There are many choices to make for your little ones in the first years of their life. Some of them are as simple as what to give them for breakfast, but others are not so simple. Choosing between preschool and a long daycare can be one of those more complicated decisions. To make is easier, here the key differences to help you work out what’s best for your family.
For some families, choosing between preschool and a long daycare centre may come down to parent’s working hours, meaning a long daycare, childcare centre or early learning centre is the only option.
For others, the choice between preschool and long daycare can be an agonising decision. After all, you’re taking the first step on your child’s educational journey. Or maybe it’s the first time you are letting your little one out in to the big wide world. In the end, your decision will come down to what is best for you, your family, and of course, your child.
The differences between a Preschool and Long Daycare Centre
Age of child
- Long Daycare Centres typically cater for children aged from 6 weeks to 5 years old.
- Preschools specifically cater for 3 to 5 year olds
- Long Daycare Centres usually run from 7.00/7.30am until 6-7pm, and the centres are open for 48-50 weeks of the year. Often, parents can choose the days they would like their child to attend, subject to availability.
- Preschools operate in line with school terms, typically 42 weeks of the year, with hours 8:30am – 3:30pm (with some variations between centres). Often, children will have dedicated days to attend (e.g. Mon-Wed or Thurs-Fri).
The cost for child care, whether preschool or long daycare, can be complex. The Child Care Subsidy provides reduced fees by the Australian Government, but your Child Care Subsidy percentage and hours of subsidised care depend on:
- your family income
- the type of care you use
- the hours of activity you and your partner do.
In general, day rates at long daycare centres range from $100-180 per day with a number of rebates and benefits applicable qualifying families.
For preschool, the daily rates works out around $50-100 with access to fewer benefits and rebates. At the moment, the Start Strong Free Preschool program is providing 15 hours of free preschool in 2022, as a result of Covid-19 and the impact this had on enrolments. Funding has been provided to community and mobile preschools for eligible children aged 3 years and above. In turn, services are required to provide at least 600 hours of fee-free preschool per year for families. This is approximately 15 hours or 2 days per week in the majority of preschool settings. Read more here.
Philosophies and Learning Outcomes
Previously, Long Daycare Centres had a reputation for ‘caring’ for children, while preschool was associated with a focus on ‘early education’. Over the years this has changed, with the development of the Early Years Learning Framework (practices that support and enhance learning from birth to five years of age).
Many preschools run a ‘Preschool Program’ from 9am to 3pm every day with the purpose of preparing children for their future schooling. Long Daycare educators also schedule in the ‘Preschool Program’ at particular times and days of the week to cater for children attending various hours and days (due to the extended hours).
Staffing can vary substantially from centre to centre. Something to consider is that because of the extended hours at Long Daycare Centres, staff members may work a rotating roster and children may have different educators throughout the day, week, or fortnightly roster and educators may also rotate across the various age rooms, although this is not always the case. As a positive, being exposed to a range of teaching approaches and personalities may suit some children and provide variety.
At preschools, educators may be more consistent due to shorter hours and working permanent days (no rosters and shifts) and because preschools run concurrently with the school terms. In this case, the consistency of teaching and familiarity of faces may benefit some children.
Many childcare centres provide all food, including a hot lunch. Many are sectioned into smaller, age-appropriate areas for most of the day and merged together at other times, providing a mix of social experiences.
When it comes to preschool vs long daycare, preschool routines generally imitate the school environment, including bringing morning tea and lunch from home, and set drop off and pick up times that coincide with the school day, which is helpful when you have older children attending school. Preschool facility resources and equipment are specifically dedicated to developmental needs of 3-5 year olds.
Whatever decision you choose for your child, be sure to tour a range of different centres and find what feels right for your child and your family. Whether they attend Preschool or Long Daycare all we hope is that our children come home trailing glitter, stained in paint and talking about the great things they have done that day!