What’s the Difference Between Preschool and Pre Kindergarten?

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What’s the Difference Between Preschool and Pre Kindergarten?

Photo of a pre k student sitting on the floor thinking

In preschool, children learn and practice their social and academic skills. In Pre Kindergarten (Pre K), students practice and master social and academic skills. In this article, we cover the specific difference is between preschool and pre k.

Pre K learning forms the basis for learning in school, kindergarten. Many people think preschool and Pre K are the same things, but they are not. Kids learn and practice different skills in preschool compared to Pre K. We’re going to break down the specific differences between preschool and Pre K for you.

Preschool and Pre K Are Similar, But Different

First, many people think preschool and pre k are the same because children learn and apply similar concepts and skills when they are 3 – 5 years old. It’s important for children in this age range to follow a daily schedule, learn in small groups, play outside every day, and follow a research-based curriculum. Both preschool and pre k at Memories & Milestones Academy have a regular daily schedule, small classroom sizes, outdoor play, and research-based curriculums. That’s how these programs are similar.

Let’s dig deeper into the differences between preschool and pre k…

In preschool, a child is typically 3-4 years old. Children are in underwear, using the potty, however may still need many reminders. They also may need help undressing, wiping, and washing hands.

By the time students are in Pre K (the year before kindergarten), it’s important they use the bathroom independently. Including wiping, zipping, and washing hands. After all, they’re just a few months away from entering kindergarten. In kindergarten, students must independently use the bathroom (walk down the hall to the bathroom by themselves and return without incident).

Although utilizing the bathroom is crucial, it’s the breakdown of social and academic skills that children tackle in preschool and Pre K that are vital to a successful transition to kindergarten and beyond. Let’s explore academic skills.

Problem Solving in Preschool

In preschool, teachers work with students to build skills and solve problems together. This is why we keep our classroom sizes small with one teacher for every ten students at Memories & Milestones Academy. If a child doesn’t know all their shapes in preschool, that’s okay. They are still learning! For example, a child might know ‘circle’ and ‘square’ but need help with ‘triangle.’ Or they might be able to draw a circle but not a square. A preschool teacher works with children, so they learn “that’s a triangle” and how to draw a square with four straight lines.

Socially, preschool children focus on a very small group of people; a handful of friends, parents, teachers, and a few family members. Children are encouraged to play together in structured ways so they can someday (soon) initiate play by themselves that leads to group fun. They learn not to take toys away when they want them but to wait and ask for toys that interest them. Preschoolers learn not to hit or cry just because something doesn’t happen when they want it to happen. For now, they are still figuring stuff out. Social cues and body language can be challenging to learn, but teachers, parents, and other adults are there to help and guide.

Independence in Pre K

Pre K teachers have much higher expectations of what children can do. One year before Kindergarten marks a period in life where children start to gain their independence. It’s time to know things and initiate social interactions. Pre K students move from knowing shapes to solving simple math problems on their own. Teachers watch students as they solve problems rather than guiding students to the right answers.

In Pre K, students start to master social skills. They wait until someone is done playing with the ball. They begin to understand the tone of voice when adults talk. They try new stuff without much encouragement. They sit quietly for a few moments as lunch is prepared. They learn to sit down when they are tired rather than going too long then crying and crashing. They learn to adjust to schedule changes easier.

The goal of Pre K is to help students succeed in kindergarten and at home. In Kindergarten, they will experience even higher expectations, and many more children will be in the classroom with them. At home, they can do more things “by themselves” and take directions better. By learning independence in Pre K, they can handle the transition both academically and socially to kindergarten. Plus, they can experience more activities at home, like tackling chores, and in their communities, like visiting the library and attending community events.

Tiny Steps Versus Independence in Preschool and Pre K

Here’s one more specific example to help you navigate what is age-appropriate for preschool compared to Pre K. In Pre K, kids put their coats on by themselves before heading outside. Boots too! The teacher says it’s time to go outside, and it’s expected (with minimal help) that everyone can get themselves ready and line up at the door.

In preschool, teachers help everyone get their boots on, grab their coats, button their coats, put their hats on and form a line to go outside. The teacher says it’s time to go outside. Let’s make sure your snow pants go on before your boots, because we can’t put snow pants over our boots, can we? Does anyone need help? Now, grab your coat and put it on. Good. It’s time to zipper and button our coats. Who needs help? (Half the students raise their hands-some help each other, adorable). Okay, it’s time to form a line. Does everyone see the blue line on the floor? Go stand on the blue line. Good job lining up. Let’s go outside.

See the difference? This may seem minor, but these are life skills that each child is building on every single day. MAJOR! Our goal is to send our kiddos to Kindergarten with skills to keep their confidence and joy for school and socializing. Everything is broken down into steps in this preschool example. In the comparative Pre K example, the teacher expects all the students to utilize those self-help skills and get ready with minimal help.

Kindergarten Success from Preschool and Pre K

Going off to school is a big milestone in kids’ lives. In Minnesota, you have to be five years old by August 31st to enter kindergarten. This means children are 4 or 5 years old in Pre K, depending on their birthday. Children are 3 or 4 in preschool, depending on their birthday.

At Memories & Milestones Academy, we have a solid and positive relationship with local school districts and Kindergarten teachers. This relationship is built on the experience that Kindergarten teachers have with students that transition into kindergarten from our Academy.

Local kindergarten teachers have noticed that our Pre K students:

  • Can sit and focus on learning in a classroom setting
  • Have an attention span appropriate for their age
  • Demonstration self-help skills
  • Follow directions
  • Manage personal space appropriately
  • Interact socially with skill

The Benefits of Preschool and Pre K

Age-appropriate learning experiences before age 5 are vitally important to all children in our community. We believe preschool and Pre K are important in ensuring children learn the right social and academic skills at the right time. By enrolling in preschool and Pre K, your children will have a solid foundation for kindergarten. As they prepare for school, they will become better equipped at home to handle things like schedule changes and explore their independence. Your partnership with our teachers at Memories & Milestones Academy will help your child and family navigate that time before school starts, so everyone is happy and healthy.

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