Preschool vs Kindergarten

Your toddler is growing up fast and it’s time to start thinking about what’s next. There’s endless chatter in the parenting world about education and it seems like everyone and anyone has an opinion. This makes it hard to sift through all of the information, make decisions and do what’s best for your child. Let’s talk about when their formal education starts, where they can go and what it might be like.

Are preschool and kindergarten the same thing?

No. Preschool takes slightly different forms in each state and area, but it is typically designed for children to kickstart their learning journey before they start elementary school. Kindergarten is the first year of elementary school where children begin their formal education.

What comes first?

Preschool comes before kindergarten. The clue is in the name, but it gets confusing out there with all of the various programs and educational activities on offer for your child. You are not alone if you are struggling to get your head around what happens when!

What age should a child go to preschool?

This is very much an individual decision for each child and family based on their needs. Many preschools will accept children from age 3 and up until they move on to elementary school. However, that doesn’t mean your child has to start at 3 and you might decide to wait a while until they are ready to go. Many children start preschool at age 4 and adjust well to their new setting.

You know your own child and probably already have a hunch as to whether they are ready for preschool. You might find your child is looking for more social opportunities or has a thirst for learning that preschool can fulfil. There is no clear cut age for when children should start preschool so take your time with the decision and talk to the teaching team for advice.

Should preschool be mandatory?

This is a highly contested question that has been discussed over and over again by educators and the government. The argument for mandatory preschool is that it evens the playing field, prepares children for school and in turn sets them up well for life. On the other side of the coin some people think that preschool isn’t necessary at such a young age and children should be older before they enter structured education.

It is commonly believed that preschool should be available to all children at no cost or at a low cost so perhaps it doesn’t need to be mandatory, but it should be an option for all. This way, all children have access to the foundations of education no matter where they live. It also benefits many parents as they balance work, family and their children’s futures.

Is preschool better than staying at home? Is it recommended?

This is one of those questions that has two legitimate answers. Preschool offers children an environment where they can learn to be independent, develop social skills, try new things and build the foundations of their education. Preschool is often recommended by experts to prepare children for school, but it is still a very personal decision for each family. Children can also gain all of these things from their immediate and extended family, friends and surroundings. For example, there are families who choose to homeschool with great success.

The decision to send your child to preschool depends on the maturity and needs of your child, your ideals as parents and practicalities of day to day life.

You may decide that your child is best off staying at home and attending parent-child activities with you up until they go to school. That’s fine. You may choose to send your child to preschool or daycare in a full time capacity to fit around your own work and for their growth. That’s also okay. And you may choose to do a hybrid approach where they attend preschool for limited hours to slowly adjust before your child starts school. That’s just as okay.

How many hours a day is preschool?

Most preschools offer different schedules and sessions so you have some choice about the place and timing that works for you. For example, some preschools offer morning sessions each day and others will suggest your child attends two or three days per week. Do your research, take tours and ask lots of questions to make sure you find the right preschool for you.

You will find that the majority of preschools recommend your child should attend at least two sessions each week. That could mean morning sessions, afternoon sessions or a full day so that they can have lunch for example and get the most from the experience.

What are the benefits and disadvantages of preschool?


  • Children socialise with one another and learn to interact with others.
  • They learn to be independent from their family.
  • Children learn to follow rules and guidelines
  • They build foundations for their academic careers
  • Children usually have a lot of fun and will often do things they wouldn’t at home


  • Preschool can be expensive
  • Some preschool hours may not fit well around employment hours unlike a daycare setting that caters specifically to working parents.
  • Some children need more time at home before they are immersed into a preschool setting – they may not be ready for the structure and social immersion of preschool.

Why is it called kindergarten?

The term comes from Germany where Friedrich Froebel started the first Kindergarten in 1840. Kinder means child and Garten means garden. The idea is that children need to be nurtured and cared for just like a garden. 

In the USA kindergarten is the first year of elementary school and children are typically 5-6 years old when they begin.

Is it the same as reception?

In the UK the first year of primary school is called reception. The big difference is that children start their first year of school between ages 4 and 5 in the UK.

Is kindergarten free in the USA?

Yes, all children have free access to public education from their kindergarten year in the USA. There are private schools across the country where families can choose to pay for their child’s education.

What are the pros and cons of kindergarten?


  • Children learn important social skills
  • Children start learning to read and write as well as other foundational skills
  • Children often learn through play and exploration at this age
  • For many children kindergarten is a fun experience


  • Children can find it challenging to adjust to life at school
  • Children in kindergarten are still very young and often find school exhausting. Expect your child to be more tired than usual in the evenings and on weekends to begin with.

What can you do if your child is struggling in kindergarten?

Children need time to settle into their new routine at school. Kindergarten often feels overwhelming for new students, between the social stimulation and the new learning materials it can be a lot to take in. Most kids will get into the groove of things after the first few weeks and months.

Other children will need additional support from you, their teacher and perhaps even a doctor. If you think your child is struggling in kindergarten:

  1. Talk to your child’s teacher to find out more about how they are getting on.
  2. Talk to your child’s doctor to discuss any signs of a learning disorder.
  3. Follow the steps advised by the teacher and doctor to support them in their learning.
  4. Reassure your child and spend time with them. They need to know you love, care for and support them as they adjust to life at school.
preschool vs kindergarten
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