Pre-schools have many things in common with top-notch daycare centers. Both offer structured learning and play. Both require adherence to the same licensing requirements. Both cost roughly the same. Both follow the same teacher-child ratios. Pre-schools differ from daycare centers in their curriculum.
Pre-schools are meant to prepare your child for primary school. Their programming is similar to the curriculum your child will face in primary school. Some follow a specific educational theory such as Waldorf or Montessori.
The other difference is that most pre-schools only accept children between the ages of two and a half and five. Daycare centers accept a much wider age range—infants as young as six weeks old to six year olds.
Preschools may also have limited hours, more closely resembling the hours of a primary school. If you work full-time, you may have to arrange after-school care if your child attends a pre-school. Some pre-schools offer full day programs for parents who work full-time, but this is a trend that is yet to catch on with the majority.
Pre-school waiting lists can be very long. In large urban centers, many parents are visiting, interviewing, and going on waiting lists while they are still pregnant or just after their child is born. It is a good idea to put your name on the waiting list for two or three pre-schools. If you don't get into your first pick, at least you have a couple of suitable backups.
Arrange to visit each pre-school you are interested in. You will want to see the staff in action and meet the director. Bring a list of questions ranging from school hours, fees, late pickup penalties, scheduling vacation, and philosophies on teaching. Ask to review the school handbook and a daily class schedule. This will give you a good idea of the rules and regulations of the school and how your child will spend the day.
Be wary of preschools that claim to speed up your child's development or prepare them for kindergarten with an ambitious curriculum. Pre-school aged children do not have the attention span for formal education. Children should spend most of their day playing, learning through hands-on contact, and interacting with other children—not doing worksheets and tests. Preparing children for primary school programming too early will only take the fun out of learning.