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  • Dotty Meyer

Child Care & Preschool Differences

Updated: Aug 15, 2018



Parents often ask "What's the Difference Between a Child Care Center and a Preschool?" The differences aren't always clear, however there are several guidelines to help distinguish them...

As you consider different enrollment possibilities for your child, you may find yourself choosing between a half day or full day option. Preschool programs often operate on a half day schedule (a morning or an afternoon session) and are open for the academic year (September through May or June). Child care centers are open for the full day, year round. Their primary mission is to provide care for children while their parents are at work. Although there may be organized activities, child care centers typically do not take children on field trips or provide opportunities to explore the community beyond the center, since children are being dropped off and picked up at different times throughout the day. Children usually take naps in the afternoons in a child care center, and may have meals there as well. Most parents of young children agree that their child is more ready to learn and participate in activities in the morning. Children become easily frustrated and may experience a melt-down or two as the day goes on. For this reason, many full day child care centers provide organized activities in the mornings, and offer a rest time and low-key activities in the afternoons. Some full day child care centers may offer a half day, early pick-up option. Parents have told me that although an early pick up time works best for their family, it's difficult to get their children to leave the center. The child notices that not everyone is going home, thinks she may miss something if she leaves - hence the meltdown at pick up time.  Something to be aware of is that childcare centers have been adding "preschool" or "learning center" to their names. Perhaps this is to lure uninformed parents into thinking that they're doing something good for their children when they leave them there. Adults often say that children are like little sponges, soaking everything up, learning all the time. But when you visit a full day child care center, try to determine what the children are truly learning and how they seem to be emotionally.  A big class size usually means a greater wait time. Early educators use this term when considering the length of time children are expected to "wait" for something -  for their turn or to get an adult's attention. It's true children need to develop the ability to be patient, but long wait times just add to their impatience.  Preschool aged children need to learn how to function in a group - smaller group sizes, for shorter periods of time will help the adjustment go more smoothly. When you visit early childhood programs you may notice there's too much structure, too much "teaching" going on, which can be stressful for a young child to cope with all day long. Or maybe you'll notice the opposite - an absence of children's projects or in depth study. Cookie cutter types of art work (i.e., each child's creation looks similar) and random toys to keep kids busy, will tell you about their approach to teaching and learning. Take note of what's hanging on the walls and observe the materials children are playing with to help you see what the children are learning (or being taught) in that classroom. If you're undecided about half or full day program, and your budget is limited, it may not be  practical for your child to take a rest at school if he's able have some down-time with you at home. If you're looking for more of a school-like environment for your child, I suggest visiting a half day preschool program. In any case, be dedicated to finding the best fit for your child.  Ask yourself  "Would I like to stay here all day?" If the answer is no, keep looking. 

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