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What is the Difference Between Preschool and Pre-K?

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

How are Preschool and Pre-K different? As a parent, there are many things to consider when raising and educating our children. We’ll give you the answer to one of the bigger education questions out there.

The biggest difference between Preschool and Pre-k is the age difference. Preschool typically ranges between 2 ½ and 5 ½ years old depending on each school’s enrollment requirements. Pre-K focuses on children between 4 and 5 years old. Curriculums differ as well. Pre-K is typically more advanced than Preschool.

In this article, we’ll dig deeper into these differences and similarities. But it is also important to understand your child’s developmental milestones. These are the things that most children can do by a particular age. Children develop differently than others and you should know if your child is falling behind or leaping ahead.

What is Preschool?

Preschools are typically privately run organizations that prepare your child for school. It is literally defined as the ages before starting school: birth through Pre K. Preschool happens no matter how old the child is or where they are. Even from birth, children are learning – at home, in a center, at the grocery store, in the car… That is Preschool.

What is the Curriculum in Preschool?

Preschool focuses on developing school readiness through child-guided, teacher-directed, play-based activities. They learn:

  • Self-confidence

  • Curiosity and discovery

  • Pre-language and pre-reading skills

  • Physics and math

  • Art and science

  • Imaginative play

  • Fine and gross motor skills

  • Character Development

  • Self-control and communication

  • Self-soothing and self-discipline

  • Problem-solving

The skills they gain cannot be taught by jumping right to reading and writing letters and words or counting numbers. There is no context for a child.

It would be like you and I never learning addition and jumping right into calculus. Children need a chance to familiarize themselves with the world – fill and dump, build and destroy, drop things, throw things, feel things, fall down, stand up. Then they can begin to understand the purpose of words and numbers. This is why play-based learning is so important. Children learn well when they are mentally active, social, engaged in the activity, and can make meaningful connections. Playing encourages these behaviors.

Is Preschool Required?

Most states require that children go through readiness evaluations before they can be enrolled in Kindergarten. You can view those entrance assessment requirements at the Education Commission of the States’ website.

While not a requirement itself, Preschool can help with these exams.

What Does Preschool Cost?

The cost for Preschool can vary, depending on the type of program you enroll your child in. It also depends on location. Research from Child Care Aware of America (CCA) shows an average cost range of $4,460 to $13,158 per year. The CCA website also has a U.S. map where you can see average costs for Preschool in each state.

Expensive, urban areas will charge more. A full-day Preschool that runs five days a week will have high costs as well.

Could Preschool be Bad for My Child?

Likely not, as Preschool teaches children how to interact with kids of other ages. They get more experience in a classroom setting and are exposed to a variety of learning materials.

If the Preschool doesn’t have strict and consistent guidelines to deal with biting or other harmful behavior your child could experience some hurt. You’ll also want to ensure that the school has a policy of doing background checks on all employees.

What is Pre-K?

The best way to think of Pre-K is as a transition between Preschool and Kindergarten. It’s ideal for children who need a little more time to get used to school. This is also where children go when they don’t pass tests to get into Kindergarten.

What is the Curriculum in Pre-K?

Pre-K focuses on developing skills needed for Kindergarten. Lessons are typically more advanced than Preschool. Children learn to work independently to build self-confidence. But they still work with others on more detail-oriented projects.

Lessons tend to be student-led. If the students become interested in a certain topic, they can develop their own projects for it with the teacher’s help. They learn math, science, and critical thinking skills.

Is Pre-K Required?

Pre-K is only required if a child tests too low in readiness areas to get into Kindergarten. Usually, students do well enough in Preschool to go right into Kindergarten.

What does Pre-K Cost?

Some states offer voluntary Pre-K programs at no cost if children meet certain requirements. They do this through public schools and other learning centers. There are private Pre-K institutions that will charge tuition. Like Preschool, the costs will depend on the program and location.

Could Pre-K be Bad for My Child?

A number of studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of Pre-K. A state-wide test in Tennessee showed that, while there are gains in the program, the long-term effects are few. You can read more about this study on It’s important to note that this is only one study. Since the results take quite a few years to become evident, the conclusions may not be applicable to current times.

All in all, Pre-K isn’t bad for your child so long as they’re in a qualified program. Do your research and look for a program that fits your child’s needs.

What Do Childhood Development Authorities Think?

While there are arguments for and against Preschool and Pre-k, most experts agree on one major thing.

They recommend a play-based Preschool to help children develop social skills over academic skills. Play-based provides children with more critical-thinking skills and keeps them curious.

Dr. Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology and studies child brain development at the University of California at Berkeley. In her studies, she has found that children are naturally curious and that they learn best through playing and exploring.

Dr. Lilian Katz, an expert on early childhood education, advocates for a Project Approach. She says that children should be exposed to various experiences rather than repetitive academic work.

Conclusion: Which Should A Parent Choose?

Preschool is a great option for children to prepare them for school. But some kids do need some extra help. And that’s okay! It all depends on how your child learns.

Some may need Pre-K to give them the extra boost they need for their learning experience.

At the Preschool Group, we build our curriculum around play-based, experiential learning. Our instructors are trained to sense each child’s pace and interests. We believe in a child-directed, teacher-guided education process.

Other Resources:

Recommended Books and Resources from the Preschool Group

First Things First: Ages and Stages

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