How to tell if your child is ready for preschool


Most early childhood education centres (aka preschools) will accept children from 0 to 6 years of age, but that doesn't mean your child is magically ready for preschool when they reach that age.  Readiness for preschool has more to do with where your child is developmentally.  Is he or she socially, emotionally, physically, and cognitively ready to participate in a daily, structured, educational programme with a group of other children?

Though it's tempting to look for a quick answer to this question, to read a list of skills for instance, and say, "Yes my child can do these things, he's/she’s ready," that method isn't fool proof.  The best way to decide is to spend time thinking about your child and to talk to other people who know him or her well, such as your partner, your paediatrician, and your child's caregiver.  The following questions will help you think about the most important factors for preschool readiness:

Is your child fairly independent?

Early childhood education centres require children to have certain basic skills; most will want your child to be potty-trained, for instance.  Your child should also be able to take care of some other basic needs, like washing their hands after painting, eating lunch without assistance, and sleeping alone.

Has he/she spent time away from you?

If your child has been cared for by a babysitter or a relative, they will be better prepared to separate from you when at preschool.  Children who are used to being apart from their parents often bounce right into preschool with hardly a backward glance.  If your child hasn't had many opportunities to be away from you, you might want to schedule some — a weekend with grandma, for instance, or a day with your sister and her children.  But even if you can't work out your separation issues up front, don't worry too much; many children leave Mum or Dad for the first time to go to preschool and they do just fine.  The trick is to help your child adjust in short doses.  Many preschools will allow you to drop off your child for an hour or two during their first few days there; as they gets more used to the environment, you gradually work up to a full day.  Some centres will welcome you to spend planned and reducing amounts of time with your child at the centre, so they get used to the environment and (progressively) you’re not being there.  Some experts believe that preschool may even be more important for children who've been at home with their parents, to help get them ready for the move to primary school.

Can he/she work on projects on his own?

Preschool usually involves lots of arts and crafts projects that require concentration and the ability to focus on an individual task.  If your child likes to draw at home or gets engrossed in puzzles and other activities on their own, they are a good candidate for preschool.  But even if yours is the kind of child who asks for help with everything, you can start getting them ready by setting up play times where they can entertain themselves for a half hour or so.  While you wash the dishes, encourage your child to make creatures out of clay, for example.  Gradually build up to longer stretches of solo play.  Your goal here is to keep yourself moderately preoccupied with an activity so that your child will get on with their own without too much hand-holding from you.

Is he/she ready to participate in group activities?

Many preschool activities, like "circle time," require that all the children in a class participate at the same time.  These interactions give children a chance to play and learn together, but also require them to sit still, listen to stories, and sing songs.  This can be very difficult for children under 3 who are naturally active explorers and not always developmentally ready to play with other children.  If your child isn't used to group activities, you can start introducing them yourself.  Take him/her to story time at your local library, for instance, or sign them up for a class such as tumbling to help them get used to playing with other children.

Is he/she used to keeping a regular schedule?

Preschools usually follow a predictable routine: circle time, play time, snack, playground, then lunch.  There's a good reason for this.  Children tend to feel most comfortable and in control when the same things happen at the same time each day.  So if your child doesn't keep to a schedule and each day is different from the last, it can help to standardise their days a bit before he/she starts preschool.  Start by offering meals on a regular timetable.  You could also plan to visit the park each afternoon or set — and stick to — a bedtime ritual (bath, then books, and bed).

Does he/she have the physical stamina for preschool?

Whether it's a half-day or full-day programme, preschool keeps children busy.  There are art projects to do, field trips to take, and playgrounds to explore.  Does your child thrive on activities like this, or do they have trouble moving from one thing to the next without getting cranky?  Another thing to consider is how and when your child needs to nap.  Preschools usually schedule nap time after lunch.  If your little one can keep going until then or even all day like a wind-up toy, they are set.  If he/she still needs a mid-morning snooze, it might not be time yet to go to an early childhood centre setting.  You can work toward building your child’s stamina by making sure they get a good night's sleep.  If you have some flexibility in your schedule, you might also want to start them off in a half-day programme to ease him/her into the hustle and bustle of preschool life, and gradually increase the length of the centre day as he/she gets more comfortable.

Why do you want to send him/her to preschool?

Think carefully about what your goals are for sending your child to preschool.  Do you just need time for yourself or day-care for your child?  There may be other options if it seems your child isn't ready yet for the rigors of an early childhood centre.

Are you worried that if you don't enrol your child in preschool he/she won't be ready for primary school?

If you find that the main reasons you want to send your child to preschool are that he/she seems eager to learn new things and explore, they aren’t getting enough stimulation at home, or they seem ready to broaden their social horizons and interact with other children, chances are it's the perfect time to start at an early childhood education centre.