Many parents enroll their children in preschool programs without considering whether their child is really ready for preschool. Many parents are eager to give their child a head start in the race to educational success so children are starting preschool at younger ages. However, enrolling your child too early in preschool can cause long-term problems with your child’s education rather than giving the head start you intended.
How can you judge whether your child is ready for preschool? Take a look at three key areas: physical development, social development, and emotional development.
You should also look at the program itself. For example, some programs are specifically geared to a young age group and are less about formal education and more about play and social experience. Some programs have very limited time periods (only a few hours a week) and are intended to introduce young children very gently to the educational experience. However, the standard preschool program is generally geared toward children ages 3 and 4 in preparation for kindergarten. Just because your child falls within the correct age group does not mean your child is ready for preschool. Forcing a child who is not ready physically, socially, or emotionally into a formal school setting could set the child up for failure, which could then result in a life-long problem with school.
Physically your child should be able to attend to most personal hygiene issues independently or under supervision. This means the child should be potty-trained as well as able to clean up afterward (including unfastening and fastening clothing). Your child should also be able to feed herself with little or no supervision.
The child should also be able to focus on a task, such as coloring, as well as listen attentively, to a story or conversation, for longer than a few minutes.
Another important physical development issue is whether your child is able to maintain the school schedule. Will the snack and meal breaks meet your child’s nutritional needs? Will he be able to stay awake until it is time to leave or take a nap?
Preschool is often a time and place when children learn a great deal about friendship and social interactions, but if a child isn’t ready for this level of social activity it can be tough on the child, class, and family. Children should have some experience playing with their peers, learning to share and take turns, and working out their differences before attending preschool. Children should also have some experience taking direction from adults who are not their primary caregivers. For example, a child who has only been in the care of a select few relatives may have difficulty adjusting to the care of a strange new adult.
Emotional development is another key consideration when determining if a child is ready for preschool. Is your child ready for the separation from home and parent or previous daycare provider? How does your child adjust to new places and people?
If you think your child is not ready in one or more of these important areas then you should put off starting preschool. It may be that in a few months time your child will have leaped past those hurdles and be ready to start. You can also work with your child on the areas you feel need work, such as personal care or social interaction. Many programs also allow you to ease your child into the program with only a few hours a week gradually stepping up to full participation.
Remember, young children grow and develop at a tremendous pace so simply giving your child some time to grow into a program is much better than forcing the issue. In later years your child won’t feel the impact of those “missed” months on their education but a positive preschool experience will have a lasting effect on self-esteem and learning.
Starting your child’s preschool experience when they are ready, willing, and able is the best way to set your child on the road to educational success.