For many parents, the terms ‘child care’ and ‘day care’ refer to the same thing. It’s the place where their children go while the parents are at work, usually mingling with other kids that’s a stepping stone towards school. 

And while there are many similarities between the two, there are also differences between them. While some may be very subtle, they can be quite important when you’re trying to work out whether child care vs day care is the right place for your child (or children). 

Read on to find out what the key differences are between child care vs day care, what the different types of care available are and how to pick the best option for you. 

Activities in daycare - childcare vs daycare

Child care vs Day care: What’s the Difference? (And Why It Matters)

Child care and day care have many similarities and, for many families, they do exactly the same role. Both generally take children as young as babies all the way up through to five-year-olds preparing to go to school. 

Neither has a strict definition, but depending on who you ask there may be a few differences. 

One is the time. Day care centres tend to have stricter opening hours — normally from 7 or 8 in the morning until 5 or 6 in the evening. Some child care centres (or other family child care options etc) have extended opening hours to help parents who do shift work or other non-traditional commitments.

What’s the difference between child care, day care and preschool?

The main difference between preschool and the other care options, like child care and day care, comes down to age. 

Preschool caters for children from three to five, before they move on to primary school. Unlike other options, it doesn’t accommodate babies and toddlers. 

For some parents, this could be a problem. You may prefer your child to stay in one centre where they get to know the staff extensively for a few years. For others, it could be a benefit. By removing babies and infants, the games and teaching methods are all aimed at the same age group and could prove more effective. 

Is it wrong to call child care “day care?”

Knowing whether to say child care or day care can be difficult. Although there are times when child care and day care are different things, there are other times when they can be the same. 

Some feel that day care can be underselling the services offered by child care centres, while sometimes the simple fact of opening hours makes day care sound wrong. 

If in doubt, ‘child care’ is always an acceptable term, but you can always ask one of the educators who looks after your child what term they prefer. 

Child development and play - childcare vs. daycare

What terms do ECE professionals use instead of “day care”?

While some ECE professionals may be just fine using “day care” if it fits in with their specific situation, there are others who prefer to use other vocabulary. 

If you’re looking for an alternative word or term to use in place of “day care”, there are several options. 

The first is simply to use the type of child care you’re talking about. This may be home-based care, a child care centre or even the name of the business you use. 

Other options include early childhood education centres, early learning centres and child learning centres. 

Why should ECE professionals care about how people refer to child care?

One of the biggest complaints about using the term ‘day care’ over ‘child care’ is that it downplays the work done by early childhood educators. 

For some, the term ‘day care’ simply means that they’re keeping children safe. It’s somewhere that parents leave their kids so they can work, essentially acting like a glorified babysitting service. 

However, given the training, skills and experience obtained by ECE professionals, there’s so much more that goes on. That’s why ‘child care’ is often the preferred term — indicating that the child is getting cared for, rather than just looked after for the day. 

Which type of child care is right for you?

Even once you’ve worked out the differences between child care and day care, you still have some important decisions to make when it comes to your children. 

Different families need different solutions and, luckily, we’re blessed with many choices. Some of the most popular forms of child care in Australia are:

  • Home-based care
  • Centre-based day care: long day care and occasional care
  • Family day care
  • Business-related creches
  • Outside school hours care

These services are all run by qualified educators, but each has perks that may sway your decision. Whether you want a small, intimate setting or something that’s more like a schoolroom, you can make your choice based on your own needs. 

Home-based care

Home-based day care is exactly what it sounds like — child care in someone’s home. Like with bigger centres, any educators on site will have to be trained and hold first aid certificates. 

They tend to be cheaper, have smaller classes and a cosier setting. They’re also generally a bit more flexible, so parents may have the option to arrange earlier starts or later pick-ups depending on their circumstances. 

Centre-based day care: long day care and occasional care

Centre-based day care is the most common option in Australia. What you get varies from centre to centre, so it’s a good idea to have a look at a few near you to make sure you know what you’re signing up for. 

In most cases, you’ll find that centres are open from the morning to early evening. Most will have several rooms, generally divided by age group (from baby to five-year-olds), with an educator present for every four or five children. 

Different centres have different core offerings. Some focus on outdoor play, some promote creativity while more and more are offering vegan and environmental options.

Family day care

Family day care is a form of child care that has a more intimate feel than many of the big centres. 

As the name suggests, family day care is closer to a small family unit than a large classroom. These are often run from an educator’s home, with as few as four or five children in attendance. 

This is great for children who get anxious around lots of other kids while still giving them a chance to socialise with their peers. Because of the small numbers, children often form much stronger bonds than they would elsewhere. 

While some parents are happy with family day care for years, others use it as a stepping stone between homelife and larger child care centres. 

Play and games in childcare - childcare vs daycare

Business-related creches

If you’re looking for someone to care for your child while you work but don’t want to add any extra time or stops onto your daily commute, onside business creches may be the answer. 

There are many benefits. Often, they’re paid for (in full or subsidised) by your employer. You can drop your children off immediately before and after work, meaning you get more time with them. Plus, you can always pop in on your lunch break or if there’s an emergency. 

Depending on the business, these creches may be available year-round for preschool children or they may only be available for school-aged children during the holidays, meaning they’re safe and looked after while parents don’t have to use up their entire holiday allowance in one go.

Outside school hours care

Before and after school care is one area that definitely doesn’t fit into the standard ‘day care’ narrative. 

For parents who work non-standard hours or who have to commute to and from the school, dropping off or picking up a child at the bell can be difficult. 

Outside school hours care gives parents that flexibility to make sure that their children can attend school and have a structured and safe place to be before and after class. 

Kids in this type of care are given the chance to learn, play and make strong friendships, which makes it beneficial even for those who don’t strictly need the help.