Preschool is an exciting first step in your child’s educational journey. But how do you know if your child is ready? Kids develop at very different paces at this stage, so it’s quite common for parents to face the preschool enrollment dilemma.
How Old is Your Child?
Parents naturally begin their inquiry into preschool by asking what age children should start. The majority of preschools accept children anywhere from 2 ½ years old to 5 years old. Most will require children to turn 3 by December of the current school year, but some will make exceptions. Parents with children who have birthdays in the fall (after September 1st) often struggle with the decision to enroll their child early or start them later.
As you can imagine, the maturity of a 3-year-old compared to a 5-year-old can be extremely different. While age is a preliminary factor for acceptance, it doesn’t necessarily show the big picture. Preschool readiness has more to do with developmental factors than age.
Developmental Factors that Contribute to Preschool Readiness
There are several developmental points to consider when choosing to hold your child back or enroll them. Remember that your child doesn’t have to meet all of these conditions to begin preschool, but the more readiness signs they show, the easier their transition will be.
Potty training and self-care are significant indicators of preschool readiness. In fact, many preschools require children to be completely potty trained, or close to it, before they begin. Other abilities, like washing their hands, eating a snack, falling asleep, or working on a project independently, can point to a child’s readiness for preschool.
Of course, kids in the preschool age range are working on self-regulation skills and learning how to play well with others, so if your little one is still learning to share, preschool is an excellent time for them to practice with peers. However, when it comes to being emotionally ready for preschool, there are just a few basics to consider.
For instance, do they have experience being away from you? The separation can be a challenge for some children with slow-to-warm-up temperaments, who’ve never attended daycare, or haven’t had much exposure to other adult caretakers or unfamiliar environments. A good test would be leaving your child for an afternoon with a grandparent or dropping them off for an activity at a peer’s house to see how they adjust.
Also, when you ask your child if they want to go to preschool, do they seem eager? If they express excitement or interest in meeting a teacher and making new friends, it could be a good sign that they could be emotionally ready.
Kids at this stage aren’t expected to speak perfectly, but it can be helpful if they can express their needs and follow simple directions. You want your child to be able to communicate on some level with their preschool teachers – such as having the ability to tell an adult that they have to use the potty or if they’re sick or hungry.
Stamina and Concentration
Preschool is a highly structured atmosphere with lots of fun activities, outdoor play, storytime, and group outings. Does your child have the endurance to keep up? What’s their nap schedule like? Can they concentrate on more than one project a day? Can your child benefit from a half-day program instead of a full day? It can be helpful to know if your little one gets easily distracted or needs extra downtime during a daily program.
Key Takeaways from Preschool Research
There are tons of studies on the importance of preschool and why it’s a program that public schools and other educational organizations should embrace. For instance, research shows kids who attend preschool are more likely to be prepared for kindergarten.
However, research also shows that children thrive with caretakers that show a strong interest in their well-being, provide social-emotional support, and engage in age-appropriate activities throughout the day. If you’re providing this type of environment at home, they don’t necessarily need to be in preschool.
Overall, if you feel your child could use an extra year at home before preschool, and they’re engaging in fun, educational activities and getting lots of love, it’s perfectly fine for them to wait a little longer for their big preschool debut!