From the time my son was an infant until he was about 2-1/2, he was in daycare for 45 hours per week. He was chronically overstimulated, which was exacerbated by the fact that he couldn’t/wouldn’t nap at the daycare.
When I became a stay-at-home parent, I thought it was important to enroll him in a part-time preschool to keep him socialised and in a somewhat structured “school” environment. After about six months home with me full-time, I enrolled him in a 3-year-old program that was held for a couple of hours three times a week. It sounded like the perfect balance.
Except he struggled, hard, that first year. He had all the basics down; he was comfortable being separated from me but the overstimulation caused him to be disruptive. I changed preschools the next year (for a variety of reasons) and he did noticeably better almost immediately. But looking back now, I think that had less to do with the specific school and more to do with him being a year older and more ready for that type of environment.
Depending on the program, kids can often start preschool around age 2-1/2. But just because they hit that magical age doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready. There are some real developmental, emotional and social reasons for holding off a bit.
Daycare vs. preschool
Lots of kids go to daycare from infancy, and many quality daycares offer a preschool component as the kids age. There is one primary difference between quality child care and preschool, Nikki Darling-Kuria, a child development professional and author of Brain-based Early Learning Activities: Connecting Theory and Practice, tells Fatherly: Child care provides preschool, but preschool doesn’t provide care.
Darling-Kuria notes that parents who already have their kid in a good child care setting may not need to transition to preschool at all. That’s because the skills that a child is learning in the child care setting are very well aligned with the most important skills they will require when they reach Kindergarten.
Because the “child care” component is absent from preschool, kids who attend should meet some additional expectations.
They have mastered these basics
Most preschools will want kids to be potty trained. Some 2-year-old programs might be a little more flexible on this, especially if you’re actively potty-training, but by the time kids enter the 3-year-old classroom, they’ll need to be pretty independent in that area.
They’ll also need to be able to wash their own hands and feed themselves. No need to worry about them being able to do everything on their own (preschool is actually where my son learned the “flip trick” for putting on his coat), but in general, the teachers won’t be able to attend to them as much as if they were in a daycare setting.
When you have a preschooler, you learn that simple tasks can be quite complex. Take putting on a jacket, for example. I always see parents standing in doorways, holding up little coats and windbreakers while instructing: “Right arm! No, the other one! OK, now the other arm! Stretch! You’re almost there! Got it. Now onto the buttons.” It is a process.
They are ready for the separation
The first morning of preschool drop-off shouldn’t be the first time your kiddo is away from you (this is probably obvious). They should be used to having different caregivers, such as a grandparent or a babysitter, from time to time.
A little bit of crying when you drop them off is fine—and it’s fairly normal. As most preschool teachers will tell you, a swift drop-off with a hug and an “I love you! I will be back in a few hours! Have fun!” is best. Most kids will stop crying within a couple of minutes and can be redirected into an activity to distract them pretty easily. But if the crying is inconsolable and continues throughout the entire class time, that’s a different story.
Kids need to be emotionally ready to separate from you in order to get the benefits of attending preschool.
They are ready for a classroom setting
Yes, preschool is a great place to develop some solid sharing skills, an ability to sit and concentrate for longer periods of time, as well as listening, following directions and taking turns. However, kids have to be able to sit and concentrate on their own for at least a short amount of time in order to work on art projects, and they’ll need to participate in circle time without ditching it regularly to explore the classroom.
Every kid is going to have days where these things don’t come easily but for the most part, they should be able to participate in the classroom activities with everyone else.