Four-year-old student, Alan, mimics the movements to a song about numbers during a pre-kindergarten program at East Oakland Pride Elementary.

Transitional kindergarten is an option for younger children, who are not old enough for kindergarten, to gain social and academic experience. The program, like kindergarten, isn’t mandatory but children must have their 5th birthday by a certain month to even qualify.

EdSource has compiled the following FAQ to highlight the top things parents should know about transitional kindergarten programs. Why is transitional kindergarten only for children with fall birthdays? What are the benefits for younger children who enroll in transitional kindergarten? What’s the difference between transitional kindergarten and preschool? Read more below to find out about California’s public school option for some of its youngest children.

What is transitional kindergarten?

Transitional kindergarten, sometimes referred to as TK, is a publicly funded program for 4-year-olds who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2. Transitional kindergarten is designed to be a bridge between preschool and kindergarten. Children who are enrolled in transitional kindergarten can enroll in traditional kindergarten classes the following year. Although there is no mandated curriculum, transitional kindergarten is modeled on a modified kindergarten curriculum that is age and developmentally appropriate. Districts and schools have flexibility with how to implement curriculum, but the California Department of Education states that transitional kindergarten is meant to closely follow guidelines in the California Preschool Learning Foundations  developed by the  department. Districts are expected to use those guidelines as a foundation for instruction.

Why was transitional kindergarten introduced in California?

Transitional kindergarten was introduced after a 2010 California law called the “Kindergarten Readiness Act” changed the cutoff birth date for kindergarten entry from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1. This meant that 4-year-olds who turn 5 by Dec. 2 were no longer eligible for kindergarten. Children have to be 5 by Sept. 1 to enroll. In response, transitional kindergarten was established as a state funded program in 2012 to accommodate those 4-year-olds who were previously eligible for kindergarten.

Are elementary schools required to offer transitional kindergarten?

Yes. The California Department of Education states that each elementary or unified school district must offer transitional kindergarten classes for children who meet the age requirement. The requirement includes charter schools, which must provide transitional kindergarten if kindergarten is offered at the same school.

Are children required to attend transitional kindergarten?

No. Transitional kindergarten is not mandatory in California. Parents decide whether to enroll their children in preschool or transitional kindergarten. California does not require children to be enrolled in public school until their 6th birthday, and at that point, individual school districts decide whether students enrolling for the first time should be in kindergarten or 1st grade.

How is transitional kindergarten different from preschool?

Transitional kindergarten is part of the California K-12 public school system. The California Department of Education states that all transitional kindergarten teachers must meet the credential requirements to teach kindergarten in the K-12 system. Preschools do not have that requirement and teachers can be certified through other child development programs. Transitional kindergarten classes are designed to prepare children for kindergarten and often use a combination of standards, including the Common Core Standards for kindergarten and the California Department of Education’s Preschool Learning Foundations. The programs are designed to teach social and emotional skills, such as self-confidence and cooperation, and early academic skills, such as numbers and letters.

Why are some schools combining transitional kindergartners and kindergartners in the same classroom?

Schools have the flexibility to determine how they offer transitional kindergarten classes and meet the curriculum needs of those students. Some districts offer standalone transitional kindergarten classes and other districts combine transitional kindergartners and kindergartners in the same classroom. Districts might combine classes because they don’t have enough 4-year-olds who are eligible to create a separate class. Other reasons may be the cost of hiring a teacher for a separate class or a shortage of classroom space. A study by the American Institutes for Research found that small and mid-sized districts were more likely than larger school districts to combine transitional kindergarten with kindergarten. The California Department of Education states that while districts have the option to combine classes, the goal of transitional kindergarten is to provide “separate and unique experiences for transitional kindergarten or kindergarten students.”

Can children who are old enough for kindergarten enroll in transitional kindergarten?

Yes. However, this is a local decision and varies based on school district guidelines. The California Department of Education states that districts should “establish criteria” to determine whether children who are old enough for kindergarten — meaning they are 5 by Sept. 1 — can enroll in transitional kindergarten. The San Diego Unified School District is an example of a district that allows children who are old enough for kindergarten to enroll in transitional kindergarten. San Diego Unified does not make this decision based on any specific criteria. If a child is old enough to enter kindergarten but a parent prefers that he or she attend transitional kindergarten instead, the principal at the school site will honor their request, a spokesperson said. In Los Angeles Unified School District, the largest school district in the state, a child may attend transitional kindergarten, even if he or she is old enough to enter kindergarten, if a parent requests it.

Districts that allow children who meet the age requirement for kindergarten to enroll in transitional kindergarten must require parents to sign a Kindergarten Continuance form, according to the California Department of Education. This document states that the parent/guardian understands that transitional kindergarten is the first year of a two-year program and that any child enrolled must attend kindergarten the following year. This means that if a child attends transitional kindergarten, he or she cannot advance to 1st grade the next year, simply because of age, but must complete a kindergarten year before advancing to 1st grade.

Is transitional kindergarten free? How is transitional kindergarten paid for?

Transitional kindergarten is a part of California’s K-12 public school system and children can be enrolled at no cost. Districts receive funding for TK and K-12 students based on average daily attendance, which is the average number of students in attendance over the course of the school year.   

What if a child turns 5 after Dec. 2? Can he or she enroll in transitional kindergarten?

That depends on the school district. A new law in California allows school districts to enroll children in transitional kindergarten if they turn 5 after the Dec. 2 cutoff birth date but before the end of the school year. This “expanded transitional kindergarten” program means a child who turns 5 on Dec. 3 or later, who previously would not have qualified for transitional kindergarten, is now eligible to enroll. Unlike transitional kindergarten, districts are not required to offer expanded transitional kindergarten. A few districts allow enrollment for children who turn 5 up to mid-March, while other districts, such as Long Beach Unified and Los Angeles Unified, extend the cutoff dates to June 9 and June 15, respectively. A recent EdSource survey found that of the 25 largest school districts in the state, only six of them offer expanded transitional kindergarten. Some smaller school districts also offer expanded transitional kindergarten. Many districts that do not offer it cited lack of funding and availability of classroom space.


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  1. Daniel 2 months ago2 months ago

    Question: Can a child be enrolled even if they did not make the sept. 1 deadline? If so, is there a stipulation that the child must attend kindergarten for two consecutive years or show an accelerated intellect to be allowed to progress to 1st grade?

  2. Manuela Pino 10 months ago10 months ago

    I have a question. I have granddaughter who has a Sept. 29 birthday. She is almost four but began reading when she was three. What can a transitional kindergarten class possibly offer her if she is beyond the reading readiness stage. I believe my daughter has opted not to place her in TK since she has been doing so well in the area of reading.


    • Andrew L. 10 months ago10 months ago

      Manuela, good question. While I don’t represent EdSource, I work in early education. Transitional kindergarten is so much more than learning to read. Kids who are getting quality early education learn better social-emotional skills, problem solving skills, math skills, and other essential skills that prepare them for K-12 success. Social interaction is one of the most important parts of early development and TK programs help in this regard.

  3. Jonathan Raymond 10 months ago10 months ago

    Transitional Kindergarten offers the gift of a year to our youngest students. It’s one of the best things California has done in public education. School districts would be wise to embrace it for their families and use the opportunity creatively and expansively.


    • Amy 4 months ago4 months ago

      Actually, it offers the gift of a year to the oldest students. Those who qualify for TK are the oldest in Kindergarten when they start. It makes no sense. Students with June, July and August birthdays are the youngest kindergartners. Why aren’t they offered the gift of TK the year prior?

      • Michele 3 months ago3 months ago

        Amy, I totally agree with you. It makes no sense! The older kids that go to TK are often way ahead of the rest of the class. I guess the only thing is that it makes the teachers job easier since they know the letters, numbers, etc and are reading or starting to ready. This was my observation from volunteering for two years in a kinder class.

  4. Eric Premack 10 months ago10 months ago

    With all due respect to the California Department of Education, the letter and intent of the transitional kindergarten (TK) law is that offering TK is an option, not a requirement. More specifically, Education Code section 48000 provides that “as a condition of receipt of apportionment for pupils in a transitional kindergarten program . . . a school district or charter school shall ensure . . . a child who will have his or … Read More

    With all due respect to the California Department of Education, the letter and intent of the transitional kindergarten (TK) law is that offering TK is an option, not a requirement.

    More specifically, Education Code section 48000 provides that “as a condition of receipt of apportionment for pupils in a transitional kindergarten program . . . a school district or charter school shall ensure . . . a child who will have his or her fifth birthday between September 2 and December 2 shall be admitted to a transitional kindergarten program maintained by the school district or charter school.”

    The first few words “as a condition of receipt of apportionment” are key and mean that the “requirement” applies only if the district or charter school receives TK funding. If a district or charter school opts not to receive TK funding, it need not admit TK students.

    This point was extensively discussed as the TK laws were enacted and the Legislature was careful to avoid mandating that schools offer TK. If the state had mandated TK, the state would be on the hook to pay for its full cost, including facilities, because the California Constitution requires the state to reimburse the costs of new/higher levels of service.

    In practice, schools and districts that have the facilities to house TK are smart to offer it since it presumably gives eligible students a boost, but not all do have facilities and/or may face other serious logistical challenges.


    • Katherine 7 months ago7 months ago

      Thank you for this clarification. I recently found out that my son’s school district does not offer TK. He turns 5 on September 7. I don’t know what I can do to get the district to offer TK.