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

Becoming a parent requires moms and dads to be fluent in some pretty technical jargon. Reggio Emilia versus Montessori. SEL versus EI

And then you hear that some of your kid’s friends are enrolling in preschool, while others are enrolling in pre-kindergarten (pre-K), and somehow there’s a difference?


Thankfully, the difference between preschool and pre-K is pretty straightforward. Here’s what you need to know. 

The Difference Between Preschool & Pre-K

The simple answer to the question, “What’s the difference between preschool and pre-kindergarten?” really comes down to age. But that quick answer has a lot of detailed reasons behind it.

Look at a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old. Count all of the differences between them, and that’s why there’s a delineation between preschool and pre-K. Along with age comes some pretty important developmental stages that affect what and how much a child can learn. Many learning centers include both preschools and pre-K programs, but they can also provide one or the other. Knowing what your child needs is an important thing to know as you look for schools.

What Is Preschool?

In a nutshell, preschool is designed for kids who are 2 to 4 years old. The activities and learning they do is done through shapes, colors, and numbers instead of “hard” skills like math and science. It’s much less structured and utilizes a lot more group activities that are hands-on. 

Also, preschools usually don’t run for a full day or every day of the week. So don’t be surprised if there’s a 12:30 pick-up time and classes are only on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Every school is different, though, so check with each one to make sure you understand when your child would be in class.

A lot of the time, learning centers will advertise themselves as a preschool but also have pre-K classes. If you have a 4-5-year-old who is ready for a more engaged learning environment, make sure to ask any preschool you’re interested in if they also have a pre-K curriculum. If they don’t, your child might not be engaged enough and getting the full experience you’re looking for. 

What Is Pre-K?

Pre-K is more “exclusive.” (That doesn’t mean they get luxury yachts or VIP access to theme parks. Sorry.) 


Pre-K programs are only for kids between the ages of 4 and 5, and their prime goal is to prepare children for a kindergarten classroom. That means a more structured environment that introduces them to formal subjects, such as math, science, and language arts. They also usually run all day to help kids get used to a normal school schedule. 

The age requirement for pre-K is usually pretty strict. Schools and learning centers don’t want to overwhelm younger children — who need less structure and more foundational knowledge — so they want to make sure kids are ready for their program through an age requirement. If you’ve tried to enroll your 3 year old in a pre-K class and keep getting denied, their age is probably the reason why. 

In the end, the goal for pre-K is simple: Make sure every child is ready for a kindergarten classroom. 

When Should My Child Start Preschool?

At Little Sunshine’s Playhouse, our official preschool program is for children who are 3-4 years old. Ages for preschool may vary between different places of learning, so don’t be alarmed if you see preschools who have age requirements a little younger or a little older. Pre-K programs start at 4-5 years old. 

There is a lot of research that shows early childhood education enhances a child’s life well into their adulthood. Your child may be too young for a formal preschool or pre-K program, but brain development begins at birth. If you can find a safe, supportive preschool or daycare for your infant or toddler, it’s never too early for them to start learning.