Kindergarten is Not Like Preschool

Written by Ross Sato, MA, OTR. Posted in Family + Parenting

When surveying kindergarten teachers about which children had the most difficulty in the classroom, all of the teachers reported the same issues.

Kindergarten Is Not Like Preschool

Kindergarten is not preschool.  At preschool, children get to play, learn to socialize with others, and learn basic things like colors, numbers, and shapes. In kindergarten, children learn more advanced things like counting, coloring, matching, and sequencing.  

And, if we are not sure what other academic skills our children need to acquire, we can search the Internet, ask other parents or consult our preschool teachers.  However, from my experience in working with preschool kids and speaking with current kindergarten teachers, there are many non-academic skills that play a huge role in being successful in kindergarten. 

Kindergarten is More Work and Less Play  

A typical day in kindergarten is 3 and a half hours long.   According to the teachers, students will spend approximately 3 hours a day participating in a variety of desktop work and will only receive a half hour of free play or recess time that is spread throughout the day.   Also, the amount of time the kindergarteners will work from a table will increase dramatically from preschool.

Teacher Directed Classes

From my own personal observations and discussions with preschool teachers, it seems that the majority of preschools empower the children to make their own choices.  When I was working for the Lamorinda (Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda) school district, visiting preschools, it was common practice to see the preschool teacher lay out designated stations and the students were able to decide what they did or didn’t want to do.   The more “academic” preschools I observed may require their students to work on a project, but the children did not have to sit and complete the project. Frequently, the teacher or the teacher’s aid would help the student complete the project.

According to the kindergarten teachers, new students have difficulty following and listening to teachers’ directions.  One kindergarten teacher stated, “New students are used to having choices and having a say about what they want to participate in.  In kindergarten, listening and following teacher’s directions is a requirement.  The kids don’t get to decide what they want to do.”   Another teacher stated, “Kids like to negotiate and they are not used to being told no.” More important are the consequences of not being able to adapt to teacher directed classes:  Many teachers agreed that “if a child is still having difficulty sitting in their seat and following teacher directions for more than a couple months, he or she will begin to fall behind the rest of the class.”

Kids Need to Be Independent

In kindergarten, the teacher to student ratio could be anywhere from one teacher to 25-30 kids.

Teachers are going to expect and require their students to be independent.  Over 50% of teachers reported that independence is the most difficult adjustment into kindergarten.  

Clothing:  Kindergarteners are expected to locate their own jacket, put on their own jacket and zip or button it independently.  They will also be expected to put on their own shoes and put their belongings back where they are stored.  

Lunch boxes and snack bags:  Children are expected to open up their own lunch boxes, containers, snack packs, drink boxes, thermos and zip lock bags.   

Backpack:   75% of the teachers specifically spoke about the backpack:  One teacher stated, “Kids need to be able to locate their backpack, unzip and zip their backpack, unload and load their backpack, and put the backpack on by themselves.”

Multiple Step Directions:  Students will need to follow and execute multiple step directions. Here is the difference:  

In preschool, the teacher will instruct:

“First, color the cat.”  Class colors.  

“Now everyone cut the cat.”  Class cuts.  

“Now glue the cat to the paper.”  Class glues.

In kindergarten, the teacher will instruct: 

“First, color the cat, then cut it out, and glue it to the paper.”  

Fine Motor Skills

Writing, coloring, and cutting skills are going to play a significant role in kindergarten curriculum.  One teacher said, “If a student has initial struggles with their fine motor skills, they will most likely be playing catch up for the rest of the year.”  From my experience and in speaking to many parents, if your child has difficulty with his or her fine motor skills, it may impact his overall confidence in school.   According to all the teachers I spoke with, the most common fine motor difficulty is scissor skills.  

Teacher recommendations to prepare your child for kindergarten success:

- Don’t repeat yourself:  If you ask your child a question and they don’t answer you, have your child repeat back what you said.  

- Exposure to structured classes:   Take classes that have limited choices and are teacher directed like swimming, gymnastics, sports, etc.  

- Increase desk stamina:  Have your child work from a desk or table. 

- Establish routines:  Practice independence at home so it can transfer to school.  For example, have your child practice packing his backpack, opening his lunch containers, zip lock bags and lunch boxes. Also have him practice putting on his jacket and putting it away.  One teacher stated that, “children do better in kindergarten when they have consistent routines such as going to bed at a regular time, putting their back pack in a certain location, and even laying out their clothing before they go to sleep.”

- Practice scissors skills:  Most kids have limited exposure to scissors in preschool.

- Pencil grip: Pay attention to your child’s pay pencil grip.  If necessary, use a pencil grip to help position the pencil in your child’s hands. An immature pencil grip can lead to difficulty forming letters correctly. 

- Practice handwriting and coloring: Your child will have to write his name and copy all his upper case letters before they start kindergarten.   


Related Articles

Help!!  My Preschooler Doesn’t Want to Write


Ross Sato, MA, OTR. Ross has previously worked as a School Based Occupational Therapist for the Moraga, Lafayette, Walnut Creek and Orinda school district. He is the co-owner of Pediatric Motor Playground, Lafayette/Danville. Visit www.pediatricmotorplayground.com for more information on classes and programs.  

Ross is also available for private, in-home sessions throughout the East Bay. For inquiries or scheduling of in-home sessions, email Amy Sato at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Photo courtesy of Pediatric Motor Playground.