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Is Your Child Ready to Start Preschool?

Deciding When to Begin Your Child's Academic Journey

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You think your child is ready to start preschool -- she's 3 after all -- but you aren't quite certain. Whether to enroll your child in preschool is a big decision but there are some key indicators that can help you to decide if he's ready to take that first step into a classroom. And if you decide she isn't quite ready yet, relax. It's OK to start the following semester or even next year.

How old is your child?

Teacher reading book in classroom, children (2-7) raising hands
Jose Luis Pelaez/Iconica/Getty Images
For the most part, educators define preschool as the two years before a child begins kindergarten. Some preschools set a minimum age for when they'll accept kids -- usually they have to be 3 by the December of the academic year, although some will go as young as 2. Parents of children that have "late" birthdays -- after September 1 -- sometimes delay children for a year or enroll them in a preschool program for an extra year.

Is she potty trained?

Some preschools require that their students be potty trained, or at least well on their way. Preschoolers should also have some knowledge of self-care: putting on her shoes and her coat, knowing how to zipper up her pants and washing her hands.

Does he follow directions?

There usually aren't super strict rules in preschool, but it is expected that your child can follow simple instructions. Preschoolers are usually asked to clean up, follow snack guidelines, walk in a line with the rest of the class and other assorted jobs. If you sense this might be problematic, you can start giving your preschooler easy tasks he can do on his own -- setting the plates at the dinner table or helping to bring the mail in. The job isn't as important as the routine is -- pick simple chores that can be completed on a daily basis.

Can you understand what he is saying?

No 3-year-old is expected to speak perfectly, but in general, people should be able to understand what they are saying. Likewise, they should be able to hear and understand you. Your preschooler should often use simple sentences of three to five words and be able to describe something that has happened recently -- say a trip to the library that you took in the morning. If you suspect a speech issue, talk with your pediatrician. She should be able to recommend a speech therapist who specializes in working with children this age.

How well does she transition?

Most preschools are on a pretty set schedule -- from carpet time to play time to craft time to snack time -- so if he's not good at transitioning, this is something you'll need to work on. Simply by giving your child a little advance notice -- the television will be turned off at the next commercial, we'll have a snack after we finish coloring this page -- will help him make the switch easily from one activity to the next.

Has she been away from you?

For kids that have been in daycare, this is a no-brainer. But for children who have one parent who stay at home with them all day, separating can be an issue. If you've never left your child before, you may want to start. For short periods of time, leave her with your mom while you run to the grocery store or with a neighbor while you go for a quick walk around the block.

How well does he interact with other kids?

If your child has been around other kids -- siblings and relatives count -- this shouldn't be an issue. In any case, arranging for playdates, signing up for a playgroup or even taking classes at a library or community center is good practice for learning how to get along with others.
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