Asked about: Sharon Nursery

What's the difference between a nursery school and preschool?


Catherine Holland, Parent and Noodle staff member

User avatar for Catherine Holland

Many people use these terms interchangeably, and providers may offer both programs in the same setting. In general, nursery schools, or daycare centers, provide care for younger children, beginning as early as six weeks old. The focus of nursery school tends to be on providing care, as well as opportunities for play and socializing. Staff should be trained and certified in childcare, and the schools themselves are inspected regularly by local government agencies.

A preschool, sometimes called a nursery school or kindergarten outside of the U.S., is an educational establishment that offers early childhood education. Many children attend preschool before starting kindergarten or first grade. There are private, government, and community preschools. The costs vary according to the provider and each family’s financial resources. Some preschools are free, low-cost, or subsidized. Private preschools ordinarily charge annual tuition, but may offer a limited number of scholarships or a sliding scale fee structure.

Preschools generally serve children between three and five years old. While these schools may continue to provide many of the same activities that children did in nursery school, they also incorporate more structured educational experiences into their programs. Teachers may offer games or activities that build counting, letter recognition and writing, as well as early social studies skills. The overarching goal of preschool is to prepare children with early academic and social abilities that will enable them to move into formal schooling on an even footing with their peers. It’s also the case that children’s brains are growing rapidly at this age, so the greater the engagement for young children, the greater the benefit once they enter kindergarten or first grade.

Just as with nursery schools, preschools are inspected on a regular basis by local government agencies to determine that they are meeting educational and safety standards set for their community. The teaching staff should be trained and certified in early childhood education, which ensures that they have the knowledge to deliver educational programs that are appropriate for this age group.

When evaluating nursery or preschool programs, here are some questions to ask:

  • How many hours is the program offered each day? Are there half-day and full-day options?
  • Do you offer extended day beyond the regular school-day hours?
  • Are there additional fees for late pickup?
  • What is your approach to learning?
  • How much time do children spend outside each day? Where do they play outside?
  • What are your toilet training requirements?
  • How do you handle parent-child separation?
  • What is the teacher:child ratio?
  • What is the total enrollment at your school?
  • Do you provide snacks? Lunch?
  • How do you handle food allergies?
  • What is your policy on vaccinations?
Anonymous, Did some research

They're often used interchangeably and there's no hard and fast rule on what makes them different. Sometimes they're coupled together under one roof.

However, nursery schools tend to be more about daycare, but they are required to receive inspection from the Office for Standards in Education and, like for preschools, parents can expect the staff to be trained and certified in childcare. Nursery schools can be private or public, some are run by the state government, others the local community, and others as for-profit businesses.

Preschools are typically for children that have outgrown nursery school but are not of age to attend kindergarten, but many places named as Preschools offer childcare for younger children. However, some nursery schools take children right up until age 5 or 6 when they go to kindergarten - again no absolute line between the two. Legitimate preschools will be registered with the Office for Standards in Education and should follow a prescribed national curriculum designed to teach children the basic skills needed for kindergarten.

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