Is Your Child Ready to Start Preschool?

Once your child nears or passes age 3, you may be wondering if they are ready to start preschool. Many parents aren't sure how to make this decision. Determining whether or not your child is ready for preschool is a big decision, but there are some key indicators explained below that can help you to decide.

If, in the end, you think your child isn't quite ready yet, that's OK. Remember that all kids develop at their own pace and there's no rush to start preschool. Also, note that different preschools have unique philosophies and readiness requirements. So, be sure to check the specific guidelines of the schools you are considering, as your child may not be ready for one preschool, but might do just fine in another.

Ask yourself the following questions to help you determine if your child is ready to take that first step into a classroom.

How Old Is Your Child?

Teacher drawing with students on floor at preschool
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For the most part, educators define preschool as the two years before a child begins kindergarten. Some preschools set a minimum age for when they'll accept kids—usually, they have to be 3 by December of the academic year, although some will allow children as young as 2 to attend.

Parents of children who have late birthdays (that is, after September 1) sometimes delay starting preschool for a year or enroll them in a preschool program for an extra year until they are eligible or ready for kindergarten in their school district. In these instances, kids with late birthdays may attend preschool from age 3 until 6 or if they delayed a year, from age 4 until 6.

Age is only one of many factors that parents and preschools should consider when deciding if and when a child is ready for preschool.

Is Your Child Potty Trained?

child sitting in toilet.Low section
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Some preschools require that their students be potty trained, or at least well on their way. Preschoolers also should have some knowledge of self-care, including putting on their shoes and their coat. They also should know how to pull up and fasten their pants as well as wash their hands.

Does Your Child Follow Directions?

Father and toddler daughter baking cupcakes in kitchen
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There usually aren't super strict rules in preschool, but it is expected that your child can follow simple instructions. Preschoolers are usually asked to clean up, follow snack guidelines, walk in a line with the rest of the class, and other assorted jobs.

If you sense these requirements might be problematic, you can start giving your preschooler easy tasks they can do on their own such as setting the plates at the dinner table or helping bring in the mail. The job itself isn't as important as the routine. Pick simple chores that can be completed every day.

Can You Understand Your Child's Speech?

Kindergarten Reading Comprehension

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3-year-olds aren't expected to have perfect speech. However, people should be able to understand what they're trying to say. Likewise, your preschooler should be able to hear and understand other people.

Typically, preschool-ready children speak in simple sentences of three to five words. They also can describe something that has happened recently such as a trip to the library or a visit to the zoo.

If you suspect your child has a speech or hearing issue, talk with your pediatrician. They should be able to recommend a speech therapist or an audiologist who specializes in working with young children.

Can Your Child Handle Transitions?

Boy writing on paper at table

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Most preschools operate on an established schedule. For instance, they might move from carpet time to playtime, to craft time, to snack time, and children are expected to be able to smoothly transition from one activity to the next.

If your child is not good at transitioning quickly, especially when they are engrossed in an activity they enjoy, transitioning is something you'll want to work on before preschool starts. Learning to move from one activity to the next as a class is an important skill preschoolers must learn.

Many times, giving children a little advance notice, such as telling them, "We'll have a snack after we finish coloring this page," will help them learn to make the switch more easily from one activity to the next. You also can establish a simple routine at home the requires them to learn how to transition from one thing to the next even when they don't want to.

Consider using a simple wall chart that shows the order in which activities occur like meals, playtime, outdoor time, storytime, and snacks. These charts serve as reminders for what comes next in their day as well as to prompt them that they need to move on to the next activity.

Can Your Child Separate From You?

Father walking children to school
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For kids who have been in daycare, separating from parents is often a no-brainer. But for children who have had one parent at home with them all day, separation anxiety can be an issue. If you've never left your child before or they tend to get upset when you do, you may want to start working on this skill.

For short periods of time, leave them with a friend or family member while you run to the grocery store. You also could try leaving your child with a neighbor while you go for a quick walk around the block.

The key is that your child learns to separate from you—and trust that you will return—so that the drop-off at preschool is not filled with panic. Keep in mind, even kids who are used to separating from their parents may still cry or be apprehensive initially about being left at preschool. With time, though, this uncertainty or worry should subside.

While it's common for some children to be upset at drop-off, they will usually settle quickly once their parent has left.

How Well Do They Interact With Other Kids?

Students learning alphabet with digital tablets

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As you consider whether or not your child is ready for preschool, think about how much they have socialized with other children as well as whether or not they can interact with other children in appropriate ways.

If your child has been around other kids frequently, such as living with siblings, at church, in playgroups, or at the park, you probably have a pretty good idea of how they respond to other kids their age. Observing how well they play and interact with siblings, neighbors, and cousins can provide some insight, too, in determining preschool readiness.

That said, learning social skills is also a key focus in preschool. So, if your child has not had much interaction with other children, you don't need to worry. Preschool provides the opportunity for them to get to know and play with other children their age. If you're worried about their social readiness, though, you can arrange playdates, sign up for activities, or attend community events like storytime at the library or open gym at the community center to give them some practice socializing with peers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What age do kids start preschool?

Typically, kids start preschool at age 3 or 4. Occasionally, a child may start at age 2 if the school allows.

What is the right age for preschool? 

The right age for preschool will vary from child to child and depends on multiple factors, including age. However, most preschoolers are between ages 3 and 5.

What is preschool readiness? 

Preschool readiness is when your child is developmentally prepared for preschool. Factors that may influence preschool readiness include age, social-emotional maturity, ability to handle simple self-care tasks, and other academic and physical skills.

When should I start working on preschool readiness? 

In most cases, you don't need to do anything special to prepare your child for preschool, as the needed skills are ones that most kids will develop naturally around preschool age.

However, it can help to review basic preschool skills (such as hand washing, toileting, socializing with peers, separating from adults, and following directions) a few months before enrolling them in a preschool program, particularly if you notice that some of these skills are lagging.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics Highlights Impact of Children's Earliest Experiences on School Readiness. 2016.

  2. Swanson WS. How to Ease Your Child’s Separation Anxiety. HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics. Updated November 15, 2015.

  3. Social Development in Preschoolers. HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics. Updated November 2, 2009.