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How to Determine the Right Age to Start Preschool
When it comes to deciding when your child should start preschool, there is no cut-and-dried answer. Many preschools do have age restrictions, but they tend to allow children between the age of 3 and 5 years old into the classroom. In early childhood, the difference of a few years in a child’s life can be huge. So how do you know if you should be sending your 4-year-old to preschool? Here are some things to know when making this important decision.
Difference Between Preschool & Child Care
When deciding when your child is ready for preschool, one of the first things to do is make sure you understand the difference between preschool and child care. One of the biggest differences between the two boils down to time. Preschools tend to follow the school year calendar and are typically half-day programs, whereas child care is usually available throughout the year and extended hours of the day, as it is more designed around a parents’ work schedule.
Even if your child fits the age range for preschool, there are some developmental milestones that your child should hit before determining they’re ready to make the leap into preschool. For example, while child care organizations often accept children in diapers, many preschools require that children be potty-trained. Young children develop at a rapid rate. By age 3, 80% of a child’s brain has developed. 80%! Whether or not they call themselves “teachers,” “educators,” or “providers,” people who care for infants and toddlers are supporting the development of 80% of their brain. That makes them brain builders. That makes the care environment educational.
Understanding Play-based Learning
If you’ve done any amount of research into preschools, then you’ve already come across the term play-based learning, so it’s an important concept to understand when deciding if your child is ready for preschool. It’s a commonly used term that means open-ended time allowing children to follow their curiosities, learning by fulfilling an innate desire to understand the world. While this form of social-emotional learning is facilitated by a teacher, it comes with no agenda. Think: laying out different toys, games, and materials to see what each child gravitates toward. Along the way, a teacher can ask questions or mediate problems as they arrive, all of which help your child with his or her understanding of the world. Children are interested in different activities and topics at different times, so it is normal to see your child favor one learning area over another for a period of time, and then move on as they are ready.
Explore Your Options
The decision on when to send a child to preschool should include a search of the preschool options in the area. Depending on what exists in your city, you could learn details about a program that sways you one way or another. Each child comes with their own specific needs and is at their own place developmentally, and you could come across a program that sounds perfect for your child. Perhaps the preschool down the road fits into your schedule and budget, yet has its own requirements for preschoolers. Many preschools are experienced in helping parents make this decision, so when you find a school you’re interested in, it’s wise to reach out and take a tour (or two, or three).
How Early is Too Early?
Every parent who has been through the decision of when to put their child in preschool likely has their own opinion about what route is best. Exposing your child to the structure, social interaction, and learning activities of preschool may ignite in them a love of learning and jumpstart a number of cognitive skills. It will also help ensure they have the social-emotional skills needed to have a successful experience in kindergarten and beyond. If you’re worried that your child is too young, tour several programs to see which seems to best match with your child and your family. The program director and teacher(s) should be able to discuss with you how their unique program meets the needs of children and families, and you may be able to bring your child in for a visit prior to enrolling (unlikely during Covid-19, but typical outside of the pandemic).