You will find many childcare providers who describe their program as a school rather than a daycare. Is this just marketing, or is there actually a difference? In short, there is a big difference!
Below, we will break down key differences between childcare options that commonly serve children from infancy through kindergarten, including popular alternatives like Montessori — which differs significantly from both daycare and other early education programs.
Daycare vs. preschool
From a parent perspective, both daycare and preschool are often generalized as childcare for children under the age of 5, but these terms refer to programs with fundamental differences in student experience.
While daycare commonly starts in infancy and toddlerhood, it sometimes overlaps with preschool for ages 3 to 5. Both can be sourced from a variety of places, including in-home care, private or shared nanny hires, private or publicly-funded centers, as well as nonprofit and faith-based organizations.
A daycare’s main focus is to meet the basic safety needs of your child, while a preschool’s main focus is to provide early education. This doesn’t mean that a daycare would not provide enriching activities, nor does it mean that a preschool does not also prioritize safety. It just means that a child will experience more formal, structured learning in a preschool program.
Is daycare held to a different standard than preschool?
When it comes to regulating child care programs, standards are regulated by the state. Providers can apply for state-issued child care licenses that define operational best practices, such as staff background checks, class ratios, and health and safety measures. However, not all childcare programs are legally required to be state licensed.
Beyond licensing, providers will vary with school accreditation, teacher training, and educational methods. A daycare and a preschool operating in the same state could both be licensed, but one provider may voluntarily pursue school accreditation, which typically demonstrates that they commit to high quality programming.
It is important to note that an early childhood program can still be high quality without school accreditation. This is because the method, training and qualifications of the teachers more directly impacts student experience. Licensing or accreditation can tell you more about the school, but the teacher’s training tells you more about how your child will be taught.
The importance of teaching method
You might think that any preschool program is going to offer your child an academic advantage, but earlier education may not always be better. Researchers at Vanderbilt University recently studied the long-term effects of an academically-rigorous, state-funded preschool program. The study found that students in the program actually faced worse outcomes later in their schooling compared to the control group.
Why could this be? As educators, we know that teaching method matters. In traditional schooling, it’s not uncommon to find a premature focus on abstract academics with rote memorization and testing drills. These tactics may offer fast acquisition of knowledge, but they come at the cost of deeper comprehension.
Further, rushed academics minimize the agency, executive functioning, and natural curiosity young children need to be successful in future pursuits.
The different teaching methods
Terms like “play based,” “traditional,” “Waldorf,” and “Montessori” can be confusing for new parents. Further, many people falsely group Montessori with the progressive education movement, which includes preschool alternatives like Waldorf or Reggio Emilia. However, it is more accurate to position Montessori in between traditional and progressive because Montessori differs from both traditional and progressive schools.
Montessori education can be thought of as a middle ground, one in which there is a core foundation of academics that are comparable to traditional rigor, but in a holistic framework that prepares the individual child for life.
4 distinct features of Montessori preschool
Called the Montessori Children’s House, here are four key features that many families find to be a noteworthy difference:
• It combines preschool with kindergarten
The Montessori Children’s House enrolls preschoolers and kindergarteners in a collaborative, mixed-age environment. This is known as “the three year cycle.” Each year offers distinct academic and social-emotional benefits that same-age classrooms don’t offer, including leadership skills for the kindergartners.
• It is child-led under a balanced framework of “freedom within limits”
The children are free to move, choose their work, and socialize or focus independently. This agency is not without support, responsibility, or boundaries. The teacher maintains structure and order and serves as a positive role model, showing children how to care for oneself, others, and the environment.
• The role of the teacher is to guide
A Montessori guide does not command the front of the classroom to lead lessons. Since the children choose their work, there is a variety of learning that unfolds during a three-hour work period. The guide circulates the room to observe, assess, and support each child’s chosen engagements. She is specially trained to spark deeper learning that is tailored to the individual child.
• It builds knowledge and character
Children in a Montessori environment do not have to adapt to a system of learning because the Montessori path is designed around them. This whole-child approach means you do not have to choose between academic rigor and social-emotional life skills. This balanced approach is known for fostering character traits of focus and engagement, resourcefulness, curiosity, and self motivation.
Searching for a preschool or kindergarten in North Texas? N4 Montessori delivers an authentic Montessori education for independence. Schedule a call with our team today.