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nursery versus preschool

Understanding the Difference Between Preschool and Nursery: Navigating Early Education Options


Understanding the Difference Between Preschool and Nursery: If you are at the stage of thinking about childcare arrangements for your young family, then you will probably be conscious of the vast amount of information that exists – often conflicting and confusing! Having the opportunity to stay at home with your child as they grow up from a newborn to an energetic toddler isn’t always possible and with the rise in cost of living, more and more parents are being forced to go to work soon after starting or increasing their family.

Those early years are when children lay down the foundation to their learning, from being able to distinguish different voices and faces, to forming and being able to read simple words.  There is an entire curriculum devoted to Early Years and childcare providers are required through OFSTED, to provide this for your child.  To some extent, this takes the pressure of you when you are trying to navigate the rollercoaster of parenthood! childhood education plays a crucial role in laying the foundation for a child’s development.

So what options are there for parents looking for child care? Well, there are child minders and nannies – who are typically registered individuals who look after your child either in your home or theirs and usually 1-2-1 or in small groups with other children. If you want a more socialised setting then a daycare/nursery or preschool might be a good choice.  While these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they do refer to distinct stages of early education. In this short but insightful blog, we’ll delve into the differences between preschool and nursery to help you make informed decisions about your child’s early learning experience. Its always important to do your homework though, wherever you decide is the best place for your child. Making sure they are registered through OFSTED, reading reports and seeking feedback from current parents will help you. But ultimately, when all else has been considered, it will come down to the availability of childcare and what you are seeking for the particular stage your child is at. So let’s take a look at the differences between a Nursery and a Preschool


What is a Nursery?

A nursery or daycare (as it might also be known) typically caters to the youngest learners, typically aged from birth to around three years old. It serves as an early childcare setting where infants and toddlers receive care, attention, and basic developmental activities – laying down those early educational foundation stones. Nurseries are designed to provide a nurturing environment that focuses on a child’s fundamental needs, including feeding, nappy changes, and supervised play.

Key Features of a Nursery:

Age Group:
Primarily caters for children aged 0 to 4 years of ages
Nurseries can be term time or all-year round. They will also offer wrap-around-care for parents who need to drop their children early and collect later as their work requires. If this is something you need, its definitely worth ensuring the nurseries you visit offer it (often at an additional cost)
Nurseries do not usually have a uniform or dress code
Focus on Care:
Children will typically be given a key worker – which is one person who has assumed responsibility for them throughout the day and week and is the person who will record what they have done, eaten, taken part in. This is important for parents to have at hand-over both before and after the day so they have continuity with one person.
Building the early developmental stages in a socialised setting with other children. Typically children are grouped in rooms according to ages – with the youngest and least mobile together and the older, more active toddlers and children in other rooms and access to outdoor play areas.
There will be dedicated sleep times and potentially even dedicated sleep rooms to allow children to have rest periods throughout the day. For children who have grown out of day-time sleep, there will usually be a ‘quiet’ activity during the sleep times to help them recharge and rest.
Meal times and choice of food will be appropriate to the ages and stages of the children from early weaning purees to full solid food, eaten with cutlery. In a nursery or daycare, often the option of having breakfast and tea is included to allow parents who work to have a longer day.
Introduction to Socialisation:
Children will be in groups/rooms according to their age and also level of mobility. There will be group activities and supervised play opportunities with children from different rooms (especially where there are siblings in the same nursery)
Basic Developmental Activities:
Introduction to simple activities that stimulate sensory and motor skills. The EYFS Curriculum will be followed to ensure children are reaching their milestones. This will be recorded in a book or an on-line diary for parents to access so that they can see what their child has been up to. This will also include the number of sleeps, amount of food eaten and nappy/toilet sessions that have occurred throughout the day.  Parents have the chance to discuss their child’s day with the key worker at hand-over.

preschool flower picking

What is a Preschool?

A preschool is exactly as it sounds – an educational setting designed for slightly older children, usually aged three to five years old that mimics a school day and environment. The emphasis is on helping the children get into a routine and pattern of learning activities that they will receive when they reach the age to enter Reception classes. Preschools are typically (but not necessarily) linked to a Junior/infant school and where they are, the children will receive specialist lessons from teachers at the school such as music, drama and sports. Preschools aim to develop cognitive, social, and emotional skills through age-appropriate activities, fostering a love for learning in a structured setting without putting too much pressure on the children.

Key Features of a Preschool:

Age Group:
Typically caters to children 3-5 years old. In some cases, there is a requirement for the child to be ‘dry’ and therefore able to use a toilet (ie. Not in nappies) and for children not to need a sleep or nap during the day. You might find other preschools are more relaxed about nappies and will offer to help get the child to the point of being dry during the day.
Unlike nurseries, Pre-schools usually run to the school day timings and are term-time only – again mimicking the school day to help children adjust. If you still require wrap-around-care and the preschool of your choice doesn’t provide it, then it might be worth looking into additional support from a local child minder who can drop off and collect from a preschool. Its often possible to share this support with other parents to reduce costs.
Preschools tend to have a basic uniform (such as a coloured polo-top and sweatshirt) to help children feel like they are part of a school community
Structured Learning Environment:
Curriculum-based activities aimed at cognitive development, including early literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills. They will follow the EYFS Framework, ensuring children are able to enter Reception with a good foundation of phonics and numerical skills.
Children will have a structured day with a timetable of activities such as music lessons, sports, outdoor play, art, drama and maths. Some preschools might also offer science or even forest school as additional lessons. The children will have their learning journey monitored through a daily diary or online digital resource such as Tapestry, that parents can follow.
Socialisation and Independence:
Opportunities for children to interact with each other and older children and develop social skills, as well as foster independence in tasks like dressing and toileting. In some preschool settings, older children will come in and read stories or perhaps help with PE or Drama and this provides excellent role-modelling for younger children.
Where preschools are part of a larger school, the children might get the chance to take part in a play or nativity with the older children so that they get to know everyone and to feel part of the wider school community. This is also beneficially for parents as it’s a critical stepping stone that is supportive and giving them the chance to meet parents of older children at different educational stages.
Preparation for Formal Education:
Focus on preparing children for the transition to Reception through exposure to academic concepts and routines. Helping children to understand the processes of formal education – such as sitting at tables to draw or write letters, is critical in their development and means that they enter primary school ready.


Both nurseries and preschools play vital roles in early childhood development but they also serve different purposes. Nurseries provide essential wrap-around care and initial socialization for babies and toddlers, while preschools offer a more structured learning environment with a curriculum designed to prepare children for formal education. What is right for your child is really only something that you as a family can decide and its possible to make the most of a nursery whilst your child is a baby or young toddler and then move to a preschool once they reach the age of 3 to prepare them for Reception.  Its important to visit different settings, seek feedback and also check out their OFSTED reports. Social Media and local parenting groups can also be a huge help, although be prepared for some parents to have very different views on what settings are right! At the end of the day, you must feel confident in the people and venue that you are entrusting your child to and that is really the most important thing.

Pre-school vs Nursery

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