Preschool or child care – what's right for your family?
Whether your child has been in child care since they were a small baby, or they have been at home for the first few years of their life, when they reach three years old many parents start to consider the possibility of their child attending preschool and their journey into formal education. But what is the difference between a preschool and a child care centre, and which is right for you?


Preschool is an early education environment geared for three to six year olds – those children who are beyond the toddler years but aren't old enough to start school.

Preschools follow similar hours to regular schooling – 9am to 3pm – and are closed for school holidays. Children usually attend two or three days a week, depending on their age.

Food is normally provided by the parent, and many preschools require children to be out of nappies before they start.

A preschool is usually based locally, and may be run by community organisations, church or local government. Others are attached to primary schools, some being affiliated to particular teaching philosophies, such as Montessori or Steiner.

Community-based preschools are often managed by the parents of children attending, which emphasises the community focus, and can be a great place to build local networks and support circles.

Preschools follow the minimum staffing levels set out by the National Regulation – one staff member to every eight children aged between two to three years, and one staff member for every ten children between three to six years.

A preschool can ease a child into the world of education gently – the curriculum is usually about laying the groundwork for a good start to school, and the hours and format is often similar to that of a kindergarten classroom.

If you are claiming Child Care Benefit (CCB) check with the preschool that they are registered child care provider to ensure you continue to claim the benefit. You cannot claim Child Care Rebate (CCR) for a preschool.

Long day care centre

Long day care centres are open 50 weeks of the year and operate 7.30am to 6pm, making them a popular choice for those parents working full time. Usually privately owned, day care centres first and foremost are focused on meeting a child's day-to-day requirements. Many offer food and nappies, and will provide sleeping facilities for all ages of children.

A good long day care centre will offer an early learning component in all rooms, and preschool program in the rooms for children ages 3 to 6. Because regulations in Australia are high, these programs should be provided within the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and be provided by a qualified teacher.

The programs can vary greatly, so check with the centre on their individual program and whether it meets your expectations and your child's needs. Also check with what experience and qualifications staff members have.

Most long day care centres are approved child care services, which means you can claim both the Child Care Benefit (CCB) and Care Rebate (CCR) for their services if you are eligible.

Which is right for you?

A long-term study of 3000 Australian children found that preschools offer 'significantly higher quality' than long day care. However, all care facilities – preschools and long day care centres – are rated under the National Quality Framework (NQF), which is there to improve and standardise the quality of child care. Because of this, the standard at long day care is still high.

Though the daily routine at long day care might be more focused on the day-to-day care of the child, rather than the school readiness, for children not yet toilet trained or those that still need day-time naps, a long day care preschool program might be the better solution. And, if a child is already settled in a long day care centre, with friends and a connection to the carers, keeping them at the same centre also is less upheaval for the child. Plus, due to the hours and school holiday breaks, pure preschools are often only a viable choice for those parents who are at home, or have flexible working options.

However, if you have that flexibility and wish to give your child a good grounding for their start in formal education, a preschool could offer you the perfect solution.

At the end of the day, both are great options, and often the decision is down to practicality and convenience, and what is right for your child.

If you are looking for long day care or preschool available in your area, try our handy childcare search.
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