growing up: preschool

Ready for School?

Your guide to the ages and stages of development

As children move beyond toddlerhood, most parents begin to think about preschool. But how can you be sure your child is ready? And how do you know if preschool is right for your child at all?

In our achievement-oriented society, parents can feel pressured to enroll their children in some kind of preschool as early as possible. But preschool is more than an activity to fill up part of your child's day. For many young children, preschool is their first exposure to a structured learning environment and the shift from home to school can be stressful for your child if he isn't ready for it. So before you sign up your child, ask yourself the following questions:

Can my child handle separation? "Preschool children need to be comfortable separating from Mom or Dad," says Mary Loven, a parent-group facilitator at the Early Childhood Family Education program in Northfield, Minnesota. "Start working on separation a year before preschool begins." As you do, make sure your child's time away from you is enjoyable for her. You might want to drop her off at a little friend's house or invite a favorite relative over for an hour or two of playtime. When she realizes she can have fun without you, she'll be more willing to let you leave.

Can my child pay attention? Can she wait her turn? Many preschools have large classes with rigid time frames and lots of group activities. A child who doesn't have the self-control to sit still and be part of a cohesive group probably wouldn't do well in a preschool setting yet. Look for a sense of patience and an emerging awareness of others' feelings. "A good preschool has an adult-directed activity and significant times where the child explores alone," says Loven. "An attention span of 10 minutes is good for a 3-year old."

Is my child potty trained? Most preschools require their students to be potty trained before enrollment. "The (potty training) deadline could become an issue," says Loven. If he isn't trained yet, the added pressure of a deadline could make a 3-year-old stubborn and uncooperative about using the bathroom.

If your child isn't ready for school, don't worry. Studies show that among school-age children, those who stayed home until the first day of kindergarten were as well-adjusted and intelligent as those who attended preschool. Whether your child attends preschool now, waits another year, or skips the whole thing, these last few years before kindergarten can be a productive, joyful time for you and your child.

?Melodie Wright
Mother of two

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