The Difference Between Pre-School and Kindergarten

Preschool tends to be more play-oriented than kindergarten.
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It's easy to walk past kindergarten and preschool classrooms and wonder if there's any difference between the two. Good early childhood education curricula focus heavily on play, exploration and fostering a love of learning. While preschool serves as an introduction to school, playing with others and listening to the rules, kindergarten is more structured and generally takes a more direct approach to learning and meeting educational milestones.

1 Accreditation

Unlike K-12 schools, many preschools are privately owned by churches, corporations and individuals. Some of these preschools function more as childcare facilities than as schools and they are often not accredited by state agencies. The result is that that preschools tend to vary in quality and curriculum much more than kindergartens. Kindergarten classrooms must meet state educational standards, but unless a preschool has sought accreditation or state funding, it can establish its own educational standards.

2 Structure

Children in preschool and kindergarten both have lots of playtime, but preschool is centered almost entirely around play. Kindergarten usually has specific lessons students must learn and children are often required to sit quietly and focus on learning. In preschool, learning happens based on a student's interests during play and lessons are typically short. The educational achievements of preschool teachers varies; some focus more on formal instruction while others place more emphasis on the value of play.

3 Educational Milestones

Every state establishes its own educational milestones that students must meet to leave kindergarten and advance to first grade. Some schools also establish kindergarten readiness standards. Children do not typically have to meet readiness standards to enter preschool. Sometimes the only requirement is that a child is potty trained. If your child is in kindergarten, you'll probably receive regular reports on your child's progress and may even attend parent-teacher conferences. If your child is a preschool, however, you might only hear about behavior and get periodic updates on achievements.

4 Student Behavior

Kindergartners are expected to have much more impulse control than preschoolers. Preschool teachers may focus on burning off children's energy through play, while kindergarten teachers expect that students will be able to focus on lessons for brief periods. Students who have trouble focusing or sitting still in kindergarten might get additional help or be diagnosed with a condition such as attention deficit disorder. In preschool, however, this behavior, within reason, is normal and expected.

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.