Choosing a Preschool or Child Care Center for Your Child
What’s the best age for a child to start preschool? What’s the difference between a preschool and a child care center? Does my child need to attend preschool, or can she go directly to kindergarten? These are questions parents of preschool-age children face whether they work outside the home or not. Working parents must confront these questions and make a choice from many different options of care. Some parents have a relative who is able to care for their children, but is this the best choice? Or is it better for children to spend some time in a group setting where they can learn social skills?
Preschool or Child Care Center?
The only difference between high quality preschools and high quality child care centers may be the hours they operate. Child care centers generally are open for at least 10 hours a day, accommodating the schedules of parents who work full-time. Traditionally, preschools operate for a shorter time, some as short as 3 hours, offering activities and play in the morning only. Many preschools now offer wrap-around hours, accommodating parents’ needs in the same way that child care centers do. Generally, preschools charge different rates according to the length of time a child spends there each day. Some preschools offer part-week programs. Another option is family child care. In this setting, a child care provider accepts children into her own home and provides play and activities.
Whether you're looking for a full-or part-time program, it’s essential to look for quality. There are many programs available but not all offer the high quality of care that every parent wants for their child. Check with your local Early Learning Coalition (you can find their contact information online or in the phone book) and ask for a list of accredited programs. Accreditation confirms that programs maintain a number of standards, some of which are quite rigorous and difficult to achieve. There are a number of accrediting agencies; the national ones generally have the highest standards. Check with other parents to find preschools and child care centers that are well-respected in your community.
Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Parent Involvement. © 1999, Tampa, Florida.
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