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Understanding the Differences Between Nursery, Preschool and Other Early Years Childcare

02 February 2024

Nurseries, preschools, and other early years childcare settings are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they have distinctly different features and purposes with many parents unaware of these differences. In this article, we will explore their key differences, the benefits of each type of early years childcare and what age ranges are typically attached to these.


Nurseries are perhaps one of the most commonly known methods of childcare. They typically look after children from a few months old to 2-3 years of age. Nurseries are often referred to as daycare centres and are the first step in early education for many children. They can provide a smooth transition to preschool (the next term we’ll explore).

The environment in nurseries is designed to be safe, relaxed and nurturing, with a focus on early sensory experiences, play-based learning and social interaction. Children in nurseries may cover basic academic skills and form friendships with those around them, integral for understanding interactions as they progress through the education system. Children in the nursery-age category are at an important stage of development, so nurseries are a strong way of helping them develop mentally.

Nurseries are widely available across most areas of the UK. By searching online for nurseries near you, you’ll likely come across a range of choices - research which one is best for you and your child. If you’re in the South Croydon area, our nursery could be the right one for you.


Preschools are often confused with nurseries, but there are differences between them. One of the most obvious ways to differentiate is the ages involved; preschools are aimed at slightly older children, typically between 3 and 5 years old. Many children that attend preschools have already been to nursery, although it is important to note that not all children go to nursery beforehand.

Preschools act as a way of preparing young children for formal education (primary school), so basic academic skills are practised. That being said, the environment is very relaxed despite being more academically structured than nurseries. Preschools have a range of benefits including the further building of social skills (continuing from nursery), a positive attitude towards learning, emotional regulation and a more creative, problem-solving mindset.

Like nurseries, preschools are an accessible form of childcare, depending on where you live in the UK; some areas may have more of a waiting list than others. To determine the quality of education and the programmes offered, online research will be important. Often, preschools are adjoined to a nursery (such as ours), to allow progression without the need for a completely new setting.


Playgroups are another form of early years childcare, commonly used by children between 2 to 4 years old, but this can vary slightly. Playgroups can vary in length, but are traditionally shorter than preschool classes and nurseries, depending on who organises them. This is because they’re run by either parents or organisations, so they might often fit around the schedule of parents that are running them.

Playgroups have a focus on play-based learning, featuring fun activities that challenge children’s cognitive development and have more of an emphasis on relationship building. However, these relationships are not just limited to the children themselves; playgroups are a great way of forming support networks, parent-to-parent, and broadening friendships beyond the children themselves. The environment is more informal than preschools and nurseries since they are often held in community centres, local halls, churches or private homes.


Childminders can cover a broader range of age groups, which offers greater flexibility for parents. Childminder care involves an individual being paid to provide either short or long-term care for a child. Childminders are OFSTED regulated and follow EYFS guidelines (early years foundation stage).

Professional childminders must be OFSTED registered to ensure safeguarding policies are adhered to; only then are they legal to look after children in their own homes. This gives a more homely feeling to the care given, as opposed to a larger setting such as a preschool classroom. The childminder could be a family friend, family member or a professional (so long as they hold the necessary registrations), and the care itself is more flexible and personalised to the child’s needs. In many cases, this type of care could be a cheaper option compared to larger facilities; so ideal for families with budget constraints.

Parent and Toddler Groups

Many people liken and confuse parent and toddler groups with playgroups, and they do have many similarities, especially in structure. Parent and toddler groups often involve children under the age of 5 years old, which is a wider age range compared to preschools and nurseries, but more similar to the ages covered in playgroups.

The main difference between parent and toddler groups and other forms of early years care is the fact that there is an emphasis on the active involvement of parents within the type of care, meaning that the parents stay throughout the group duration. Social interaction is encouraged between parents and children alike, meaning parents can form new social relationships, and the locations vary (such as parks, local halls, etc.), having a more informal, relaxed approach.

What Type of Childcare Is Best for You and Your Child’s Needs?

Having understood the differences between these types of childcare, you may be wondering which one is most appropriate for you and your child. This largely depends on your routine as a parent, and the age of your child. If you are looking to be actively involved in the care and can be flexible, parent and toddler groups could be a great option. If your job requires you to be busy for select periods of the day, a childminder could be useful, covering a larger range of ages. If you’re looking for your child to start regular, organised care, preschools and nurseries may be your preferred option, giving your child the opportunity to gain valuable social skills.

It is important to do your research on what types of care are available in your local area, as some settings may be more accessible than others. Speak to a range of childcare settings in your area to see what programmes they offer in order to give yourself a clear idea of what is best for you and your child. If you are based in or around South Croydon, contact us to see the range of options we have available for you; maybe we’ll provide the answer to your childcare needs.

Do You Require a Nursery or Preschool?

Looking for a nursery or preschool near the following areas; Kenley, Sanderstead, Coulsdon, Warlingham, Riddlesdown, South Croydon, Whyteleafe, Purley? Get in touch with us so we can discuss your requirements.