What is the Difference between Pre-K and Kindergarten?

Is your little one finally old enough to start their educational journey? This is an exciting time, but it also comes with a lot of questions and maybe some stress if it’s your first time going through it. Many parents wonder what pre-k entails, how it’s different from kindergarten, and how much it costs. We’ll answer all these questions and more below so you can make informed and confident decisions about your child’s future and the difference between pre-k vs. kindergarten. 

What Is Pre-K and How Is It Different from Kindergarten?
The best way of describing pre-k, or pre-kindergarten, is that it is a pathway to kindergarten for children who aren’t old enough to start kindergarten. Children usually participate in pre-k when they’re four and kindergarten when they’re five. Pre-k eases the transition between these two grades by teaching kindergarten readiness skills and putting time into subjects like math, social studies and science. While enrollment is voluntary, there are many advantages to participating in a pre-k program, including:

  • Mental stimulation through fun, creative and challenging activities
  • Opportunities to make friends and develop social and emotional skills
  • Increased confidence in learning abilities

The key difference between kindergarten and pre-k is that pre-k is meant to serve as a basis for all their learning to come. Strengthening their learning abilities goes beyond just mental stimulation. Pre-k also helps children prepare for being away from their parents for hours at a time, which will be a necessity of kindergarten.

What Is the Difference Between Preschool and Pre-K?
Now that we’ve established the differences between pre-k and kindergarten, we should also discuss preschool vs pre-kindergarten. The major difference between preschool and pre-k is that preschools are usually intended for younger kids between the ages of two and five, whereas pre-k is intended for older children ages four and five.

Like pre-k, preschool is also voluntary. Preschool curriculums are typically privately owned and operated in independent centers, homes, community centers, or religious centers. 

Another distinction is that pre-k tends to prioritize building kindergarten readiness skills, whereas preschool focuses more generally on advancing children’s social and emotional development.

How Much Does Pre-K Cost? Is It Worth It?
The cost of pre-k depends entirely on the school you choose. Unlike preschool, however, some communities offer free, publicly funded pre-k programs. While the benefits of pre-k are worth spending money on, it’s not a requirement. 

Publicly funded pre-k programs are as robust as private pre-k, so we recommend pursuing that option if it’s available. All that matters is that the classes are taught by professionals in a safe, clean, and positive environment. We encourage you to contact your local municipality or public school system and ask about public pre-k programs before you register for private pre-k.

MECK Pre-K Is Your Public Pre-K Option
If you live in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, you have access to MECK Pre-K, a high-quality, well-staffed, and FREE pre-k program! MECK Pre-K classes are taught in four- and five-star childcare centers by licensed teachers and teacher assistants. We teach social and emotional skills, creative arts, social studies, technology, and more.

Though priority is given to low-income households, families of all income levels are encouraged to apply. Please note, children need to turn four years old on or before August 31 of that school year to be eligible for MECK Pre-K. If you have any questions for our English and Spanish speaking staff, please feel free to contact us. To reach out, simply email info@MeckPreK.org, call 704-943-9585, or complete our online form. We’d be happy to hear from you!

MECK Pre-K is administered by Smart Start of Mecklenburg County. Smart Start supports families to improve early childhood health, education and development – all to help ensure that children turn five ready to thrive.