Written and Images by: Kiera Elliot-Pickett

What’s the difference between Child care & Kindergarten?

Surely, I am not the only one who is confused by the differences between childcare and kindergarten? And I definitely can’t be the only mum that over analyses the decision to send my child to childcare/kindergarten either?

The decision becomes even more difficult when there is such a vast difference between each centre because of  what’s included or not.

Like, do we have to take food –  what is even allowed these days with allergies and what-not? And don’t even get me started on fees!

If you’re a new mum looking to put your little one into childcare for the first time, or you’re experiencing the transition from childcare to kindergarten, you’ll want to read on to learn more about childcare fees, inclusions, sessional hours, ratio and learning environments


It’s safe to say, childcare in Australia isn’t the cheapest (but most of the time, essential) service, ranging anywhere from $90 to $200 per day – per child.
The good thing is the
government subsidises your fees based on your combined family income; which for an average family usually sees about 50 – 85% of your total childcare fees paid for.
Even still, childcare costs Australian families around $10, 000 per year, after the subsidy per child.

So, let’s compare that to kindergarten. In Australia, Kinder is between $45 – 80 per day. However, every child is entitled to free or subsidised preschool for 15 hours a week (or 600 hours in a year).

While the cost of education can’t be avoided, some childcare centres offer “Nurch childcare loyalty rewards” which give back a little to their families. This program is literally like FlyBuys  but for childcare. Nurch members earn 1 point for every dollar spent and the total is redeemable for gift cards. There are more points to earn per $1 spent the longer you are enrolled or if you are offered a promotional day too. The best part of the program is that it doesn’t take weeks to get a reward,  you only need 300 points to redeem a $10 digital gift card at your favourite Australian retailer.

But what is your hard-earned money getting you as a whole childcare/kindergarten experience?

What’s included

Whilst most child care provides essentials such as nappies and food, when it’s time to start Kinder, it’s also time to start packing the bags the night before & get out some mummy food blogs and gather some ideas for lunch boxes.
Kinder does not supply any food or essentials  for the kids and that is probably the reason why
it’s also a lot cheaper. If your kiddo isn’t quite toilet trained, be sure to pack a spare pair of underwear and clothes!


A huge blow to my system when learning the differences between childcare and kinder was finding out about the difference in contact hours.
Most childcare centres open  between 6- 7am and close around 6pm. This caters for the vast majority of professionals or trades – except for night shift-workers.
I used to think sending my son to childcare for 7-8 hours was too long; and then you get used to it, enjoy it – and some might say, even crave that time away from them.

most kindergartens are a mere five-hour session 😱.
My initial reaction was –
how do parents work around this? Especially those who –

A. Need to travel to get their child to a kinder
B. Who work set business hours

No fear. Luckily, there are some ways to make Kinder work for most working mums who need more than 5 hours care per day!

1. Before & After care
Before & After care is a program designed to look after your child before and after kindergarten. It is a type of daycare that provides a space for your child to continue learning, growing and stay in a safe environment until you’ve finished work or are ready to collect them. Often, after care is offered when a kinder is at a daycare, or in very close proximity. When shopping around for a kinder – be sure to ask if this service is provided. You can expect to pay the daily childcare rate but your subsidy comes off this if you are eligible for it.

Longer sessions

Now, don’t get me wrong – there are Kinder’s that offer longer hours; like 7-hour sessions, but in my experience, spots fill up quickly so be sure to get your name down on their lists early if you feel like a longer session kinder is appropriate for your family. Keep in mind,

7-hour sessions = 2 days per week;
5-hour sessions = 3 days per week.

3. Transport

Some before & after care providers, or day cares, offer a pick-up/drop-off service which allows you to extend your working day. This service is usually included in your after-care fees if the centre is remote and they want to cater to a wider demographic. If you live in the city, it’s not a service that is offered

4. Babysitting

If you find yourself out of these options, consider hiring a babysitter or reach out to a family member. A babysitter will set you back about $25 per hour – something to consider when budgeting.  A family member might be a lot cheaper (or free) but it may not be a reliable option. As a parent, you need to work out what suits your family.

Ratio & Learning

The Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority has strict guidelines for each state on children to educator’s ratio for child care and kindergartens; start at 1 educator per 4 children in childcare, aged from birth to 24 months. Educators in childcare must have a minimum qualification of Certificate III in Early Childcare Education and Care. At childcare there is a  play based “curriculum” where learning based on the ABC’s/ 123’s is done through sensory activities, creativity and fun. Kinder, however, is a program that makes learning a focus so children are ready to start school. Expect your child to learn cognitive skills, interpersonal and social skills – in a more structured routine, but still a relaxed version of primary school. The requirement is that at least  one Kindergarten teacher   has a Degree in Early Childhood Teaching –including those who teach three-year-old Kinder. On a side note to the extraordinarily high fees you will pay, the main reason for this is the ratio and educational requirements of our teachers. So when you are deciding on your care, check that the ratios and learning are what you are paying for.

Note: The structure of Childcare and Kindergarten can vary in each state, so before you decide on a centre, work out what structure might work best for your child and your family.  It pays to shop around to make an “educated” decision (pun intended).
Be sure to visit the shortlisted centres at least three times and at different times of the day.

Ask lots of questions and always rely on your gut feeling. You have got this mumma, it’s an agonizing decision but every working mum has been in your shoes at least once.

Share your tricks and opinions in the comments below