When Do Kids Start Preschool?

Making Your First Educational Decision

Kids generally start preschool around the age of 3, but some start even earlier or a little later. It's up to you to decide when your child is ready.

Going to preschool's a little bit like getting a flu shot: It's not strictly necessary for most people, but it certainly can turn out to be beneficial. Attending a high-quality preschool program helps your child build social and language skills, get excited about being a student, and learn how to function in a classroom. Kids who attend preschool for at least a year should be ready to transition to kindergarten when the time comes.

Starting School

Parents have a lot of discretion when enrolling a child in preschool. You may make this transition when your child is just 2 years old or wait until she's 4. In most cases, though, kids start preschool around the age of 3. A child is only too young for preschool if she doesn't yet have the stamina and maturity to keep up with the program. You can hold your child back until she's 4 or close to 5 if you wish. Don't wait too long, though. For the best experience, a child should attend preschool for at least a full school year before starting kindergarten.

Your evaluation of your child's readiness is only one factor in timing this move. Your target preschools, their availabilities and age rules also influence your decision. Some preschools only accept new students in the fall, while others take new students at any time. Some schools have a minimum age of 3 years old, while others will take 2-year-olds. A preschool that doubles as a day care center may even accept infants and toddlers, who can eventually transition into preschool classes when they reach the minimum age.

Timing Factors

Sometimes, the decision to send your child to preschool isn't just about what's best for her, but what's best for the whole family. Work is a big reason that some parents err on the early side when enrolling kids in preschool.

Say you're paying for full-time child care for your 2.5-year old. If you find a great full-day preschool program that costs about the same as day care, and your child seems ready for this step, it might make sense for you to enroll her in preschool now. She'll have several years to build skills with the guidance of the same teachers, and if you choose well, she'll get the stability of going to the same preschool for several years. Spending those years with some of the same kids will help her develop solid friendships and gain lots of confidence.

On the other hand, if your child is thriving in her current day care arrangement, and it costs less than your area's preschool options, you may opt to keep her there until she's a year out from kindergarten and only enroll her for that last year.

Your child's special needs are relevant too. If you and/or your pediatrician feels that your child has some developmental delays and would benefit from speech, occupational or physical therapy, it's worth contacting your school district to talk about any early intervention preschool programs in your area.

Preschool Readiness

If you're debating whether to enroll your child now or to wait another year, try to objectively evaluate her physical and emotional development. A few simple indicators will help you make that call.

  • Is your child fully potty-trained during the day, or is she still in diapers or disposable training pants? Some preschools won't accept kids who aren't able to handle their own bathroom needs.
  • Can she sit still for at least 10 minutes at a time and follow adult directions? Both of those skills are important in a classroom environment.
  • Is she able to stay awake for at least four or five hours at a time? A full-day preschool should include a rest/nap time, but a child who still needs two naps twice a day to function probably isn't ready even for a half-day program.

Some 2- to 4-year-olds struggle with separation anxiety and shyness around other kids, but attending a good preschool program staffed by friendly and experienced teachers can help them gradually overcome those challenges. That your child is shy doesn't mean you can't enroll her in preschool yet. However, a preschool-ready child should show a willingness to follow rules and share with others. She may be the queen of her playroom at home, but she'll have to handle sharing everything at preschool.

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