School Care: Ideal for working parents looking for a safe environment for their kids to spend afternoons after school.

For preschool-aged children, we utilize The Creative Curriculum to ensure we are providing structured, development-based, age-appropriate learning activities. At Primary Beginnings, our teachers and staff are well-trained and have the proper education, experience, knowledge, and excitement toward your child's progress and development to maintain our status as a 5-star Child Care facility.

Schedule a Tour of a 5-Star Raleigh Preschool

Are you looking for high-quality child care in Raleigh and want to learn more about our preschool and child care center? At Primary Beginnings, we focus on the emotional development, social skills, and academic preparation needed for school-age children to be ready for kindergarten.

Contact our North Hills Drive location at (919) 785-0303, our Spring Forest Road location at (919) 790-6888, or our Falls of Neuse Road location at 919-615-0751 or fill out the form below to schedule a tour of one of our preschools!