What Is the Preschool/pre-k/kindergarten Process?

Updated on August 19, 2009
D.C. asks from Long Beach, CA
4 answers

Hi Moms,
I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I'm ignorant of what the whole education process is like for younger kids. My daughter is 20 months old, so I still have some time, but I'd like to gain an understand of how this process normally works so I have time to do some research. My sitter has recommended a local tot lots program that my daughter can start in the fall when she'll be two. The program runs from 9:30 am until 11:30 am. The sitter also mentioned that she knows a preschool teacher that will let my daughter attend when she's two if she goes along to change diapers. I checked out my local school district's website, but I couldn't find any of the information I'm looking for, maybe because it's the end of the school year?

At what age do children normally start preschool? Is preschool always half day or full day? Full day seems like a bit much at that age. Is there a difference between preschool and pre-k, or are they just different words for the same thing? Do your children attend kindergarten through your local school district, or do you select a kindergarten? My daughter has an October birthday, so would she attend first grade the year she turns six?

Thanks in advance for sharing your advice and experiences.

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So What Happened?

Thank you all very much for your responses, I really appreciate it. You've all given me wonderful information to consider. I'll have her start the tot lots program for 2 year olds in the fall, and then check out preschools with her when she's three. It will be really interesting to see the differences between the programs.

More Answers



answers from Las Vegas on

Hi D.,

Preschool is a general term for early childhood education. The curriculum can vary widely depending on the school and the director's philosophy about early childhood education. Classes can also vary depending on the individual teacher, but there are some schools, where the curriculum is exactly the same no matter who the teacher is (of course, this does not take into account personality differences between teachers). Some schools really push academics, while others believe that playing and learning social and emotional skills along with age-appropriate academics are what is most important.

There is a difference, however, between early preschool classes and an actual pre-K class. Early classes are usually grouped into 2-3 year-olds; 3-4 year olds; and then Pre-K classes, which are usually 4-5 year-olds. Your child usually has to be a certain age by the school's cut-off date to be placed in a certain class (e.g., must be 3 by September 30 to enter the 3-4 year-old class. This can also vary by school or state).

In many cases, early preschool classes focus on getting the children used to being in group settings, sitting for circle time, sharing, playing appropriately, and teaching basic age-appropriate academics. Pre-K classes place even more focus on academics and the skills the children will need to be successful in kindergarten. Again, this can be quite different from school to school. For example, Montessori schools will be different from more traditionally-based preschools.

Although your daughter does not need preschool at this time, it is good that you are preparing and educating yourself on the available options. You might want to do a little research on early childhood education curricula, the different types of preschools, and ask yourself what is most important to you for your child. Also, ask yourself, "what does my child need?" and then make a few visits to the preschools in your area.

Sometimes parents, eager to ensure their children have every advantage, push the academics too hard and too fast while failing to realize that children also need to develop their social and emotional skills in order to be successful in school and in life. My son could easily say the alphabet and knew his numbers, colors, and shapes by the time he started preschool, but like most preschoolers, he needed help with sharing, delaying gratification, learning to cooperate and compromise, using words instead of hands, and dealing appropriately with strong emotions such as anger and frustration. Within his preschool setting (and in conjuction with what we teach him at home), he has been able to learn these important skills and has grown so much in the last two years.

I'm not one of those people who believe your child has to be reading by age 4 (although it's fine if they are) to be successful in life. I don't believe in pressuring children at such an early age. Learning should be fun at this point. You don't need preschool at this point to do that. As one of the other mothers mentioned, playdates at parks or home, classes at the gym or rec center, or mommy and me groups will all give her time to interact with other children and learn these valuable social skills.

Finally, when it does become time for you to choose a preschool, get a good feel for the people who are teaching. They should be mature, well-balanced people who love children and love what they do. For some, it is just a job, and in those cases, the children suffer. Your child should have a safe, warm, and positive experience as her introduction to the educational process. What happens there sets the stage for the next phase of her education.

Good luck in your search!

J. F.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

Hi D.,

Preschool and Pre-K are just different names for the same thing. Personally, I just of the mind that unless you have a job that you have to go to, there's no real reason for your daughter to attend preschool before she is 3 years old. The best thing you can do for her is to take her to the park, take her out on playdates, and sign her up for some fun classes at your local park & rec or at Gymboree or My Gym. Talk to her as much as you can and point out and name anything and everything to her like colors, shapes, alphabet letters, objects, etc. When she turns 3, you may want to think about enrolling her in a preschool so that she can get accustomed to a class structure and to give you some valuable free time, but that's an option, not a mandatory requirement.

And as for where your daughter will eventually attend kindergarten, if you go the public school route, she will go to school where you house is zoned for. You can get this info from the school district. Otherwise, if you want her to attend a private school, you can choose which one you would like her to attend and go through the application process for that.

Don't worry too much about your daughter's academics yet. She's so young and she'll be trapped in the education net soon enough. Let her play and enjoy being young while she can. There's a lot to be learned from play. And you should enjoy this time also.

Best of luck to you and your daughter.


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answers from Los Angeles on

We live in the South Bay (Redondo Beach) our school district offers pre-school at the CDC (Child Development Center). I am not sure of the minimum age...I am guessing 4yrs. This is what I would do...at 3yrs enroll in a 1/2 day class 8:30 - 11:30 maybe like 3 days a week and at 4yrs enroll in a 5 day a week 1/2 day class. She will start Kindergarten at 5yrs old with your school district and that will be a 1/2 day too. 1st Grade is full time !!!! YAHHOOO!
We are just finishing our first year of 1st grade. My son loves school and loves to learn. He started preschool at 3 years old 5 days a week. Early start is the best start!!
Take Care

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

Hi Deidre,

I am a kindergarten readiness preschool teacher/director. I have a program for children
who need to be prepared for the world of kindergarten. Actually today kids in kindergarten are learning to read. They are required to sit for long periods , short recess,
homework and much more. I developed a curriculum helping children through this

Sending your child on to kindergarten is dependent on the child. How ready are they socially emotionally, physically and academically. I have a website and if you have any
questions I would be glad to help out. www.kindergartenreadinessprek.com It is always good to start early into looking for a great pre-k for your child.

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