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What’s the Difference Between Kindergarten & Daycare?

While studies have shown that kindergartens (or preschool) provide higher quality early childhood education than the average long daycare centre (LDC), making the choice is difficult for working parents. For many families, daycare is the only option and starts when the child is still an infant. They may however, want to ensure that the daycare centre involved has a good kindergarten program in readiness for when the child is older.

For families who do not use daycare and can afford the fees, the kindergarten is often a given once the child is old enough to benefit from one of the generally three or five hour daily – or two or three days a week – school year-based programs. If daycare is required, there are a number of considerations involved, not least being the logistics involving school hours. Many kindergartens offer before and after school care. At the same time, daycare centres that focus on learning through play include a preschool program for 3 to 5 year olds.

How they compare and why

There has always been a perception of daycare being predominantly for ‘care’ and kindergarten being for ‘education’. The gap, however, is closing although studies do show a difference in quality which researchers attribute to two reasons. One is the entirely teacher/child interaction and shorter hours in kindergartens, and the second is the difference between early education degrees and diplomas. Consequently, they cite the need for governments to give priority to improving the skills required to qualify for the early childhood education diplomas required by daycare workers. The need for higher quality in the learning element of daycare programs is especially urgent in lower income areas where children could substantially benefit from quality preschool education to instil a desire to learn in them.

Kindergarten (Preschool)

  • Self-fulfilling perception as primarily an educational environment
  • School-associated hours
  • Degree-qualified teachers for the entire school day


  • Self-fulfilling perception as primarily providing childcare
  • Kindergarten program just a small part of all-day care
  • Degree-qualified teachers in government run LDCs, not necessarily in private daycare centres.

Unfortunately, due to the high demand and childcare shortages, quality tends to get overlooked by working parents whose priorities are fitting the hours to their work schedule and the end cost of care. Average fees are in the $100 a day range for LDCs, less child care rebates (CCR) and benefits (CCB) if applicable, and around $50 a day for kindergarten programs. Often it’s not so much a matter of finding the right daycare as how long the waiting list is for the right daycare! While the government has ensured that kindergarten is available for all children during the year before they start school, specific private and public schools may also have waiting lists.

Different strokes for different folks

Where the value of a kindergarten program is recognised and the quality of the educational environment is a primary issue, there are a number of factors to be taken into consideration. Basically, these are:

  • Dedicated preschools deliver programs 2.5 to 5 hours per day to 3 to 5 year-olds and taught by an early childhood teacher. This can be daily or on specific days of the week. Hours are generally fall between 9:00am-3:30 pm and can be broken up into morning and afternoon sessions.
  • Most LDC’s are open from 7:00 a.m to 6:00 p.m. to accommodate parents that work the standard working hours.
  • Kindergartens run by local governments, churches, state schools (4 to 5 year-olds only), independent schools or private companies may be fee-paying, run as parent co-operatives or administered by education boards with or without fees or voluntary contributions.
  • Before and after-school care programs at kindergartens are sometimes also available.
  • Preschool programs can also run within long day care centres.
  • Programs in both kindergartens or LDCs may be based on religious, Steiner, Montessori or Reggio Emilia philosophies and models.

Early Years Learning Framework

The Early Years Learning Framework  ensures that a nationally consistent, quality program is offered across all childcare facilities. The framework focuses on play-based learning, together with communication and language skills, social development and preparation for school entry.

While childcare centres must follow this framework, there is some degree of flexibility in how they do so. Due to logistics, size, or age range, it is often not feasible for LDC’s to teach 3 to 5-year-olds separately or, even solely by a degree-qualified teacher. This is the primary reason that studies deemed the quality of learning lower than kindergartens.

An apple for the teacher?

Perhaps the education quality is not so much dependant on the kindergarten or daycare, but the teacher or educator providing it. What your child takes away at the end of the day depends on the teacher. Her/his qualifications, experience and teaching philosophy make the difference between children who are happy in the classroom and those who… just want to go home. Visiting the classroom is the only way to find out. Judge the teacher from your own observation of the level of engagement between teacher and child, the age-appropriateness of the children’s activities and the child-to-child interaction during both free play and structured play.

In conclusion, the objective of a kindergarten program is for children to develop life skills and a desire to learn, readying them for school. Where – or whether they attend one at all – is wholly dependent on family dynamics and preferences.

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