What Is the Difference Between a Childcare Center & a Daycare Center?

by Teo Spengler ; Updated December 13, 2017

Some say “to-mah-to”; others say “to-may-to.” And places that look after kids are called “child-care centers” or “day care centers” by different folks and in different regions. While some may claim that child-care centers offer more child development work, that isn’t necessarily implicit in the definitions of the phrases.


  • Child-care centers and day care centers both offer out-of-home care for kids in a setting with other children. Distinctions between the two depend on the individual using them as well as regional differences.

Child Care vs. Day Care

Lots of parents rely on out-of-home care for their children while they’re at work. The places that offer this care are called day care centers or child-care centers. “Day care” may have been the first term used for this type of kid care. However, many child care and early education professionals object to the term. It seems to describe when the care is offered (during the day), but doesn’t touch on the type of attention given to the kids.

The term “child care” is more inclusive. Some parents work in the early morning hours, while others work late into the afternoon. The term “child care” may include these types of schedules better than “day care,” and it also indicates the importance of offering care for the kids in the terminology.

Home-Based Child Care vs. Commercial Child-Care Centers

The better distinction is between family child-care providers, in which care for children takes place in someone’s home, and commercial child-care centers. Both have advantages and disadvantages.

Family child-care providers offer a setting in a home with fewer children and, perhaps, more hands-on attention. Given that these take place in a home, less overhead is involved in providing the care. Therefore, it’s often the less-expensive alternative.

On the other hand, commercial child-care centers have unique benefits going for them. Their staff is larger, with many different child-care providers/teachers. That means that you won’t be left high and dry if a provider is ill. It also assures you that more than one set of eyes is watching over your kids. And the teachers may bring more educational background to their work, depending on state regulations. Kids are often divided into age-based classrooms in these centers and given age-appropriate activities and entertainment.

Both commercial and home care facilities are usually licensed by the state, which guarantees a level of cleanliness and safety. Some commercial centers, however, are equipped with closed-circuit cameras monitored by the center’s director, and some even have a webcam so parents can watch over their child as they work.

About the Author

From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. World traveler, professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.