In your memory, preschool and kindergarten probably look nearly identical. Both involved craft projects, singalongs and the occasional meltdown over broken crayons. Even to your grown-up eye, the two still look similar, but preschool is a flexible program for young kids and kindergarten is the first step in your child's formal education. Both preschool and kindergarten classes still include that one kid who's always eating paste.
Differences in Requirements
Sending your munchkin to preschool is like sending her to kindergarten training camp. Preschool programs typically include children between 2 or 3 years old and 5 years old, with some kiddos attending for one year and others for 2 or more years. The choice to enroll your tot in preschool is yours, and you can pick any program you like. Unless you're accepted into a universal pre-k program or some other free program, you'll generally have to pay admission fees like you'd pay for daycare. On the other hand, almost all children attend one year of kindergarten through their local school district, though not all children technically have to attend. As of a 2011 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, only 15 states made kindergarten attendance mandatory.
Differences In Staff
Your kiddo's preschool teacher could be vibrant, energetic, sympathetic and a natural with kids, but she doesn't necessarily have a degree in education. The hiring requirements vary depending on the preschool you choose, so if your little guy's classroom includes a team of teachers, it could be that one -- or none -- has a college degree in childhood development or education while others might be hired based only on experience working with kids. To get hired as a kindergarten teacher, generally a teacher needs both a bachelor's degree and teaching experience. A kindergarten class might also have a few assistants to help with activities and help the teacher maintain her sanity.
Differences in Hours and Facilities
Since kindergarten is offered by your school district, you and your munchkin will be at the mercy of the school's calendar, meaning you'll have to figure out what to do with her for the whole summer and for several weeks of vacations throughout the year. Your child's preschool, on the other hand, might offer daycare on holidays and hold summer sessions too. Kindergarten classrooms are generally located in your district's elementary school, so your little one might come face to face with older kids in the halls and on the bus. Her class might also get to have formal gym, music and art classes and participate in school-wide concerts and assemblies. Some kids might be overwhelmed by all the changes, while others will puff up their chests and walk with big-kid pride.
Differences In Curriculum
Your preschooler isn't going to jump from sorting buttons to learning the quadratic equation when he enters kindergarten. Teachers in both grades help students learn about math, writing and science through exploration, but kindergarten is a bit more advanced and formal than preschool. Instead of lying on the floor scribbling on construction paper, kindergartners will often sit at tables and start to form words with shakily constructed letters. In preschool, your little guy might learn to count to 20; in kindergarten, he'll be introduced to simple subtraction and addition. Things don't get too seriously, too quickly in kindergarten -- you shouldn't have to worry about helping him with homework or studying for tests for at least another year or two.
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