Is Your Child Ready to Start Preschool?

You may be wondering if your child is ready to start preschool—after all they're 3—but you still aren't quite sure. Determining whether or not your child is ready for preschool is a big decision, but there are some key indicators that can help you to decide. Ask yourself the following questions to determine if your child is ready to take that first step into a classroom.

If, in the end, you decide your child isn't quite ready yet, that's OK. There's no rush to start preschool. It's perfectly reasonable to wait until the following semester or even next year.

How Old Is Your Child?

Preschool readiness
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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 that have late birthdays —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 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.

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 is. Pick simple chores that can be completed on a daily basis.

Can You Understand Your Child's Speech?

Kindergarten Reading Comprehension

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No 3-year-old is 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 children this age.

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 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 need 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 we'll have a snack after we finish coloring this page, will help them learn to make the switch 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.

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

Can Your Child Separate From You?

mother with preschool-age daughter on hip

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For kids that have been in daycare, separating from parents is a no-brainer. But for children who have one parent at home with them all day, separating can be an issue. If you've never left your child before, you may want to start.

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 for short periods of time 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 should subside.

How Well Does Your Child 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, you may want to 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 either at church, in playgroups, or at the park, you probably have a pretty good idea 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.

If your child has not had much interaction with other children, you should not worry too much. Preschool provides the opportunity for them to get to know and play with others. If you're worried about their skills, though, you can arrange playdates, sign up for activities, or attend community events like story time at the library or open gym at the community center to give them so practice.

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Article Sources
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  1. Ages & Stages: Preschool. HealthyChildren.org.

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

  3. How to Ease Your Child’s Separation Anxiety. HealthyChildren.org.

  4. Social Development in Preschoolers. HealthyChildren.org.