Figuring out when (or even if) to enroll your child in preschool can be tricky. School isn’t mandated until kindergarten or first grade in some states, so preschool is optional. And because the age of preschoolers ranges from 2 – 4 years old, it can be hard to decide when the time is right for your kiddo. Also, for many parents, preschool costs money, which can make the decision even more difficult. There are a lot of benefits to enrolling your child in preschool, for sure! But, as with any part of parenting, you want to make sure you’re doing the right thing for your child.
Every parent has different motivations for enrolling their child in preschool. Maybe you need some time to yourself everyday. Or maybe it’s cheaper than daycare! Perhaps your kid could benefit from the social interaction with kids their own age. None of these are wrong! And they will all factor into your decision. So how do you figure out if they’re ready? Consider some of these points before taking the plunge.
One of the first things to consider before enrolling your child in preschool is whether or not they’re comfortable spending time away from you.
Oooof, that first school drop-off can be brutal, even for kids who’re used to spending time away from mom and dad. If your child suffers from separation anxiety, even when you’re gone and they’re home with a caregiver or loved one, it might be a transition they’re not quite ready to deal with.
On the flip side of that, it’s a great opportunity to “practice” being away from mom and dad before they start kinder! Preschools are typically much more lenient with little ones who have a hard time at drop-off. And you can use their time in preschool to build up their security and confidence in being away from you. They’ll be reassured that school is a safe place, and that mom or dad always comes back when it’s time to go home.
Is your child physically healthy enough to withstand the onslaught of school germs? Because they come hard and fast.
My oldest was barely sick a day in her life until she started pre-k. Then suddenly, it seemed like she was sick with some sort of cold or virus every other week! Starting school and spending time around so many other kids is a real test for these budding immune systems. If your child is prone to illnesses like ear infections or bronchitis, or has a weakened immune system, pediatrician Dr. Anatoly Belilovsky of Belilovsky Pediatrics in Brooklyn, NY recommends keeping them out of a school setting for a bit longer.
Is your child a good communicator?
And we’re not just talking about speech. Kids communicate in myriad ways, with hand signals and pointing. As long as your child can express their needs or desires in a way that is easily understood by others, they’ll do just fine. But if your child has a hard time communicating, it can create a lot of frustration. Not only for your child, but for the teachers and their classmates, as well.
How are they in a peer group or setting?
Once your child enters preschool, they’ll be spending several hours a day with kids in their peer group. If they’re used to being around other kids, either siblings or at daycare or play dates, and can model appropriate and safe behavior, preschool will be a lot of fun for all involved. But for kids who still aren’t quite comfortable playing with others or don’t like being in larger groups of other children, it may be a good idea to build on those skills before enrolling them.
Children who are comfortable with routine may fare better at first.
Preschool is a lot of fun, but in order to manage a room full of 2 – 4 year olds, teachers run a pretty tight ship. Yes, kids will have lots of time to play and explore and learn, but it will be done on a schedule, to keep the day running smoothly. If your child still struggles with ending activities, stopping something at a specified time, or transitioning from one activity to the next, the routine of preschool could be challenging. On the other hand, being in an environment that runs on routine everyday will certainly help develop those skills.
I truly believe that I made the right call when enrolling both my girls in preschool. I ended up starting my youngest a year earlier than her sister, but she was far more ready at the age of 3. And she thrived during her first year! It’s really all about where your kid is, what your unique family situation is, and finding the right facility for your little ones. There is no right or wrong here! Just what’s right for your family.
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