Home Daycare vs. Preschool or Childcare Center

Home daycares, preschools, and childcare centers serve the same ages so they can seem indistinguishable. But the State of California views them differently.  A home daycare is by definition a person who provides childcare in their home, even if it calls itself a preschool. The licensing process for home daycares is simpler and relatively quick. Preschools and childcare centers are required to have a dedicated site that is designed for young children, including furniture, outdoor areas, and toileting facilities. Safety requirements that are more stringent and staff are required to have more education and experience. The licensing process for a preschool or center can take years.  More info: About Childcare Licensing

AgesAny ageAny age, but separate rules apply for 0-18 mo, 18-30 mo, 3-5 yrs, and K-12 after-school. As a result, preschools typically enroll 3-5 year olds only. Childcare centers typically enroll under-2 and they may also have a toddler or preschool component and after-school facilities.
  • Must be at the owner's home (owned or rented, house or apartment)
  • Safety inspection (fire extinguishers, safe play areas, no accessible poisons or guns, etc.) 
  • Must be a dedicated site where no one lives; street address is public
  • Safety inspection as for daycares, plus add'l requirements
  • Per-child square footage requirements indoors and for outdoor play areas
  • Age-appropriate furniture, toilets & sinks
  • Separate diapering facility for under-3yrs
  • Separate sleeping facilities with specified equipment for under-3yrs
  • Specified eating facilities
Director or Owner
  • Home daycares have an Owner, not a Director
  • Owner must live in the home
  • Background check, basic first aid class, immunizations
  • 1 year experience at a daycare if > 8 children

Director must have:

  • Background check, basic first aid class, immunizations
  • Degree in Early Childhood Education (ECE)
  • 4 years experience at a preschool; more for children under 2 yrs old
CapacityUp to 8 (small home daycare) or up to 14 (large home  daycare) No limit. The capacity on their license depends on the site's square footage and the ages of the children. Typical preschools have 24-30 children. Large childcare centers can have a capacity in the hundreds.  
Adult-to-Child Ratio
  • Small daycare: 1 adult for up to 8 children; more restrictions if more than two are < 18mo
  • Large daycare: 2 adults for up to 14 children; more restrictions if more than two are < 18mo
  • Infants (0-18 mos.): 1:3 adult-child ratio
  • Toddlers (18-30 mos.): 1:6 adult-child ratio
  • Preschoolers (36 mos - kindergarten entry): 1:8 adult-child ratio
  • Parent Co-ops: 1:5 adult-child ratio
  • School-aged: 1:14 adult-child ratio
Business name
  • There are no regulations about what a home daycare can call itself, including saying it is a "preschool". But the daycare is licensed under the owner's name only.
  • Licensed under the preschool's name
  • Owner is also listed, usually a nonprofit or a corporation
Assistants or Teachers
  • Background check, basic first aid class, specified immunizations
  • Background check, basic first aid class, specified immunizations
  • 12 Early Childhood Education (ECE) units
  • 6 months experience working at a preschool
Other Adults on siteAny others over 18 who live in the home or visit regularly must have a background checkFor parent co-op preschools, all parents who participate must have a background check
CostTypically less expensive than a preschool or nannyCost varies but generally more expensive than a home daycare since a dedicated site is required. Childcare centers for children under 3 are even more expensive due to additional site and staffing requirements.  Parent co-op preschools can be less expensive than a home daycare. City-operated preschools are often very affordable or free. 
EnrollmentTypically as spaces open upTypically in the Fall on an academic schedule, especially for ages 3 and up. Childcare centers for children under 3 may have openings as spaces open up. 
What Parents LikeHome-like setting; located in their neighborhood; diverse ages of children for sibling-like relationships; smaller; more affordable; more flexible schedules; all-day, year-round scheduleTrained, experienced teachers; schedule and hours may be more work-friendly; purpose-built facility; more oversight (more adults on site); larger parent community; preschool curriculum; targeted age groups