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Preschool vs Pre-K: What’s the Difference?

Preschool teacher doing a sensory activity with two preschool children in the classroom

“Preschool” and “pre-kindergarten” (or “pre-k”) are two terms that are often used interchangeably. But are these two kindergarten readiness programs the same? And if so, why do so many schools offer both?

Are Preschool and Pre-K the Same?

Essentially, preschool and pre-kindergarten are the same program, because they have the same goal – preparing children for kindergarten. However, many schools and daycare centers offer them as separate programs, as there is often a slight difference in the age of the children and the classroom structure.

What’s the Difference Between Preschool and Pre-K?


The primary difference between preschool programs and pre-kindergarten programs is the age of the children. Pre-kindergarteners are typically a year older than preschoolers, in their final year in an early childhood setting before heading off to kindergarten.

In most childcare centers, children will begin as an infant, and then transition to toddler, preschool, and then pre-kindergarten before graduating. A preschool classroom serves as a buffer between toddlerhood and the year before kindergarten.

Classroom Structure

While both programs emphasize instilling strong kindergarten readiness skills through social-emotional development, language development, STEAM, and more, pre-kindergarten programs are slightly more focused on structured activities that are similar to what children will experience in kindergarten.

Typically, children in a pre-kindergarten classroom start kindergarten the very next year. (Hence the name, pre­-kindergarten.)  In children’s final year in an early childhood environment, pre-k teachers prioritize preparing students with all the school readiness skills required for a successful transition to kindergarten. A strong educational foundation not only ensures children are well-prepared for primary school, but also helps them excel.

Preschool vs Pre-K: Age Difference

So you may be asking, what are the ages of preschoolers and pre-kindergarteners?

What Age is Preschool?

Children can be ready to start preschool at different times, but most kids begin preschool around the age of 3. Preschoolers are usually 3-4 years old.

What Age is Pre-Kindergarten?

A child is considered “pre-kindergarten age” when they reach the year before entering kindergarten. Children’s exact ages can differ, as children enter kindergarten at different times, but typically pre-kindergarteners are 4-5 years old.

Is My Child Ready for Preschool?

Ages aside, it’s important to remember that it’s okay to send your child to preschool at a time when they are ready. Talk with your current daycare provider about transitioning your child into a preschool program. Early childhood teachers will have valuable insights regarding your child’s development and can recommend a suitable time for transitioning your toddler into preschool.

Explore Our Preschool Program

Choosing a Preschool

As you begin searching for a preschool program for your child, it’s important to consider a number of factors. From location to curriculum, accreditations, safety, and more, there are a lot of important questions to ask before deciding on a school.

We recommend touring a variety of local preschools and using our Quality Preschool Checklist to compare different options.  While we believe that the best place for your child is New Horizon Academy, it’s important that you choose a quality preschool that prioritizes safety and education regardless of your decision.

Quality Preschool Checklist

Download Quality Preschool Checklist

New Horizon Academy is a nationally accredited preschool and early learning provider with over 100 schools in Minnesota, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, and Kansas. Our preschool and pre-k programs use a research-based curriculum to prepare children for kindergarten through a variety of developmentally appropriate and engaging activities to support physical, cognitive, language, and social-emotional development.

Schedule a tour to learn more about our highly trained teachers, safe and secure facilities, and commitment to providing the highest quality education and care. Contact a New Horizon Academy preschool near you today!

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