By Patricia Shimm , Sarah Henry
Most preschools will start accepting children at around age 2 1/2, but that doesn't mean your child is magically ready for preschool when he reaches that age. Readiness for preschool has more to do with where your child is developmentally. Is he socially, emotionally, physically, and cognitively ready to participate in a daily, structured, educational program with a group of other children?
Though it's tempting to look for a quick answer to this question, to read a list of skills for instance, and say, "Yes my child can do these things, he's ready," that method isn't foolproof. The best way to decide is to spend time thinking about your child and to talk to other people who know him well, such as your partner, your pediatrician, and your child's caregiver. The following questions provided by Patricia Henderson Shimm, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development in New York and co-author of Parenting Your Toddler, will help you think about the most important factors for preschool readiness.
Preschool requires children to have certain basic skills; most will want your child to be potty-trained, for instance. Your child should also be able to take care of some other basic needs, like washing his hands after painting, eating his lunch without assistance, and sleeping alone.
If your child has been cared for by a babysitter or a relative, he'll be better prepared to separate from you when he's at preschool. Kids who are used to being apart from their parents often bounce right into preschool with hardly a backward glance. If your child hasn't had many opportunities to be away from you, you might want to schedule some — a weekend with grandma, for instance, or a day with your sister and her kids. But even if you can't work out your separation issues up front, don't worry too much; many children leave Mom or Dad for the first time to go to preschool and they do just fine. The trick is to help your child adjust in short doses. Many preschools will allow you to drop off your child for an hour or two during his first few days there; as he gets more used to his environment, you gradually work up to a full day. Some experts believe that preschool may even be more important for kids who've been at home with their parents, to help get them ready for the move to kindergarten.
Preschool usually involves lots of arts and crafts projects that require concentration and the ability to focus on an individual task. If your child likes to draw at home or gets engrossed in puzzles and other activities on his own, he's a good candidate for preschool. But even if he's the kind of child who asks for help with everything, you can start getting him ready by setting up playtimes where he can entertain himself for a half hour or so. While you wash the dishes, encourage him to make creatures out of clay, for example. Gradually build up to longer stretches of solo play. Your goal here is to keep yourself moderately preoccupied with an activity so that he'll get on with his own without too much hand-holding from you.
Many preschool activities, like "circle time," require that all the children in a class participate at the same time. These interactions give children a chance to play and learn together, but also require them to sit still, listen to stories, and sing songs. This can be very difficult for kids under 3 who are naturally active explorers and not always developmentally ready to play with other children. If your child isn't used to group activities, you can start introducing them yourself. Take him to story time at your local library, for instance, or sign him up for a class such as tumbling to help him get used to playing with other children.
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