Daycare vs. Preschool

Parent Q&A

How to find a Preschool that's as good as our Daycare Nov 29, 2017 (10 responses below)
Home Based Daycare vs. Preschool for 2.5 year old Dec 16, 2016 (6 responses below)
  • Hi there fellow Parents, 

    So here's the scoop...

    I've been in denial for some time now...that is, about moving our 2.5 year old son on to preschool.  You see, we've got him at THE best home day care in the Bay Area.  Check that...I can confidently say that I'd consider our home day care one of the best in the country (having lived in Manhattan for 15 years).  We've got the most dedicated, passionate, nurturing, creative, kind, emotionally intelligent, powerful, nature-loving, intuitive, healthy,  inspiring caretaker on the planet.  She's a magician.  A baby / infant / toddler-whisperer.  In fact, she makes me - not only want to be a better mom - but a better person.  Which is why I'm in denial.  Other parents at our day care have been asking me for MONTHS, "Where to you plan to send your son to preschool?"  And I'll be completely transparent...I haven't lifted a finger in terms of doing a search for a preschool.  Because...again...I'm in denial.  I just can't stomach taking my son out of their care.  I refuse to do it.  As a matter of fact, I'd leave him there until he turns 18, if I could.  But I can't.  Which is where you come in.  It's finally time to get on a waiting list somewhere.  I've been putting it off long enough.  Any suggestions?  And obviously - the bar is set VERY high.  So I'll only consider the best of the best.  As you can tell, it's pretty clear what I'm looking for in a caretaker / teacher.  Thoughts?  We live in Kensington / Albany / North Berkeley / El Cerrito would be ideal.  And we're big fans of an outdoor curriculum...nature-learning.  Any help would be greatly appreciated! 

    Many thanks in advance, 

    Jess & Walt D. 

    If you want the best, I cannot recommend Gail Pavolsky enough. I've had my kids in her in-home daycare for the last 3 years, and she's opening a preschool in late January/early Feb, in Kensington. The new school is outdoor play based, on the Unitarian Church's land. The awesome part- Gail provides a healthy homemade lunch for the kids. You should call her and meet her and her staff and see what you think for yourself. 

    Here is her current daycare: 

    And the new preschool:

    You may not be able to leave your son in this wonderful provider's care until he's 18, but (unless the daycare has an unusual rule about maximum age) there's no reason you can't keep him where he is until he enters kindergarten!  The difference between daycare and preschool for 3-5 year olds has nothing to do with the label on the door; it's about the learning environment created after you enter that door.  If your caregiver, as many daycare providers do with preschool-age charges, offers your son preschool-type opportunities to learn self-care, gain physical and social skills, explore the world, play with blocks and books and art supplies, hear and tell stories...well, what's the rush?  Don't fix what ain't broke.

    Sorry I don't have any recommendations for a preschool, but where is this home day care you speak so highly of?!  I have a 3 month old and need to go back to work soon.

  • My child is 20 months old and at a wonderful mixed-age home based daycare. Many children stay at the daycare until kindergarten, but I am struggling with whether we should send him to a more "traditional" preschool program when he is 2.5. For many reasons, the daycare would be the easier option, including the one-on-one attention he gets, convenient hours and flexibility with regard to my work schedule, the incredibly loving environment, and the relatively inexpensive cost compared to many preschools.  My main concern is that by the time he is 3, he will start to get bored at the daycare, and the preschool application process does not seem conducive to a "wait and see" attitude, since the schools are on a specific enrollment schedule and fill up quickly. Since this is my first child, I don't have a good sense of whether boredom is a valid concern, or whether I should just not mess with a good thing. I would love to hear from other parents who have been faced with similar decisions. 

    My 5 year old stayed at a wonderful home based daycare all the way through pre-school. When he started Kindergarten this year, he was almost a grade ahead of some of his classmates in terms of reading and math. But he did have some trouble transitioning from the small daycare to the much larger class size, which is a whole other issue. He was never bored at his daycare and everyday they did projects and learn new things. If you feel that your child's daycare is not doing enough to stimulate them, then it's a problem with the individual daycare. 

    Don't mess with a good thing!  He's really little and sounds like you have an envious set-up.

    I am a parent of two older children and a teacher for over 20 years. My gut feeling is to stay if your child is happy and it works for you. If, later, it really appears to be not working you can make a change then. Yes, it will be a hassle but better than changing when you have a good thing now. In a loving environment with some interesting toys, playmates, and play spaces preschool age children will learn a lot and be ready for kindergarten. To reassure yourself talk to some parents whose children stayed through the preschool years and listen to what their experience tells you. For me red flags would be using tv or screens, not reading to the children daily, not providing art materials or music, or overly punitive discipline. There are enough challenging moments educating our children. Feel happy you lucked into a good thing!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


What age did you change from daycare to preschool?

March 2015

What age did your kids start preschool? Did you transition from a daycare you loved? How was the transition? Why did you choose the preschool?
Preschool Transition Mama

My daughter started preschool at 22 months. She had been in a home daycare that was safe but not stimulating at all. I found her preschool seriously in the yellow pages, because location and cost were my top criteria. The preschool was fantastic and she stayed until she started kindergarten. good luck

When to transition 19-mo-old to preschool?

Dec 2010

My husband and I are not in agreement about when to transition our almost-19-month old to preschool. She has been in a small, loving, home-based daycare since she was 3-months-old. It has become a second home to her. She's comfortable, happy, loved, cared for, and is always excited to go in the mornings.

In looking forward to preschool, I've been doing some research and have noticed that most preschools begin after 3 years of age. Fine by me. My husband thinks our daughter is going to outgrow her daycare and would like her to begin preschool at 2.4. We have baby number two on the way, and I would love to minimize major changes in all our lives and would welcome having both kids at the same place for a year. Anyone have words of wisdom? We are both educators and agree that we want preschool to be a play-based, developmental experience, so to me it seems silly to rush that next step. I'm curious if anyone feels they made the switch too early or too late or if anyone has any resources or advice to share. THANKS! :)

don't rush it. I know everyone around here is gaga over preschool but having done both daycare and preschool for my kids, I think a really good day care is way better for young kids than preschool. I started my oldest in preschool at 3. Most preschools are much bigger and instead of handing him over to the care of a specific person it's much more of a free-for all. Frankly I was shocked. That said the year worked out well for him and by the time he was close 3.5 / 4 it was definitely the right environment for him. Now with my youngest, I have an opportunity to start her at the same preschool at 2. I am not going to do it - I am going to wait til she is almost 4 (probably a little too late, but given her birthday that's the way it works out). I've had this conversation with several friends and we all agree that the rush to preschool is way over-rated. Small day cares maintain way better ratios and take on much more of a ''caring role''. Preschools in my opinion take on much more of a ''supervisory'' role. so over preschool

My ''mama's boy'' youngest son who was 2 in August started the 2yo class in September @ Hearts Leap Pre-School. My husband was sure he'd never go. He went half a day four days a week and loved it from the onset. He's now in 3rd grade and we've never looked back. It depends on your kid, the school and most importantly the ''fit'' between the two. mom of many

I think 3 is a better age than 2.4 to go to pre-school. Both of my kids were in a lovely home day care until 3 1/2 or so and there is no reason for 2 1/2 year-olds to be bored in day care. You said she loves it! Two is young for the sometimes overstimulating pre-school environment with many more personalities to deal with. Especially since you have another baby on the way, it makes sense to keep your child in her familiar, loving home day care setting until she's 3. my 2 cents

We also struggled with when best to move our daughter to preschool. In the end we chose to leave her at her daycare until 3. It was a great decision. She went from being the youngest when she started to the oldest when she left. She learned to love younger kids, to be kind and gentle with them and to be extremely confident as well. The reality I have seen since then is that 2 year old preschool is not much different than daycare and at 2 the transition is harder than at 3. My daughter is happy, confident, social and intelligent and for us this was the right decision. Waited for preschool

Rule number one: don't make major life changes in coincidence with the arrival of a new baby. Adjusting to the presence of this new interloper will throw your daughter for a major loop. She will need to emotionally and cognitively accommodate this new competitor for mom and dad's love. Rule number two:let your daughter guide you in picking a time for preschool. Perhaps she is a genius, but maybe she is not yet ready emotionally. You will know when the time comes. She will be capable of doing directed activity for a set period of time, capable of participating and cooperating in group activities, she will have the necessary focus, etc. I can't imagine that at 19 months, she is already exhibiting signs of being a good little student.

Take it easy! Unless she asks to be in ''school'' herself at 2.4 years, go slow as you add on a new baby to the household. Anon

If she is happy where she is, why move her? Also, many preschools will not accept children before they are 2 years, 9 months old.

I would also consider a few other factors. When will she start kindergarten? Do you want her to spend more than 2 years in preschool? (From a teacher's perspective, one year of preschool is probably sufficient to be ready for kindergarten). Also, what are the ages of the other children in her daycare? If she is the oldest by far, then perhaps it's time to move her to preschool. If there are other children close to her age, then I wouldn't be in a hurry.

I'm in the middle of searching for preschools for next fall, and I can tell you that there is a huge difference in preschool environments. Some are large and structured a bit more like kindergarten, whereas some of the smaller, home-based preschools have the warm, intimate, homey feel of home-based daycare. Why not visit a few different types of schools that accept children at the age you are thinking of sending her, then see what your gut tells you about when and where to send her.

Also, based on my experience, the search for preschool is a very time- consuming affair. There are SO MANY different preschools, each with different environments, schedules, etc; and most only accept a handful of kids each year. So you need to visit a lot of them and apply to several.....It's a lot of work, and you should do it now if you are thinking of enrolling her for next fall.

Finally, do not underestimate the value of convenience. If your child is happy where she is, and it is more convenient to have her and your newborn in the same place, then I'd see no reason to change the situation right now. Good luck. T.

Transiitoning 2-year-old from family daycare to preschool

Sept 2009

Our 2 year, 2 month old has been going to an in-home family daycare since she was 10 months old. Now she's headed to pre-school. How many weeks ahead should we start prepping her? Any advice on transition (goodbye to daycare providers and friends there)? Her new school has a nice plan for entry--I'm more concerned about the goodbyes at her wonderful daycare. I'm probably more anxious about it than she will be. Thank you! CK

I actually think it's wise to start prepping your child for preschool, perhaps a week or two in advance. My son, who had little trouble in daycare, had a traumatic transition to preschool, because I did not prep him (took him 6 weeks to get adjusted, and there was a lot of crying). I just assumed he was fine in daycare, so he'd be fine in preschool. Turns out he was very much attached to the daycare provider and upset that he was no longer going to her. We finally had to write her a letter, telling her how much he loved her, and see her one more time to say goodbye, before he was able to really transition to preschool (where he ultimately did very well). So I think that working with the daycare provider to decide on a ''goodbye'' routine, as well as visiting the new preschool to get used to it, would be a very good idea. Karen


Preschool versus family daycare for 4-yo

March 2007

I'm struggling with a decision about preschool for my 4-yo daughter. She has been attending a home-based family daycare 3 days a week since she was 18 months old. She loves it there, enjoys her friends and the teachers. The kids range in age from ~1-5 years, and at least half of the kids attend until they move on to kindergarten. They have alot of art activities, singing, cooking, gardening, climbing. I'm confident she's gaining healthy social and emotional skills in this situation and would like to keep her there until she starts kindergarten in Fall 2008. However, I often wonder if she is missing out on something that a more formal preschool would provide. She does receive some basic \x93academics\x94 at her daycare, but it\x92s not structured or consistent. Would it benefit her to participate in a more structured learning environment in preparation for school? I\x92m not looking to push her to excel academically -- she\x92s a kid and I want her to enjoy being a kid. I'm just interested to hear various opinions on this, as I continue to sway back and forth on whether to move her to a less play-based setting. Thanks! Anon

It sounds like your daughter is in a great situation! If she were my child, I would leave here right where she is...Formal schooling is right around the corner. Learning to be 'emotionally healthy' is far more important in my book at this age than learning her letter sounds.

My elder daughter turns four next month. We moved to a new town a few months ago -- instead of enrolling her in an 'academic' preschool (the only option in our former town) we enrolled her in a waldorf-based preschool so that she could do all of the things that your daughter is getting to do. Just tonight my daughter put a stack of books down in front of me and complained that she couldn't read them. Tomorrow we will start reading lessons (she already knows her letters and sounds). That is some special time that we will spend together. But, I will keep her in her Waldorf school until she starts Kindergarten. jan


Keep 2-year-old in daycare or switch to preschool?

June 2006


My son turns 2 this summer, and I've been receiving the Schools newsletter since he was born. I'm starting to think I need some really basic information about what this preschool business is all about. The more I read the more confused I get!

When I was a kid, preschool was what you did in preparation for kindergarten - to practice learning and being away from Mom. Most kids then (where I lived anyway) had been at home with Mom for the 1st 4 years. Now that that's become much less common, I'm confused about the distinctions between daycares and preschools, and could use some really basic advice and/or suggestions about where to find more information.

My son is currently in a family daycare setting 3 days/week. The kids there range from just over 1 to ~3.5 yrs. My questions are: Does this count as ''preschool''? What is the difference between preschool and daycare when the daycare setting does ''educational'' things like letters, numbers, and music? Is it typical/expected/recommended for kids to switch to a real preschool at some point (and if so, when)? Or can you just keep your child in a daycare setting like the one we have now? Are preschools typically full-time or part-time? Finally, what kinds of costs are we looking at? Any and all clarification would be very welcome - thank you! Clueless about preschool

I think a daycare like the one you describe is probably really good until age 4 (or one year prior to kindergarten.) I've read & heard over and over again that children who attend organized pre-school programs do much better in elementary school than those who never did. So, yes, my advice would be to switch to a formal pre- school program at least one year before your child enters kindergarten. They'll be far more prepared for what school really is. Not sure what you pay for daycare, but there are absolutely full time preschools out there - they usually have school-type activites in the mornings (ie: circle time, sharing, art, music, lessons, etc) and then more after-care type activities in the afternoons (rest time, outdoor play, free play, etc.) The price range is pretty phenomenal. I'd start by researching schools near home via phone, asking for info to be mailed to you and then following up with visits -Pro-preschool Mama

My son was lucky to have his grandmother 20 mins. away, so she babysat a couple times a week when I was at work, and he then started preschool at 4 years old. He will have completed his first preschool year this month. After doing some research (including this site), I think that as long as your day care situation is working for you, I wouldn't worry about a structured preschool until he is 4, the year before he starts kindergarten. I think that it's important for kids to be in a school-like atmosphere, e.g., around a bigger group of kids who would be his age, a more structured environment, and a teacher (or two), that is more like being in a school rather than someone's home. My son is in a play-based preschool, so there isn't this huge focus on academics, but there's circle time and little lesson plans about things like bugs and animals, learning to get in line to go outside; similar things they will do in kindergarten. And waiting until he's 4 is plenty of time. Keep him in the daycare for now if you're both happy with that situation. I hope this answers your question about the difference between preschool and day-care. juedepo

One difference is age. ''Day care'' around here generally refers to care for infants and toddlers. Most day care places take kids up until they are 3 yrs old (or 3.5 or so). Most preschools won't star kids until they are 2 years and 9 months. So there is some overlap time. Preschools usually keep kids until they move on to kindergarten (and in some cases, on to first grade). Preschool still serves to get kids ready for kindergarten. I recommend that you find a preschool to visit and you may see the difference (although not all are in session in the summer time) Anon.


Husband thinks preschool would be more stimulating

Sept 2004


Hi, First of all thanks to all of you, from your referrals I found a great family childcare; now I have a problem convincing my husband that this environment is fine for our son. We visited several pre-school/daycares and he was quite impressed by them. He likes the fact that they teach many different things to the children, and feels the family daycare doesn't offer much brain stimulation for the child. I have read articles in the past, where they explained that until the age of five, there is not much need to emphasize a school setting. I tend to agree, I feel that at this age they are learning so much already, and all they need is plenty of love and attention, plus he will have several kids to play with and the lady sets time aside to read to them and sing. Most of my siblings and I didn't attend a pre- school until the age of five, and we all grew up very interested in reading and learning. Does anyone have any advice or links to websites you could recommend?? I'll like to print information for my husband so he feels at ease. Angela

While I agree with most of what you are saying, that socialization is the key until a certain age, the benefit of preschool is to introduce them to a school setting--the order of things, following a specific schedule, being expected to sit in one place, etc. etc. If you wait until they are five and entering kindergarten, they may have a more difficult time transitioning to the ''school setting'' I think family daycares are great, but at age 3 my daughter was clearly ready for ''school.'' Just my two cents


Preschool or day care for 2-year-old?

April 2003


I work MWF and my son is with another boy and a nanny during that time. The other little boy is going to preschool in Sept, and I need to find alternative arrangements come Sept. He will be 2 in Nov. He is very out going and I feel that he is emotionally ready for a more stimulating environment.

I have researched preschools quite a bit, and since I am so late in the game, I cannot find a preschool that is close, that I feel comfortable with and that has a schedule that can accommodate me. I am still searching. I have considered 2 options....put him in a preschool that is not one of my targeted preschools, and then move him next year to one of the ones that I have targeted, or put him in day care near my house and then move him to a targeted preschool the following year.

Here are my questions...I have heard that it is not good to move a child at that age around, so should I continue to look for a preschool, and although it may not be convenient or one of my targeted schools, keep him there for consistency sake? Should I stick with a nanny situation until the following year? Should I put him in preschool or day care and then move him next year?

I am looking for any advice you can provide, including the names of preschools or day cares you recommend that may have openings in the Rockridge/South Berkeley area. Thank you. jennifer

Have you considered a family day care? We put my daughter in a small family day care two days/week when she turned two. Our other child is 4 and goes to preschool. When we entered into the arrangement with the daycare provider, we were clear that she would be moving on to preschool the following year. It's working out great. She hangs with 5 other kids (ranging from 18 months to 3 years) in a very loving environment. I feel it's perfect for her now, but she will be too ''old'' for it when she's 3. I know of many family/small day care situations that follow the same formula (i.e. take care of children up to preschool age). Try checking out Bananas or the ChildCare Newsletter for recommendations, or contact me and I can tell you more about our day care. Laurel

My older son is a very outgoing kid, but I waited to put him into preschool until he was over three. He was in a happy day care situation and I didn't want him to have to grow up faster than he wanted. At the time it seemed like a bit deal to me for him to be forced to conform with an imposed schedule (eating or naping at a specific time regardless of his needs), be rushed in his potty training, dealing with multiple care givers, etc. In retrospect, and when considering what I will do for my younger son, I don't know if will make the same choice a second time around. While the imposed schedule still seems harsh for a two year old to me, my experience watching the little ones at my son's preschool is that they are happy, having fun, and doing well... and potty training happening sooner rather than later doesn't seem so bad either.

As far as recommendations go, have you looked at Claremont Day Nursery? They have three branches; one in the Rockridge area. We really love the Kensington school, and I would imagine the others are very simillar. They have part time as well as full time programs, including short days, or three day a week arangements. Rose

I am a big fan of family daycare. Both of my kids had a (shared) nanny until about age 2 or 2.5, then attended a family daycare for a year, and then transitioned to preschool. The family daycare was a great situation for both of them -- small, intimate, loving, and yet able to provide more social experiences and resources than a sitter. Overall, a great mid-step between the closeness of a nanny and the resources of a preschool. When I first shopped for a preschool or daycare for my oldest, I found that 2yos seemed happier in small family daycares than in preschools. Yes, there are certainly many, many exceptions out there, but overall, I think a family daycare of 6 or 12 kids is a wonderful middle ground that works well for lots of toddlers. In short, if I were in your shoes, I would prefer daycare to a preschool EVEN IF you could already get into your favorite preschool. I wouldn't worry too much about creating too many transitions. A year is a long, long time for a 2yo. It's not like you'll be wrenching him from one ''home'' to another on a weekly basis. (That said, if your son is very slow to adjust and has a very hard time learning to trust new caretakers, you will probably disagree.) As for how to locate a family daycare, call or visit Bananas in Oakland. They can give you the names of all the family daycares in your area. Judith

Not sure about their openings for Fall, but in the Rockridge area I can enthusiastically recommend Claremont Day Nursery (director: Tom Morabito at 658-5208) on College Avenue for 2 year olds. They also have two other locations in Berkeley and Kensington, so maybe another can accomodate you if College Ave is full. I was going to wait until my son was 3 (next Fall) to start him in school, but we decided with the impending arrival of a new baby this summer to start him at 2.5. Several of our other friends started their children at 2 also at this school, and they have been very happy here, depending on their respective levels of readiness and history of interaction with other children. The two year olds are in a small class (7 or 8 students max per day,) but also get to interact with and learn from the older kids throughout the day. Mornings only, full day, and flexible schedules are available. The teachers all seem incredibly competent, experienced, and caring people to me, and our son actually asks to go to school every morning, even though he is only enrolled three mornings a week at this point. Another nice feature for a busy parent is that they feed your child a hot lunch every day, even if you are only a morning student, so that is one less thing to worry about when you pick them up. cheryl

I was in your same situation with my 2 year old last year when our share left the nanny situation to go to preschool. We bit the bullet and went ahead to preschool. I am very glad we did. Our daughter was really ready for more stimulation than her beloved nanny, and although the initial transition was rough (as we found with just about every new child in the school). While I would leave her there with both of us in tears the first few weeks, we have been thrilled with the results ever since. She is very happy, has become more outgoing, is talking more and isd becoming more social and extroverted. She enjoys her new little friends, and I enjoy meeting them and their parents as well. Our world has expanded far more than it could have in our nanny situation (although we still see our former nanny frequently). While I wish we would have kept the nanny for a few more months, I have no regrets about our decision.

Claremont Day School may have part time openings coming up in the next few months. The staff is so loving and wonderful, particularly with the younger children. I have seen them holding smaller kids and really giving them the kind attention that they have been accustomed to prior to coming to school. I think that sending a child to preschool is really tough no matter when you do it. However, if you find a good school with teachers who love and comfort the kids as they adjust to their new situation, it is probably not all that much tougher than adjusting to a new nanny share situation and then another new preschool.

I would also urge you, however, to keep in touch with your targeted preschools in the event that an opening becomes available and you need only make one transition. But then again, you might find an alternative that is even better for your situation. Best of luck! -- Been There

Hi, Our daughter turned two this past November and she's been going to Bari Nelson's home-based pre-school (on Cragmont in No. Berkeley) since September. It's been a fantastic experience for her. Bari is really fantastic with kids and she works with another woman to provide a terrific experience for them. She also brings in someone for music twice per week which my daughter has really enjoyed.

We will be sending her to Beth El Nursery School starting this Fall because we want to add some Jewish education to her nursery school experience. I'm not too concerned about the transition from one to the other especially since she'll know some of the kids in the new pre-school.

Check out Via Nova Children's School near Ashby BART. Deborah (former Via Nova Parent) Lisa