kindergarten vs preschool

Kindergarten vs Preschool: What Are the Differences?

Studies show that children who attend preschool perform better once they enter Kindergarten. Preschool isn’t mandatory, but it can help prepare your child for a more structured classroom setting.

Since both preschool and kindergarten teach children social skills, reading, writing, and math, you may wonder what the difference is. As the name suggests, preschool lays the groundwork for elementary school.

But the differences don’t end there. In this article, we’ll offer an in-depth comparison of kindergarten vs preschool so you can make an informed decision for your young learner.

What is a Preschool?

A preschool offers education and child care to children under the age of five and too young to attend regular school. The classroom environment is designed to help prepare young learners for kindergarten. These programs are sometimes referred to as kindergarten prep. 

The main objective of preschool is to introduce both educational and social concepts to students. Most classroom interactions promote play, exploration, and self-discovery. For many students, preschool is their first experience in a structured classroom setting.

Preschools are also designed to foster social and emotional learning and development. Students learn language and vocabulary skills to communicate and work better with their peers. Preschool also focuses on nurturing a child’s imagination and creativity. 

In preschool, students learn problem-solving and communication skills while building self-confidence. Basic educational concepts are also introduced including reading, writing, math, and science, but very informally. Most of the learning in a preschool setting is done through play

What is a Kindergarten?

Kindergarten is similar to preschool in many ways but serves slightly older children, aged five and six years old. Although kindergarten isn’t mandatory, it’s strongly encouraged as a way to prepare your child for elementary school. 

A child can enter kindergarten without first attending preschool. Additionally, your child can enter first grade without having attended kindergarten. 

Kindergarten is considered the elementary school grade before first grade. Here, students build and expand upon the concepts they learned in preschool. Educators focus on teaching school readiness skills. Teachers use a loose curriculum to help teach structure and foster independence.

The term kindergarten means “garden for children” and was invested by Friedrich Froebel. Froebel established the first kindergarten classroom in 1837 in Germany.

He placed great importance on play and considered games essential for children’s social, intellectual, and spiritual development. These concepts are still embraced today in both kindergarten vs preschool classrooms. Emphasis is placed on fostering a love of learning and promoting exploration and creativity. 

A Closer Look at Kindergarten vs Preschool

Now that you know the basic differences between preschool and kindergarten, let’s compare the two programs more closely. 

Accreditation and Certification 

Most preschools are privately owned by individuals, cooperations, or non-profit organizations including churches. Some preschools function similarly to a childcare facility. This means children can attend the facility all day with only a portion of that day consisting of educational instruction. 

Many preschools are not accredited by a state agency and function independently from the local school systems. Because of this, many preschools vary in curriculum, quality, and standards. 

Kindergarten classrooms, on the other hand, are required to meet certain state education standards. Many kindergarten programs are overseen by the local school system and utilize the same curriculum. This helps create cohesiveness for students and educators. 

Age Served

One of the main differences between kindergarten vs preschool is the age of the students. It’s also important to note that not all states and areas follow the same set of standards. Some preschools accept children of any age, whereas most kindergarten classrooms require students to be at least five years old. 

Some preschools have different programs for different age groups. For example, infant and toddler programs are structured very differently than in a classroom. Once children are fully potty trained, the establishment may offer a preschool program for three-year-olds and a separate program for four-year-olds. The latter is designed for kindergarten prep while the three-year-old program is a stepping stone. 

Different states have different laws regarding kindergarten enrollment. Most programs accommodate children ages four to six years old. Check your local school system’s enrollment cut-off date. 

Educational Concepts

Educational milestones and expectations are different in kindergarten vs preschool. The concepts being taught also vary based on the students’ ages.

Every state has its own set of educational milestones that children must meet before entering first grade. These are often based on kindergarten readiness standards. With these standards in place, kindergarten classrooms are much more focused on educational skills and concepts like reading, writing, and math. 

Preschool, on the other hand, has very few (if any) educational standards that students must meet other than being fully potty trained. In a preschool setting, parents will receive periodic reports on the child’s developmental milestones, achievements, and behavior. Children don’t receive grades, assignments, or progress reports. 

Because kindergarten is structured much more like a classroom and students follow a set curriculum, you can expect regular updates and progress reports. You may even be invited to attend a parent-teacher conference to discuss your child’s performance. All of this is done to ensure your young learner is prepared for first grade. 

Student Behavior and Social Awareness

Neither preschool nor kindergarten is meant it discipline your children. However, based on the student’s age, there are different expectations of their behavior and social skills.

For many children, preschool is their first experience in a classroom setting. Some students have never been away from their parents or interacted with other kids their age. There’s a significant learning curve for these children which requires patience and experience from teachers.

Children in a preschool classroom are encouraged to play and interact while learning basic social skills like sharing and using their manners. In most cases, kindergarten students are expected to have already learned, if not mastered, these skills. Kindergarten students often have more impulse control and independence. Teachers will expect them to focus for short periods of time and retain information.

Preschool children are much more energetic, impulsive, and have shorter attention spans. Both settings require patience, understanding, and redirection. 

Classroom Schedule and Attendance Requirements 

Kindergarten programs are designed to follow the same schedule as a normal school day. Most students will attend a full-day program that ranges from six to seven hours. Some states offer a half-day kindergarten program as well, but many are moving to the full-day structure. This helps prepare students for first grade.

Kindergarten students are expected to attend class five days a week — Monday through Friday. While there’s not much emphasis placed on attendance in kindergarten, consistency is important. When a student has too many absences, they tend to fall behind. Many lessons are built on the previous one, making regular attendance important for success in kindergarten.

Preschool programs offer a variety of scheduling options for parents. Some establishments offer full- and half-day programs as well as only part-time attendance. Students can attend anywhere from three to five days a week, depending on what the facility offers.

Attendance in preschool is more about establishing a healthy routine for your child than concern over excessive absences.  

Things to Consider Before Enrolling Your Child in Kindergarten vs Preschool

As your child grows older and becomes more eager to explore the world around them, you may be wondering if kindergarten vs preschool is best for them. Every child is unique and you know your child best. While preschool may be perfect for some kids, others may benefit from waiting to enter kindergarten.

If you’re still unsure, here are a few factors to consider before making a decision.

Basic Skills

Children need basic skills to enter a classroom setting. This guarantees both they and their peers have a positive experience. Here are some basic skills your preschooler will need:

  • Fully potty trained
  • Understand the concept of sharing and keeping their hands to themselves
  • Have the stamina to complete a half-or full-day program

Kindergarten days are often longer and require more independence from students. Here are a few signs your child is ready for this next step:

  • Knows their own personal information (name, age, address)
  • Performs basic personal needs (bathroom, washing hands)
  • Asks for help when needed
  • Takes care of personal items (backpack, lunchbox, desk, supplies)

Social Skills

Some children mature faster than others and are naturally outgoing, while others are shyer or more reserved. While preschool can help your child come out of their shell, it may also be overwhelming for them.

Signs your child is ready for preschool include:

  • The ability to separate from mom
  • The ability to successfully interact with other children

Recommended social skills for kindergarten include:

  • Can follow simple instructions
  • Can focus on and retain information
  • Identifies and respects authority 

Academic Skills

Children attend both preschool and kindergarten to learn academic skills, which is why there are few requirements for enrollment. However, you may want to introduce your child to the following concepts before they enter preschool:

  • Recognizing their name by site
  • Recognizing basic letters and numbers
  • Ability to count to ten

Kindergarten requirements are slightly more advanced, but not mandatory, and include:

  • Ability to count beyond ten and recognize numbers
  • Knows how to spell (and possibly write) their first name
  • Matches rhyming words and sounds
  • Speaks in complete sentences

Prepare Your Child for Success with These Preschool and Kindergarten Tips

At the end of the day, you know your child best. Every young learner develops at their own pace. Even if one of your children attended both preschool and kindergarten, your next child may benefit more from one or the other.

Understanding the basic differences between kindergarten vs preschool can help aid in your decision. You should also consider the school’s method of teaching, curriculum, and state requirements. 

If you want to learn more about the Montessori method, we can help. With five convenient locations and a sixth coming soon, you can find the best program for your child’s unique needs.

Click here to schedule a tour and foster your child’s love of learning today. 







AUTHOR: Montessori School of Downtown

It all began over 30 years ago with two newlyweds who were passionate about education. Together, Ms. Rita, a renowned professional educator, and Mr. Hersh, a natural teacher and entrepreneur, created a child care education program that focused on the concept of self-inspired learning.View all posts by Montessori School of Downtown |