What Should Toddlers Know Before Preschool?

While you might think that your child can start school with a blank slate, being ready to learn often means coming to the table with some prior knowledge. Although your toddler's preschool teacher isn't likely to demand that she starts class knowing how to conduct a full-length physics experiment, or even read and write for that matter, she will need to know some basics 4. What your toddler should know before beginning preschool may vary depending on her school and her exact age, but will typically include academic basics as well as simple self-care.

Language Skills

Before your toddler starts preschool he should have at least a basic vocabulary to work with 4. According to the child development experts at PBS Parents, between ages 2 and 3 years, most toddlers can understand between 500 and 900 words and speak roughly 570 words.The U.S. Department of Education, in their guide "Helping Your Preschool Child," suggests that you talk to your young child often and encourage him to speak about what he is doing and how he is feeling 1. While you won't find a precise vocabulary list that every Pre-K requires, it's often helpful for toddlers to come into the school environment understanding basic words for colors, numbers and names of classroom objects such as a chair or shelf.


Keeping cool and collected certainly isn't a trademark of many toddlers. That said, when your child enters preschool her teacher will expect that she has at least some degree of self-control 2. While it's normal -- according to the pediatric pros at the KidsHealth website -- for toddlers age 2 and under to act out when they feel frustrated, you can help your child get a grip on her feelings before she starts school 2. Praising your child when she shows restraint can help her to show off her self-control more often as she prepares for preschool 2. You can also use a technique such as a timeout to help her to calm down and practice controlling her often unruly emotions. While her preschool teacher won't expect her to manage her feelings in the same way as a teen, your toddler should understand that it's not acceptable to throw constant tantrums or get aggressive when she doesn't get her way 4.


Don't expect that your toddler will master English literature or biochem before he starts preschool. If you are worrying that his lack of academic skills will hamper his education, keep in mind that his Pre-K teacher will expect him to come to the class with only a very basic arsenal when it comes to academics. The National Association for the Education of Young Children notes that children begin to develop math skills early on. Given that the early childhood pros see math skills as something that a toddler can learn, your tot should know simple concepts such as numbers and shapes. This may only mean that your toddler can count up to four or five or say the word "circle" when he sees a ball. Even a very basic knowledge of numbers -- or other academic areas such as early literacy -- is acceptable as your child starts preschool. If you are looking for a more specific list of what your child should know, consult your state's early learning standards.


Starting preschool means that your child will have to act more independently than she does when you chase after her at home. Instead of having a one-on-one, doting relationship, your little learner will have to share the attention of one or possibly two teachers. This isn't to say that your toddler will have to take care of her every need by herself, but that she should have basic self-care knowledge, like knowing how to use the bathroom, dressing herself, washing her hands and feeding herself with minimal adult assistance. The educational experts at Zero to Three suggest playing games with your toddler prior to staring preschool to help her develop self-care abilities 4. For example, you can time her when she puts on her pants in the morning to see if she can set a new record every day. This will make self-care fun and more than just a daily task.