Early childhood education in Canada: Preschool, daycare, and nursery school

By Amanda Owusu

Posted on September 6, 2021
In Canada, mandatory schooling typically starts after a child’s fifth birthday. However, there are programs and schools that children can attend before they start full-time schooling. This is referred to as early childhood education, and can usually take the form of daycares, preschools, and nursery schools. There are differences between these types of schools and programs that are important to consider when determining the best fit for your child. This article will give you a more in-depth look at how early childhood education works in Canada.

What is early childhood education?

Early childhood education in Canada varies from province to province, but it typically takes on the same structure. Early childhood education refers to the non-compulsory programs and schools that children can attend before going to elementary school. These programs are generally offered for children between the ages of 3 to 5, the exception being nursery schools, which usually go from a few months old to age 3, but this can also vary.

You can choose between preschools, daycares, and nursery schools. Preschools and nursery schools tend to be more structured like elementary schools and focus on teaching children a curriculum and skills. Daycares, however, tend to be more focused on providing the child with fun activities and supervision rather than formal teaching. Preschools and daycares can be privately or publicly operated, and some subsidies are available to help parents manage the costs.

There are also regulated and unregulated daycares, preschools, and nursery schools in Canada. If a nursery school or daycare is regulated, that means that they have registered their facility with the government, and are subject to provincial rules and supervision. If a nursery school or daycare is unregulated, that means they are not licensed or registered by the government, and therefore, are not being supervised by them. Unregulated facilities can be dangerous due to the lack of accountability and supervision by a government body. If you have issues at a facility that is regulated, it is easier to resolve them or find someone to help you; however, this is not always the case with unregulated facilities. Unregulated facilities tend to be cheaper than regulated facilities, but remember it’s always best to prioritize safe childcare. You can find more information on unregulated childcare facilities and things to be aware of by visiting Finding Quality Care.com.
It’s also worth mentioning that many preschools and daycares have a waitlist and waitlist fees. Because early childhood education is optional in Canada, you have to apply and be accepted. Waitlists for these programs can sometimes be extremely long and some places even charge you a fee to be on the waitlist. Take this into consideration when choosing your daycare/preschool, and start the process early.


Early childhood education and early childhood care are not publicly funded in Canada. This means that caregivers have to pay out of pocket for their child to attend these programs and facilities. Canada is known for its “astronomically high child care prices,” but there are programs that can help lessen the cost, and the cost can vary depending on where you’re located. For instance, Montréal has cheaper childcare than Toronto, with a median monthly cost of $175 in Montreal and $1675 in Toronto. As the cost of early childcare in Canada can vary, it’s important to shop around and do your research before committing to a school.
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Grants and subsidies

Across Canada, the government has been making an effort to make licensed childcare more accessible to everyone. As a result, the government has developed many subsidy programs that can help lessen the cost of childcare. As a part of these programs, the government pays a portion of the childcare fees. You have to apply for these subsidies to qualify, you are not automatically considered. Most of these applications base your eligibility on your most recent tax return. There are different ways to apply depending on where you are located. Typically, the municipal government has information on these programs that can be found on their website and have online application portals you can use. You can also call your city’s local citizen line by dialling 311, which is free of charge if you’re calling within local city limits. You will be connected with a government worker that can help you find out more about these programs. For example, the City of Toronto has an online application portal that caregivers can use to apply on their website, or these services can be accessed by calling 311. A quick google search can help you find out what subsidies are available to you. It is also worth asking the school if they have any information on this.

Depending on the preschool or daycare your child is attending, there might be financial aid available. Some preschools and daycares offer financial aid in the form of scholarships; when contacting schools, you should ask if they offer any type of financial aid.

Things to consider

Deciding where your child will begin their education can be an overwhelming process. To ease the stress, there are a few important things that you should take into consideration when making this decision. First, you want to consider your child’s needs and what you are hoping they get out of this process. This can help you decide between a preschool or daycare. Next, you want to consider the location and how far you’re willing to commute. You also want to consider the location because the price can change a lot depending on where you are looking. Remember that there are unregulated or regulated facilities, and a regulated facility can provide you with more safety and peace of mind. It’s also worth considering the educational approach that the facility takes. For instance, some schools are centred around play-based learning, while others are centred around arts-based learning and activities. Lastly, you want to consider the cost of the facility as this can be the ultimate deal-breaker when making your choice. Considering these factors can help you make the best choice for you and your child, making for an enjoyable experience.

We hope this article was informative and helped to answer important questions that you may have about early childhood education in Canada. We wish you and your child all the best of luck on this new academic journey!

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