What Are The Key Differences Between Kindergarten and Preschool?

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As a parent, you want to make sure you give your child the best possible start to their education. That’s where kindergarten and preschool programs come in. 

Read on to learn more about how these two programs stack up against each other and what’s on offer in your home state or territory. 

What's the difference between kindergarten and preschool?

As it turns out, the only real difference between preschool and kindergarten depends on which state or territory you live in. Kindergarten, kindy or preschool, depending on where you live, is a part-time program that’s available to children in the year before they start primary school. 

Preschool or kindy programs use a play-based learning approach to prepare children for the transition to school. They help children to develop a range of essential skills, like communication, socialisation and problem-solving, as well as building their confidence and self-esteem.

What ages are kindergarten and preschool?

Preschool and kindy programs are designed for children between the ages of 3 and 5. More often than not, these programs cater to children aged 4 to 5 in the year before they start primary school. With that said the specifics of the program tend to depend on the state or territory where you live.

How preschool and kindergarten work around the country

Under the Preschool Reform Agreement (PRA), the Australian Government supports states and territories to ensure a nationally consistent quality preschool program is available for all children in the year before they start primary school. While all preschool programs must be delivered by an early childhood teacher in accordance with the Early Years Learning Framework V2 (or equivalent) and the National Quality Framework (NQF), the different states and territories tend to have a slightly different approach to the kindy program. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of the kindy programs based on the state or territory.



In Queensland, kindergarten services are offered by dedicated kindergarten services as well as long day care services and occasional or casual care providers. This program is available to children who turn 4 by June 30 the year before starting school. 

All kindergarten programs in Queensland are delivered by qualified early childhood teachers. Children are able to attend their kindy program for 15 hours a week for 40 weeks, which is the equivalent of 1 school year.

From the 1st of January, 2024, kindy programs in Queensland will be free for eligible children who attend a government-approved program offering free kindy

New South Wales

In New South Wales, preschool programs are available to children who turn 4 before the 1st of August in the year before starting primary school. Preschool programs are delivered in a variety of settings, including:

  • Community-based preschools,
  • Long day care services,
  • Mobile preschools,
  • Family day care services, and
  • NSW Department of Education preschools.

Australian Capital Territory

Referred to as preschools or early learning centres in the ACT, these programs are available to children who turn 4 on or before the 30th of April in the year before they start primary school. 

Once children in the ACT finish preschool, they’ll then complete a kindergarten program. 


In Victoria, kindergarten programs are available in:

  • Children’s centres,
  • Long day care centres,
  • Community kindergartens,
  • Independent schools, and
  • Some government schools.

These kindergarten programs are available to children as young as 3 years old, so long as they are born between January and April in the year they turn 3. 

Since 2023, the Victorian government has offered free kindy programs to children aged 3 and 4 attending participating services.  


In Tasmania, kindergarten programs are available to children who turn before or on 1 January in the year before they start school. 

Every school offers at least 15 hours of kindy each week across 2 to 3 days. At kindergarten, children have the opportunity to develop their numeracy, language and social skills through activities and play.

South Australia

In South Australia, children who turn 4 before the 1st of May can start preschool at the beginning of the year. In 2023, the South Australian government introduced a mid-year preschool intake for children who turn 4 from the 1st May to the 31st of October, meaning they can start preschool at the start of term 3 of that year. Children who turn 4 after the 31st of October will need to wait until the following year to start preschool. Regardless of when they start preschool, they’re entitled to access 4 terms of government preschool in the year before they start school. 

Western Australia

All children in Western Australia are entitled to access 15 hours of kindergarten a week. Children must be 4 years old by the 30th of June in the year they start kindergarten, which means that some children will be 3 when they start kindergarten. 

Kindergarten programs are offered at schools, community kindergartens and some childcare services.

Northern Territory

Most preschool programs in the NT are attached to a school, however, some long day care centres also provide a preschool program. These programs are offered to children aged 4 years old. If your child turns 4 between the 1st of January and the 30th of June, they can start preschool in term 1 at the beginning of the school year. Children in remote communities may be able to attend preschool from the age of 3 so long as they’re accompanied by a parent or guardian until they reach the age of three years and six months.

When it comes to kindergarten and preschool, the difference just depends on where you live. Ultimately, kindy and preschool programs are offered to children in the year before they start school. While these programs aren’t compulsory, they provide children with important skills that can help to set your child up for success in their schooling.

No matter where you’re based, Care for Kids can help you find a quality preschool or kindergarten program near you. Simply enter your postcode or suburb into our preschool and kindergarten search tool to find and compare services in your area.

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