Childcare centers are generally an option for working parents who need their children to be taken care of duringthe day; centers accept babies as well as toddlers and are full-time, full-year programs. Preschool refers to an early-childhood educational class for 3- and 4-year-olds. Many offer a part-timeschedule (for example, a few hours a day, two to five times a week) as well as full-day care, but only from September to May. Yet the terms are often used interchangeably. A childcare center withexperienced, well-trained teachers and stimulating activities offers kids similar advantages to a preschool. "In fact, many preschools are part of childcare programs," says Linda Smith, executive director ofthe National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies. (To learn more about high-quality childcare -- as well as preschool programs -- log on to naccrra.org and download a free copy of IsThis the Right Place for My Child?)
2. How important is preschool?
"There's increasing evidence that children gain a lot from going to preschool," says Parents advisor KathleenMcCartney, PhD, dean of Harvard Graduate School of Education, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "At preschool, they become exposed to numbers, letters, and shapes. And, more important, they learn how tosocialize -- get along with other children, share, contribute to circle time."
Statistics show that a majority of kids attend at least one year of preschool: According to the National Institute forEarly Education Research (NIEER), more than two-thirds of 4-year-olds and more than 40 percent of 3-year-olds were enrolled in a preschool in 2005. "Children who attend high-quality preschool enterkindergarten with better pre-reading skills, richer vocabularies, and stronger basic math skills than those who do not," says NIEER director W. Steven Barnett, PhD.
"Every child should have some sort of...