Child care or kindergarten: What’s the difference and which is best for your family?

July 19, 2019
  • What is preschool?
    1 / 4 What is preschool?

    So your little one is ready for preschool, but you’re not quite sure where to enrol him. Should he be placed in infant care or childcare? Or should he attend a kindergarten or a preschool?

    Before you decide, it’s important to understand their differences. That way, you’ll figure out what level and quality of education he needs at this early age.

    “Preschool” is an all-encompassing term; it is used to describe any institution that provides early childhood care and education. Depending on Junior’s age, childcare and educational needs, and your budget and working status, you can send him to infant care, childcare or kindergarten.

    Iris Lim, principal at Chiltern House Preschool, says that there are numerous differences between each one, from the activities your child will participate in and the things he will learn, to the school or centre’s vision and mission. How the curriculum is carried out will also vary.

    Find out more about the common terms you need to know about.


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  • What is infantcare?
    2 / 4 What is infantcare?

    This is one option to consider if you and your spouse work and there is no one to look after Baby after your maternity leave is up. Besides full-day programmes for infants aged two to 18 months old, there are also half-day ones if you have a helper, but want Baby to be in a more stimulating environment, or if you work part-time.

    As well as offering reliable care services, infant-care providers aim to help young children develop physically, cognitively and psycho-socially, through various activities. The “educarers” at such centres are required by law to be trained and qualified to work with infants and toddlers. The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) stipulates that there should be one educarer for every five children.

    Fees vary from just above $1,000 to over $2,000 a month, according to checks on ECDA’s website. Visit ECDA’s Child Care Link to look for a centre.

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  • What is childcare?
    3 / 4 What is childcare?

    Such centres cater to working parents who need full-time care for their children and accept kids aged 18 months to six years old. As they have to be open from 7am to 7pm on weekdays, and 7am to 2pm on Saturdays, children are provided meals and time to nap.

    The younger the child, the smaller his class will be, according to ECDA’s ratios for programme staff to children. This ensures that every kid has sufficient care, Iris explains. For example, if your child is 21?2 to three years old, his class can have no more than 12 children, with one teacher in charge. If he is aged four to five years old, his class may have up to 20.

    Kids in childcare participate in activities that are designed to develop their motor, language, literacy, numeracy and social skills. They also learn about their environment, and are taught how to express themselves creatively. Iris adds that the children go on field trips, too.

    Fees vary considerably. A report in The Straits Times (ST) last year put the mean fee at $907 a month, although premium schools may charge more than double that figure.

    The good news is, though, that government schemes have helped some centres lower their fees. ST reported that 169 centres offering 16,500 places – that’s one in seven centres in Singapore – will cap their fees at $800 for full-day childcare in return for government grants under the partner operator scheme (visit

    Or, you can look for anchor operators, which cap their fees at $720 a month and get priority in securing Housing Board sites for their centres. They include My First Skool by NTUC First Campus, E-Bridge Pre-School by Etonhouse International, as well as Skool4kidz, a consortium led by Kinderland Educare Services.

    Childcare centres may also offer half-day or flexible hour programmes, as well. Visit ECDA’s Child Care Link to search for options near you.

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  • What is kindergarten?
    4 / 4 What is kindergarten?

    Targeted at children aged from about three years old up to age six, kindergartens prepare kids for formal schooling. Unlike childcare centres, the hours are much shorter and do not include meals or naps.

    If you are planning to send your child to one, it’s important to understand the differences between private centres and those run by the Ministry of Education (MOE). The former often offer classes for playgroup, pre-nursery and nursery, while MOE’s centres cater only to K1- and K2-age kids.

    There are stark differences in fees, as well: MOE’s kindergartens charge $160 per month for Singaporean kids, and $320 for those who are permanent residents. This is much lower than privately owned kindies, whose fees may be well over $1,000 per term of 10 weeks, Iris notes.

    Affordable, quality preschool education is, after all, one of the main goals of MOE kindergartens, she adds. However, all but one of the MOE kindies also offer Kindergarten Care, or KCare – childcare services for five- and six-year-olds, which are run by its partners. These cost slightly more than double its monthly kindergarten fee, but are still low compared to what private operators charge for full-day childcare. 

    The ministry’s centres do not offer enrichment, but Iris points out that some private kindergartens may hold enrichment classes in the afternoon.

    Kindergartens also differ from childcare centres in that they operate according to standard school terms and are closed on Saturdays. The teacher-to-student ratio differs according to the age of the kids. The
    younger ones may be part of a class of
    about 15 children, with one teacher in charge who is usually assisted by a teacher-aide. Older kids may be part of a class of 20 to 25 students, with one teacher in charge.

    MOE’s kindergarten curriculum framework for all centres, private and government-owned, covers six main areas: Aesthetics and Creative Expression, Discovery of the World, Language and Literacy, Motor Skills Development, Numeracy, and Social and Emotional Development, says Iris. To read more about it, click here.


    Related stories:
    Choosing a preschool: decoding the jargon




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