Preschool Readiness: What Age is the Best Age for Preschool?

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Many parents reach out to me with concerns about preschool at the beginning of a new school year. They list off the things their child can do – count, name colors, identify shapes, spell her name, and more. The concern most often cited by worried parents, however, has nothing to do with counting, colors, or shapes. It has to do with whether or not the child is ready for preschool.

Preschool is an exciting time in a child’s life. They begin to make friends. Experience music, group play, and solitary play. Explore new ideas and find new interests on their own.

Preschool is also a time of adjusting to new rules, receiving input from a teacher, existing in a group setting, and managing big feelings away from the comfort of home.

Many parents want to know the “best” age for beginning preschool and become flustered when their age appropriate child struggles in the preschool setting. But it’s important to note that “readiness” is a far better indicator than age when it comes to taking that first step into the school setting.

There is no “one-size fits all” checklist to assess for preschool readiness. However, there are some signs to watch for in your child.

Independence

While we certainly can’t expect young children to be completely independent, there are early signs of independence that make the transition to preschool easier. Many preschools require that children are fully potty trained when they enter preschool. Beyond that, consider whether or not your child can (and wants to) perform these basic skills on her own:

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  • Washing hands (rinse, soap, lather, rinse, dry)
  • Eating independently
  • Falling asleep independently (many full day programs include a nap time)
  • Following two-step directions
  • Work on projects or play on her own

Does well with routines

Preschools tend to follow fairly predictable routines. The schedule might vary slightly on different days (there might be a music lesson in place of crafts, for example), but otherwise it remains constant. The reason for this is that preschool children feel most comfortable in a predictable environment.

Stamina

Whether preschool is half day or full day, it wears kids out. Preschool programs are a ton of fun and inspire creativity, learning, and skill acquisition, but they are tiring. Many preschool programs have downtime built into the schedule. However, your child does need to be ready to make it through the day physically and emotionally.

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Ready to separate

Separation anxiety can rear its head at various points as kids grow (hint: it’s not just for toddlers). And it does interfere with a child’s ability to thrive in a preschool program. Preschool teachers are experts when it comes to helping worried kids settle down in the classroom. But some kids do need extra time to prepare for the transition.

Many kids feel nervous and shed a few tears when saying goodbye. This typically resolves over a short period of time. If your child falls apart every time you leave and has difficulty being away from you, she might not be emotionally ready for a preschool setting just yet.

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Concentration

Preschool classrooms tend to shift activities at regular intervals to meet the attention levels of young children. But they are also expected to work together in activity centers, sit for circle time, and follow instructions.

Many parents experience a push to get a child into preschool at a certain age, but the truth is that all kids take their own developmental paths. One child might be ready at two-and-a-half years old. Another might need another year before he enters the preschool setting. Pushing kids beyond their developmental levels often results in unintended stress and anxiety.

What age did your child show preschool readiness?

What do you think?

Preschool Readiness: What Age is the Best Age for Preschool?

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about helping parents enjoy the ride, she provides parent education and simple strategies to take t ... More

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