Whether it’s your first child or fourth, sending your little one off to preschool for the first time can be an emotional time for any parent. As mom, you know all his little nuances and quirks, what makes him happy or sad. Now he is entering a new environment with other kids and new expectations. Even if he has been in daycare, somehow preschool is all new, and somewhat intimidating.
How do you know if your child is really ready for this step?
1. Your child can handle being apart from you.
Whether your child has been in a child care situation before or not, preschool can be a big change. Consider whether your child seems ready for this new environment. are they ready to be apart from you for a few hours a day? Do they handle change or transitions well?
At three to four years of age, kids handle separation from caregivers in a variety of ways—some cry, some need a transitional object (e.g., a lovey), and others separate easily. There is no right or wrong response to separation, and each child is unique. Using your well-honed mom instinct, you will probably know fairly soon if the leap to preschool is something your child can navigate or not. After a period of warming up, most kids end up adjusting well, but don’t be afraid to change plans if your child seems overly distressed by the change.
2. Your child is ready to interact with peers.
For my boys, this was the one key factor in determining it was time for preschool. They both tend to be fairly outgoing, and by the time they were around three years old, I was just not a good enough playmate for them. They wanted to play with kids their own age. Now, this is not to say that all kids leap at the chance to attend preschool, even if they are socially inclined. Even my little extroverts were a bit shy at first when meeting all the new faces. However, it was clear soon enough that they thrived when they had time to play with their classmates.
3. Peer interaction is one key part of preschool that sets it apart from day care.
Prior to about three years of age, most kids have not developed enough social maturity to interact much with peers. Have you ever seen a playdate among one-year-olds? They simply play next to one another, and hardly ever interact. This is typical, and once they reach preschool age, their ability to interact and enjoy their peers is much more developed. If your child seems like they’re ready to spend more time with peers, then they will probably enjoy preschool.
4. Everyone is on the same page about potty training.
This may seem obvious, but different preschools have different policies about how well children must be potty trained to attend. Some schools require students to be totally trained, with no accidents. Others know that accidents still happen and are equipped to deal with them.
It is good to be aware that the conflation of potty training and preschool attendance I can be a recipe for unnecessary stress. When it comes to potty training, children master this at widely varying rates. They might be social and intellectually ready for preschool, but still not able to stay dry all the time. Developmentally, this is nothing to lose sleep over, but preschool administrators often have difficulties with this. It’s helpful to consider how your child handles potty situations and see if it is a good match for the preschool’s expectations.
5. Your child can communicate their needs.
We all know that young children develop language skills at varying rates. Some three-year-olds can speak in full sentences, while others mostly talk in three to four-word phrases. This variation is to be expected.
If preschool is on the horizon for your child, you might want to consider if they have adequate language skills to explain their needs. Can your child communicate that they are hungry, need the bathroom or are hurt? Does your child feel comfortable talking to other adults, like a preschool teacher? With your miraculous mom powers, you probably always know what your youngster is trying to say, but it’s good to consider if other adults will be able to understand your child as well.
6. Your child and the preschool are a good match.
Depending on where you live, the sheer number of choices of preschools may have your head spinning. Finding a preschool that is a good match for your child’s temperament, and your goals, may take some time.
In recent years, there has been much discussion about the distinction between “play-based” and “academic” preschools. Much of the current research is showing that play-based preschools are ideal for long-term learning in young kids. In reality, preschools may often provide a mix of these two ends of the spectrum. And many offer times of child-led play along with short periods of more teacher-led time that focuses on academic skills.
The balance of play and skill-focused time is something to consider when choosing a preschool.
Think about your child’s temperament—if they are very active or extroverted, a school with limited play time or strict expectations about seated activities might not be a good fit. If your child loves being outdoors, then a school that focuses much of its time on academic work indoors is not going to be a hit with your child.
We all want our children to learn new skills in preschool, however, how each school accomplishes this task varies widely. Finding a school that fits well with your child’s innate temperament and interests will likely help you both be happier. Readiness for preschool can include a mix of physical, emotional and social characteristics unique to each child. By carefully considering your child’s needs and personality, you will be able to decide when the transition to preschool will work best.