Child Care, Daycare, Preschool: What’s the Difference?
Child Care, Daycare, Preschool: What’s the Difference?

Choosing a child care, daycare or preschool program for your child is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy task. The fact that it is commonly referred to by a variety of different names doesn’t make it any easier.

Hopefully we can simplify things by clearing up some lingo. A quick Google search and comparison of definitions reveals no discernible difference. Further, if you poll ten people, you’re likely to get a variety of answers. Most responses will be based on an experience with a specific program that went by one name or another. The reality is, there are no agreed upon definitions. We’ve worked with many high-quality, education-focused programs that identify themselves by all three names. Our advice is to ignore the name.

Wait, Why is Child Care so Important?

We stand behind the belief that parents are a child’s most important teacher. And since many children spend the majority of their day in child care, those who care for young children also play a pivotal role.

Learning begins at birth and education needs to follow suit. There is a great deal of research that identifies the first five years of life as a vital period of child development. This is when 90 percent of brain development occurs. During this time, children have the greatest capacity to learn.

The majority of children under the age of 5 will spend a considerable amount of time in care during this crucial development period. This is when children begin talking, walking, expressing emotions, asking questions, honing fine motor skills, building vocabularies, and learning many more important skills they’ll need to be successful in kindergarten and beyond.

We believe education must be a key component of child care. We know child care is expensive and the best programs, especially those with an emphasis on education, can be even more expensive. (Continue following us to learn why child care is so expensive in next months newsletter.) However, just like the name, a price tag isn’t an accurate measure of quality.

Beyond the Name: Assessing Program Quality

Unfortunately, there is no widely accepted standard measurement or classification for child care programs. While all states have child care licensing, and ensuring you choose a licensed program is a starting place, state licensing is designed to ensure the well-being of children. It requires facilities to meet health and safety standards, such as adequate facilities, limitations on who can have access to children and requiring background-checked employees. It doesn’t take the educational components into account and does little to help you gauge quality.

Looking beyond the name and price tag, and not solely relying on licensing, consider these guidelines from our team of child care referral specialists:

  1. Explore: Know the options available to you. Two basic types of early care and education programs are available:
    • Family Child Care - offers a small group setting within the provider's home.
    • Child Care Center - offers group care in a large or small group setting.
    • If you need help finding referrals, use our online child care finder or call us at 913-573-2273 and a referral specialist will assist you.
  2. Evaluate: Think about the individual learning style of your child (does he/she prefer small groups or large groups), your family needs, the location and the hours of care available.
  3. Observe: Visit at least three programs before making your final decision. Interview prospective providers, and talk to everyone who will be involved in your child's care. Remember that success requires a good working relationship between you and your provider. Plan to spend at least 30 to 60 minutes at each program. Ask about the program specifics such as lesson plans, fee schedules, discipline, meal service, and consider how these match your parenting practices. Use this checklist of questions to ask child care providers to help guide your interview. You may want to take your child with you to see how they react to the program.
  4. Decide: Refer to notes from your visit to make your decision, but trust your instincts. Keep in mind that the highest cost does not always guarantee the best program for your child and the least expensive rate does not necessarily mean a poor program. You also have the right and responsibility to ask for licensing information about a program (view phone numbers for licensing). If you have questions about child care business practices, call us at 913-573-2273 and a referral specialist will assist you.
  5. Follow Up: You have the right to visit your child's program at any time when your child is there. Making visits is one way to monitor the quality of care your child is receiving. Don’t be afraid to discuss concerns with your provider. Remember, this is a partnership. If you have serious concerns about the health and safety of the program, contact the local child care licensing department immediately. You have the final responsibility for your child's care and have the right to change providers whenever you are concerned about your child's well-being or happiness.