Everyday parents make lots of decisions — both big and small!
How many rewatches of Encanto are too many?
Is it time to move from a bottle to a sippy cup?
What type of child care is best?
Choosing a type of child care falls under that big decision category. You’re probably thinking about the pros and cons of each, ranging from cost to the impact on your child’s academic, social, and physical development.
But sometimes the terminology alone can be so confusing you don’t know where to start! Child care vs daycare, nanny vs daycare, stay at home vs preschool. You may find yourself wondering what’s the difference between them all, and do the differences matter?
The best way to prepare your child for early learning is understanding what types of experiences are available to them. We’re here to help you get all the info you need to make a choice you feel great about.
No matter what type of child care option you choose, it’s important for your child to learn the right things at the right time. Peel back another layer of early learning best practices with our Guide to Making Developmentally Appropriate Practice a Reality.
Let’s start with the biggest question: What is the difference between daycare and child care?
While there's no major practical difference between these two terms, words do matter.
The term "daycare" has been around for generations but today, it's under fire for two main reasons:
Lisa Guernsey, Director at Learning Technologies Project and Senior Advisor on Early and Elementary Education Policy New America, points out the linguistic errors within the term "daycare" lie in the fact that “it is the child that receives care, not the day."
Placing children at the center of our vocabulary as we talk about early learning puts them at the heart of the work in this field — right where they belong.
‘Child care’ is becoming favored by a growing number of ECE professionals. This term puts the emphasis on the child, centering the most important element of the early learning services — the development, support and safety of the child themself.
The terms “child care” or “daycare” can include many types of care including family, friends, nursery schools, preschools, and specialty schools. In fact, all of these are considered child care by the IRS.
The differences between all these child care options often comes down to age, but each has unique focuses or qualities. We’ve got the definitions lined up for you:
Child Care: All forms of caring for a child
Daycare: Typically all forms of care outside of the home at a commercial center (not just a family member or neighbor).
Nursery Schools: Mostly for infants and young toddlers
Preschools: Meant to be “pre” school age and is commonly interchangeable with Pre-K (meaning pre-kindergarten)
Kindergarten: This is the first true “school” year for at least 15 states but still isn’t required in most states.
Specialty School: These are usually private and can vary by curriculum and philosophy. One of the most common is Montessori but there are many others.
|Child care||Preschool||Nanny||Stay at Home|
|What is it?||All forms of caring for a child including but not limited to Family Care, Nannies, Preschools, Specialty Schools, Nurseries.||A child care center offering educational, social, and physical development opportunities through curriculum. Often classrooms are led by high school or college graduates.||An individual hired by a family to provide care in the home and nurture child development, whose employment is overseen by the family.||A parent who stays home with their child as the primary caregiver and guides their development.|
|Age range||Ages 3-5||Birth to 5 years old||Birth to 5 years old, very typical for 2-3 years old|
Clearly, caring for a child can come in many forms and by many definitions, a preschool is also a form of child care center. One of its main identifiers, along with being targeted for three through five year-olds, is its focus on an early learning experience.
A child care center worker will typically be required to have a high school diploma. Many preschools employ teachers with college degrees in Early Childhood Education or advanced certifications. This is especially true if the center has reached higher levels of accreditation by state and national child care associations, such as NAEYC.
In addition to cognitive and academic development, preschool students grow socially and physically through opportunities for play, consistent routines, small group activities, and curriculum.
A nanny is an individual employed either part-time or full-time and shouldn’t be confused with a babysitter. A babysitter is on-call help to watch after children while their caregivers aren’t available. A nanny, however, is much more of a constant in a child’s life and development.
A great nanny will make sure your child eats well, gets plenty of attention, affection and physical and intellectual stimulation.
Many nannies stay with their families for years and become part of the family — it really does take a village, and a nanny can be an amazing part of yours as long as you have all the information to make that choice.
Stay at home care may seem the least confusing out of all the child care options. Instead of a child going to a center, preschool, or having someone come into the home, the parent attends to the child’s needs themself from home.
Seems pretty straightforward, but we don’t want to oversimplify this route. It’s important to look at the many benefits alongside the real challenges that can come with being a stay at home parent.
We know that it’s not always so simple, though. Stay at home care usually means a parent/caregiver won’t have employment outside of the house. This brings up questions about income and out-of-home connections for the caregiver.
Plus, stay-at-home parents need to be the primary resource for their child’s key developmental areas. This includes fine-motor development, speech, and all of the academic foundations they will need for the future.
Social-emotional development is another important responsibility of stay at home care. Parental attachment is a foundational layer of social growth, but can’t be the only source of social connection. To nurture social-emotional learning, children need to also play with peers and connect with non-family members is important.
Regardless of which option you choose, considering your child’s needs and providing a safe and loving environment will help your child flourish in any caring environment.
When considering early childhood care, there isn’t one defining element that makes one option stand out amongst the others. It comes down to your child, you, and what fits your family’s life best.
Every child has their own personality, preferences and needs. If they thrive on being around other children, a preschool may be an excellent choice! If one-on-one attention and care helps them grow, a nanny is a great choice for a working parent.
No matter what circumstance your child or you are in that influences your decision, take to heart that the best child care option is the one who lives up to the name: they care!