Readiness: When should your child start preschool?
Some kids are more than ready to start preschool at 2 1/2, which is when most schools start accepting children. Others aren’t. It can be hard to know whether your child is ready, let alone whether you are okay with him or her going. Some kids – and some parents – just aren’t ready to embark on their classroom experiences until age 3 or 4, and some kids never go to preschool, sliding right into kindergarten without previous classroom experience.
Assessing your child’s readiness for preschool really has more to do with where he or she is developmentally – socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively – than whether or not he or she has mastered a certain skill set.
Starting Preschool Checklist
Self-sufficiency: Many preschools prefer that children be potty-trained, though they should be used to dealing with occasional accidents. It may be helpful to begin the process of learning basic skills with your child at home, such as putting on and taking off shoes and coats, cleaning up a play area, washing hands, eating lunch, etc.
Ease of separation: How well does your child tolerate time spent apart from you? Has she spent time with a sitter or relative without a problem? If not, and you’re looking to have your child start school, you may need to help her understand that, when you leave, it’s OK; you’ll come back again. Ask a friend or relative to babysit or hire a sitter to spend a few hours a day with your child a couple of days a week while you run errands. Or you could look for a playgroup that allows you to step away for a bit, just to get your child used to the idea that separation is not permanent and that she can have fun and relax, independent from you.
Independence: Preschool requires a certain amount of independence from kids. To prep for preschool, encourage your child to play solo for short stretches of time, working up to slightly longer stretches.
Ability to focus on group activities: Preschool requires children to be able to collectively focus on an activity: listening to a story, singing a song, or making an art project. To prepare your child for this, sign her up for a class with other kids – music or tumbling, perhaps – or take her to a local story time gathering to gain experience participating in a group.
Comfort with routine and transitions: A day at preschool is often structured according to a set schedule: free time, circle time, group activity, snack time, outdoor time, lunch, nap time, play time, and goodbye circle, for instance. The idea is that kids like structure, because it offers a sense of comfort and control. If your child doesn’t keep a regular schedule, you might want to move to a more regular timetable for meals, naptime, bedtime, etc.
Stamina: With the possible exception of nap time, preschool is often a flurry of activity; kids pack a whole lot into those short days. You might consider your child’s capacity for activity when weighing how long a day – full or half day? – or how many days a week to sign her up for.
Your own needs and feelings: Ready for a few hours away from your child a few days a week to run errands or have a little time for yourself? Or perhaps you want to put your child in a full-day, five-day preschool program in order to work. Are you reluctant to part with your little one so soon and feel that you’re the best one to teach him in these early years? These are all things to consider as you think about when – or whether – to have your child enter preschool. Remember, there’s no single right answer for everyone, only the right answer for you and your family. Your child isn’t the only one who needs to be ready; you do, too.