What is the difference between preschool, Pre-K, and TK?

Preschool, Pre-K, and Transitional Kindergarten (TK) are all great options for children, depending on their ages and academic needs. When discussing kindergarten preparation, all three of these early childhood education options may come up.

The primary difference between preschool, Pre-K and TK is age, but the academic focus also varies between the school types.

We’re here to talk about when it’s appropriate for children to attend preschool, Pre-K, and Transitional Kindergarten (TK).

Pre-K class

Preschool curriculums focus on advancing socially and emotionally

Preschools offer early childhood education to kids between three and five years old. Kids who attend preschool learn basic social, emotional, and academic skills that lay a foundation for the rest of their educations.

Preschool is rarely offered by the public school system. Instead, it’s often found in privately owned locations, homes, religious centers, and community centers. Students are not required to attend preschool, just like they’re not required to attend Pre-K or TK.

Preschool teachers do not dive as deeply into specific kindergarten readiness skills as Pre-K teachers do. Instead, in preschool, the curriculum is focused more on emotional and social advancement.

Pre-K is a great place for kids to practice skills they’ll need in Kindergarten

Pre-K (or Pre-Kindergarten) is for older preschoolers who are getting ready to attend TK or Kindergarten in the next year. It’s still considered preschool even though it’s called Pre-K. Four and five-year-old children who are not yet old enough or ready for TK or Kindergarten can attend Pre-K. It’s not always offered through the public school system, but it is available in some districts.

Pre-K is a great place for kids to transition from traditional preschool to Kindergarten. In Pre-K, children specifically work on building kindergarten readiness skills, and teachers dive deeper into subjects like math and science. Teachers in Pre-K also encourage more critical thinking than teachers in preschool. Pre-K has more of an academic focus than preschool does, but Pre-K still includes social and emotional skills in their curriculums.

Transitional Kindergarten (TK) students are part of a two year Kindergarten program

Transitional Kindergarten is part of the public school system and is typically available for kids who turn five years old between September and December. Like preschool, it’s not required that kids attend, but kids who do enroll in TK are required to do a second year of Kindergarten the following year.

Preschools are sometimes located in or near an elementary school, but they can meet anywhere, including churches and homes. TK, however, meets in elementary schools, typically near the Kindergarten classrooms. Also, TK is free because it’s part of the public school system.

In TK classrooms, teachers use a modified Kindergarten curriculum that’s age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate for students who turn five years old in the fall. TK students are a little older than preschoolers and Pre-K kids, so teachers expect them to have longer attention spans and display more independence.


 Preschool, Pre-K, and TK are all great options for children at different stages in their development and kindergarten preparedness. Understanding the differences between these common early childhood education options makes our decisions about our children’s schooling easier. To find and compare all the options near you, check out Winnie’s preschool search.

Posted in Preschool ∙ Updated March 2019

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