Think your child is ready for preschool? Every child is different and there are a wide variety of programs out there to suit every child's needs. It can be difficult to know when to start a preschool program. We spoke to a few experts to find out what you need to know about preschool readiness.
Ready, or not?
A big part of the preschool experience is learning to separate from mom. Dr. Fran Walfish, child and family psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent says, "The way parents handle their child's separation and first preschool experience lays the bricks and mortar foundation for the child dealing with all life separations to come." She feels that no child is ready to be left at preschool without his mother present until at least the age of 2 years and 9 months. "After that, age is no longer the issue," she shares. "The key issue is how mommy and the teachers deal with the separation process," she adds.
Does your child separate from you easily, or does she experience anxiety when you leave? If separation is difficult for your child, this may be something to consider when making a decision about preschool. "My son was very comfortable in new environments and never even watched me leave," said one preschool mom we spoke with. "I knew he was even more ready than I was for the preschool experience."
Academics vs. socialization
Many parents are concerned about the academic side of preschool, but the main focus should be on socialization. Pamela Morris (M.S.Ed.) is the assistant early childhood education director at East Valley JCC. "Choosing the time to send your child to preschool is an individual decision," she says. "Parents and caregivers need to decide how much socialization their child is receiving without preschool. While the academic information will always be there and can be taught, it's the socialization aspect of being in a group program that is most beneficial," says Morris.
Learning to take turns, to be helpful and to use their words are all important skills that children need to learn in a preschool environment. "This type of education is taught in high quality preschools that use modeling, peer interactions and everyday situations monitored and guided by professional teachers and staff," Morris adds. Even the simple act of standing in line and waiting for her turn at the drinking fountain is a skill that kids need to learn — and practice — before she heads to kindergarten. Preschool is the perfect place to hone these skills.
Jennifer Little, Ph.D., of Parents Teach Kids adds her expertise. "Every child wants to learn and be like the big kids. If they aren't showing inquisitiveness and asking to be taught, there is something developmentally missing or not yet developed," she shares. Little shares some basic readiness skills you should see in your child to make sure he gets the most out of a preschool experience.
- Children need to have good oral language skills (complete sentences) and want to interact with other children in play situations (often parallel play but interactive is better).
- Between the ages of 3 to 3-1/2 years, they will want paper-pencil activities to color, cut and paste and write or copy symbols.
- They need to be able to do gross motor activities — like catching, throwing, running and climbing — without harming themselves and/or others.
- They need to be able to wait turns, attend to adults (directions, instructions, explanations) and listen to stories while following the storyline.
Nobody knows your child better than you. If the signs of preschool readiness are there, find a preschool program that fits your needs and will engage your child. "Finding the right preschool for my son was a big step," says Michelle, mother of 4-year-old Gavin. "He loves his school and he is really blossoming."