Demystifying the Difference: Preschools, Kindergartens and Child Care Centres in Singapore

July 10, 2017

What is the difference between preschools, kindergartens and child care centres in Singapore?

Many first-time Singaporean parents scratch their heads over this when they look for early child care care. Although the terms “preschool,” “kindergarten” and “child care centre” in Singapore are sometimes used interchangeably, there are key differences between them. Be sure to know what sets one apart from the other before you choose the best care arrangement for your child during his/her precious early years.

To start, know that in Singapore, any institution that provides early childhood care and education services is considered a preschool. As such, child care centres and kindergartens are both considered preschools; however, each caters to different needs and varies in education approaches. When in comes to choosing a child care centre or kindergartens in Singapore, note these main differences:

Age Criteria

Enrolment in child care centres is open for children aged 18 months to 6 years old, but some child care centres also provide infant care for children 2 months and up. Kindergartens only accept students between the ages of 3 to 6 years old.

In short, if your child is younger than three but you want him/her to go to school already, then a child care centre is your option.


 Child care centres provide both half-day (7am to 1 pm or 1pm to 7pm) and full-day programmes (7am to 7pm) to better suit working parents, with some childcare centres offering Saturday half-day class as well (7am to 1pm). If both you and your spouse are working full-time, a child care’s timing might better suit your schedule and give you peace of mind, especially if you cannot rely on caretakers or family members to help look after your child while you’re at work.

Kindergartens typically operate from Monday to Friday for three hours a day (e.g. 8am to 11am or 11am to 2pm), but the details of the timing vary depending on which kindergarten you choose. If you are a stay-at-home parent who does not require your child to be looked after for the entire day, but you would still like him/her to get exposure to formal education and interaction with peers, then a kindergarten might be an appealing option especially as it also frees up a few hours for you.

Closure and School Holidays 

Child care centres are only closed on Sundays and an additional 7 days in a year (including 2.5 days for staff training and half-days on three public holidays), while kindergartens follow the primary school calendar with school terms and holidays based on the dates released by MOE.

Education Approach

Child care centres in Singapore follow various early education approaches that may be Montessori, Reggio Emilia or Waldorf-inspired, or a blend of different approaches with enrichment and bilingualism programmes. The qualities of child care centres vary, with some that provide basic care and little more; these centres simply ensure your child is in a safe place, fed, and looked after daily.

On the other end of the spectrum, some child care centres may be provide more structured intellectual and social stimulation, such as themed lessons incorporating arts and crafts, physical education, mathematics, drama, and the like. In short, the education approach from child care centre to child care centre may range from academic to play-based learning to mostly free play.

In comparison, generally kindergarten programmes are focused on academics to prepare children for primary school education.

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Food and Routine Care

Child care centres provide meals (usually breakfast, lunch, and a snack). You can also expect your child to have shower time and nap time in school.

There is no nap time or shower time in a kindergarten because children are only there for a few hours a day. For that reason, no meals are served either, but children are given snacks between lessons.

Government Subsidy

Singapore Citizen children whose mother/single father works 56 hours or more per month are eligible for child care centre subsidies; the subsidy amount depends on the monthly household income and number of dependents in a family.

On the other hand, kindergarten school feels are not subsidised, although families whose monthly household income is $6,000 or below may qualify for the Kindergarten Fee Assistance Scheme.