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From au-pair and childminder to the interchangeably used preschool, daycare, day nursery and kindergarten, we take a look at some of the commonly used terms in childcare and Early Years education.


An Au-Pair is a young person, aged between 18-30, from another country who temporarily lives with a host family and helps to take cake care of young children. The au-pairs generally provide childcare in exchange for room, board and a weekly/monthly stipend during their time abroad.



A babysitter is a person who takes care of a child/children on behalf of their parents/guardians for a short period of time. Babysitters are not necessarily trained or qualified in childcare. They generally undertake the work for pocket money or as an additional source of income and are paid on an hourly basis.



A crèche is a place where young children are cared for while their parents are away for work, study, shopping etc. Crèches generally operate within shopping centres, gyms and offices and can offer childcare for 1-12 hours, as required.



A childminder is a registered childcare professional who offers childcare for up to 6 children aged three months – eight years. They are generally self-employed and operate from their own homes. They are legally required to be trained, insured and qualified in Paediatric first aid. They may also offer additional services such as picking up and dropping off older children to and from school.


Daycare Centre

A daycare centre is a common term used in the U.S for an establishment that takes care of children (in the age group of 3 months - 6 years) who have not yet started formal schooling. Daycare centres are meant to allow parents to work full time or avail extended relief if childcare is a problem. They may be home-based or centre-based and generally provide options for morning/afternoon or full-time sessions, as required.


Day Nursery

A day nursery is the British equivalent of a daycare centre. They refer to childcare establishments where children who are too young to start primary school are cared for while their parents are at work. The age range and time of operation is similar to that of daycares.


ECE Centre

ECE (Early Childhood Education) Centre is a broad term (commonly used in the U.S and New Zealand) to describe facilities that offer childcare for children who are not old enough for formal schooling. They can be home-based, centre-based or within conventional nurseries, kindergarten or public school settings. ECE programs can vary widely in their funding and sponsorship and can be operated by local school systems or through government-funded programs.


Elementary School

Elementary school is the North American equivalent of a primary school. Elementary schools offer formal education to children between 6-13 years of age and typically follow the curriculum set by individual school districts.



A kindergarten (German for ‘garden of children’) is broadly defined as a place that offers the first stages of classroom education for children of 3 – 6 years of age. The operation time for kindergarten varies from half days to full days.

In the U.S, the kindergarten is part of the formal K-12 schooling and system administered through elementary schools. However, in most other parts of the world, it may refer to an informal setting such as a daycare or preschool.



A maternelle is the French equivalent of a kindergarten. Children in the age group of 3-5 years can attend, and attendance is not mandatory. Maternelles are state-run and administered by the local authorities.


Nursery School

A nursery school can be called a kindergarten, preschool or daycare. It is mostly attended by kids between the ages of three to five. Educational programs at nursery schools involve a combination of play, learning and exploration. Nursery teachers have degrees in early childhood education and the school either follow a private curriculum or one set by the government.



A playgroup is a small informal group that meets for half day sessions. These sessions are often organised in community centres, churches etc. and attended by infants and toddlers who are accompanied by a parent or guardian.



A preschool is defined as a school for children who are between 3-5 years of age – children who have not yet started formal education. It’s also interchangeably called a pre-kindergarten (Pre-K), pre-primary school, nursery school, day nursery or daycare. A preschool’s primary aim is to prepare kids for their transition to primary/elementary school. The programs generally offered at preschools help children to develop their social skills, motor skills, language skills, and emotional skills.


Primary School

Primary school is referred to as an educational establishment that offers the first stage of compulsory education. This term is typically used in the UK, Ireland and most Common Wealth nations. Primary education is generally offered free of charge through state-run schools, but may also be offered as part of fee-paying independent schools.



This is one aspect of early learning that is peculiar to the UK (except Scotland and Northern Ireland). The reception class comes immediately after nursery school. In other words, reception is the name of the first year of primary school and is strictly for kids aged 4-5 years. Its purpose is to help kids make a smooth transition from nursery to primary school. The children in reception still learn through play, but unlike nursery, they engage in more structured group activities.


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Choosing a childcare provider – Childminder, Nanny or Nursery?

A Peek into the Evolution of Early Childhood Education


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