When both parents are working a facility to look after young children during the day is essential. Even with a stay at home parent, sending the toddler out to mix with others of the same age group is a good idea because it encourages socialization and gives the parent a much needed break. The choice is between preschool and daycare and often parents are confused as to which one is the better option. Or they may presume that both are basically the same so it makes no difference which one the child goes to. That’s a big mistake. The concept and philosophy behind preschools and daycare is different and what they offer both parents and the children who go to them differs widely.
- Daycare centers accept infants as young as 6 to 8 weeks. Preschools admit children aged about 2½ to 3 years old.
- Daycare centers usually have longer hours than preschools. Daycares typically are open from morning to evening to allow working parents to drop the kids on their way to work and pick them up in the evening. Preschools are normally open for just a few hours a day and that too perhaps not on all 5 days of the week. However, appreciating the problems of working parents, many preschools are now staying open longer to accommodate the parents’ needs.
- The focus of daycare centers is to keep the children safe and happy while the parents are away. That of preschools is different. Here it is that of laying the foundations of education and learning. The philosophies and pedagogy may differ from Montessori to Reggio or some other method. But the aim is the same – to start the child on the road to learning in a manner that will be enjoyable and involving.
- There is no ‘progress’ in daycare. The children are there to be cared for, not to learn. So there is no need to evaluate them and how much they are learning and perhaps even to see if any early remedial measures are called for. All of this is part of the preschool system and it is all designed to provide the child with the right foundation so as to make success at school, in the future, easier.
Which One Is For You?
If you have toddlers who are too young for preschool and need them to be looked after while you are at work, then daycare is the right choice for you. In fact, unless you can afford a nanny, there is little other choice. The question of whether daycare or preschool assumes greater importance one the child is about 2½ when the preschool option opens up. Generally speaking preschool will be the preferred option because the child is now old enough to begin the process of learning and what is learned during the preschool years will be of great help in giving the child a good start in regular school in the future.
The important thing in choosing a preschool is the type of staff and the dedication towards giving the children a good start in life. Educating young children is a very specialized subject and a great deal of training is required to ensure that the knowledge is imparted in the right way so that the children are not pressurized or feel intimidated. And since each child is different, the preschool teacher must know how to evaluate the individual needs of each child in her care.
Once a child is old enough for preschool, that is the best option. The parents must however, ensure that the preschool is professionally run and staffed by trained preschool teachers.