Is Your Child Ready for Preschool? The Dos & Don'ts of Deciding

crayonsIn the blink of an eye, your baby went from helpless newborn to boisterous toddler. And you know what that means: Time for preschool.

Maybe.

While some moms are quick to strap a backpack onto their 2-year-old and send them on their merry way, others agonize over whether their toddler is ready for preschool.

Relax.

The decision of whether to send your little one off to the land of gluing, cutting, and snack time doesn't have to be fraught with anxiety. In fact, your child may be more ready for preschool ... than you are.

This list of dos and don'ts can help you decide if it's time for preschool.

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DON'T ... think that just because your child isn't at the same skill level as your friend's kid, he's not ready for preschool.
"There are actually no prerequisites for preschool," says Amanda Moreno, Ph.D., an assistant professor who specializes in adult-child interaction at Erikson Institute in Chicago. "Any skills you could imagine that might be helpful in adjusting well to preschool are also the exact skills that good preschools help to develop! Parents should ask themselves, 'Is preschool ready for my child?' as opposed to, 'Is my child ready for preschool?'" Moreno urges parents not to worry about the skills their toddler currently has but instead focus on finding a preschool that's best suited for their child's needs. For instance, if your child is extremely shy, ask the teachers what their general coping strategies are for children who don't easily interact with others.

DO ... wait until your child is 2 or older, if that's an option for you.
For many, preschool equals childcare. But if you're in the lucky category of families who can choose, waiting until your child is at least 2 before enrolling in school is best, but you can hold off until she's 3 or even 4. "Starting at age 2, good preschools can provide things that parents cannot, such as a large community of same-age peers," notes Dr. Moreno. "By age 2, kids can benefit from the additional experiences that preschools offer." Preschools are also equipped with things most homes aren't. Think: playgrounds kids can go crazy on.

DON'T ... worry about your child being potty trained.
It's a common misconception that children need to be potty trained before heading off to preschool. Although changing poopy diapers likely isn't a teacher's favorite job, it should never be a reason to keep your child out of school. "Children definitely do not need to be potty trained before preschool, and this is something parents should check out in any setting," says Moreno. "Preschools have different ways of dividing their rooms with age-groupings, but inevitably there will be some children that are and some that are not potty trained in the same room. This should NEVER be a reason that a center uses to decide on age placement or 'promotion' to the next room. Obsessing over potty training is always a red flag for me in any center." So those preschools that do require your child be potty trained? Might not be the best place for kids.

DO ... know that it's harder for you than it is for them (really).
It's important that parents find a place where the teachers deal well with separation anxiety. Moms want to drop off, knowing their child is going to be well-taken care of. If your kid IS crying when you try to leave, take comfort in the fact that the tears don't last long. "For the children who cry the longest and hardest, this is always MUCH harder for the parents than it is for the children," assures Moreno. "It may seem like your child is getting their arm sawed off, but in truth, they are okay. It is very, very rare to have a child react to separation that strongly for more than a week or two."

DON'T ... let the prospect of frequent illness scare you off from preschool.
Attendance isn't mandatory in preschools, and most have policies about fevers and runny noses. Each family has to figure out if they can live with the policy. "For most kids, exposure to groups of children is good for their immunity over the long-term," adds Dr. Moreno.

DO ... know that preschool isn't necessary.
No, your child doesn't have to go to preschool, but it definitely should be something you consider. "Research shows that it has the greatest benefit for kids who need it the most to begin with, for instance, children who show the lowest level of readiness initially," says Moreno. "But there are certain experiences that even the brightest or most advantaged children don’t necessarily have exposure to at home, and it can be a nice thing to have a year of functioning in a large-group learning setting before kindergarten."

 

Are you planning on sending your child to preschool?


Image via johnmorgan/Flickr

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