Preschool Readiness: How to Know When to Start

With five kids, we have tried a bunch of different preschools and learning styles already. Home schooling, two year old programs, starting early, starting late, you name it, we've done it. That's because each child is different, some are ready to go at two, some are better off starting a little bit later. That being said, it can be tricky determining if your child is ready or not. Preschool readiness is more than just a checklist of skills. Click through to read more about making the leap to preschool with my handy "PARENT" list.

Like I said in the intro, since very young children develop at such different rates, there isn’t a set checklist of "must-have skills" kids need in order to start preschool. Many preschool teachers will also agree that a child's preschool readiness depends more on her individual personality and temperament—a combination of mental, physical and emotional traits—than her so-called "academic" abilities. However, there are some areas you can look at to see if your child is ready for the group learning environment of preschool with this PARENT list.

POTTY TRAINING: One question parents ask is "Does my child need to be potty trained?". This varies by school and by age program. Not all preschools require children entering preschool to be toilet-trained, especially if they’re 3 years old or younger or if they have special needs, but most programs for 4-year-olds and for pre-kindergarten will expect kids to be out of diapers. But don’t worry if your child still needs help with washing up or has an accident, that’s not uncommon and is supported at this level. Add this to your list of questions to ask when visiting schools: for example, are disposable pull-ups okay if diapers aren't? Where are the bathrooms? How are accidents handled?

ATTENTION SPAN: This is another tricky one that varies by child, but difficulty with concentration shouldn't be a reason to not send your child to school. If anything, being in a school environment should help children improve their ability to focus. A basic way of looking at it is if your child is already able to focus on a puzzle or draw for a few minutes on their own, that's enough of a foundation for them to build on at preschool.

ROUTINE: Children who are ready for preschool can successfully follow a routine. Many preschools follow a fairly structured schedule from free-time to circle time, snack time and more, and preschoolers are expected to be able to adhere to the daily schedule. If routine isn't something you have worked on too much at home yet, now is a good time to introduce it and get them up to speed on following a routine in time for school starting.

EMOTIONALLY READY: Emotionally, there are a few things to look for when considering whether your child is preschool ready. The first is the ability to say goodbye to a parent or caregiver without too much anxiety. It’s typical to be a little nervous, but if your child cries the entire day, she might not be ready to go to a full preschool program. If you're concerned about your child having separation anxiety when they start preschool, try doing some trial mini-separations and playdates in the month prior to the start of school to ease them into it.

NAP SCHEDULE: Children need a lot of physical and mental energy for preschool, and kids who aren’t used to following a routine and being actively engaged can have a harder time adjusting to preschool. One good way to know if your child might be ready for preschool is to look at their nap schedule. If they are taking a long morning and afternoon nap, she might not be ready yet. If they are just doing one or the other, you can pick either  a morning or afternoon program to try to keep them on that same nap schedule. If they are still doing both, something you can do to prepare your child for preschool is to merge their morning and afternoon naps into one longer nap once a day.

TASKS: Many preschool programs have activity times during which students are asked to pick a learning center (such as a drawing or building-blocks area) and interact with it for a short period. Preschoolers are expected to be independent enough to select an activity center without the teacher’s help and they also need to be able to follow directions most of the time and to focus on tasks without getting overly distracted. But a little distraction is typical, especially if this is the first time your child has spent every day around a group of other kids.