Is your child ready for preschool?

Developmental milestones, more than age, factor into a child’s readiness

For both parent and child, embarking on the journey of education and schooling can be exciting, uncertain and scary. But how do you know if your child is, in fact, ready to begin this journey?

Many parents think that once their child reaches a certain age, it’s automatically time to enroll them in preschool. Some may feel that they are depriving their child educationally and socially, or that they will fall behind if they don’t sign them up for preschool as soon as possible. But some children may need more time and preparation than others.

While every school is different, virtually all have some sort of guidelines or criteria in place that they use to determine a child’s level of readiness when it comes to entering preschool. And, it’s important to also remember that every child is different, and there is no “one size fits all” solution for making this determination.

At Southern NH Montessori Academy in Londonderry, Head of School Debra Repoza-Hogan says the primary criterion that is looked for relative to preschool readiness is “eagerness to learn.”

“This is often something that parents have identified and know that the time is right for their child to expand their world,” says Repoza-Hogan.

“Children demonstrate learning readiness through curiously exploring the classroom and learning materials. Additionally, we are watchful for communications skills to ensure that the child has interest and is able to communicate with teachers and classmates. Communication skills include both verbal and listening skills. This certainly varies by child, developmentally, from a personality perspective, and also their comfort level.”

At Auburn Montessori, Director Connie Mercier says for a child entering at age 3, she looks for an ability to see individual activities as things to be used as a whole and returned. For example, children need to have come out of the stage where they want to carry a spoon in one hand and a truck in the other. Instead, they want to know how to use the spoon and be given a chance to use it, rather than play with it.

“They need to have come out of the ‘chaos/no’ stage where they are so egocentric developmentally that they try to control everything by dashing around, grabbing things and yelling ‘no’ to all suggestions,” Mercier says. “They can be shy or worried, but they also should be making a bit of eye contact and showing a little interest in the things around them that are developmentally geared to their age.”

Mercier adds that she also looks at the child's physique to try to determine if they are physically able to keep up in a preschool environment, saying that children often get sick with viruses during their first year of school due to being exposed to so many other children, and she wants to know that they will be able to handle this.

“I don’t deny entrance on this basis, but talk to the parents to see what their feeling is,” she says. “In fact, I ask parents a lot of questions and really listen to their responses, because they know far more than I do about their kids, and are almost always on the money. I set a tone very early that we are working together.”

Repoza-Hogan points out that from a practical perspective, Southern NH Montessori Academy requires that preschool children are out of diapers and can manage their trips to the bathroom independently. Other areas of independence include ability to feed oneself and ability to separate from their parent or guardian.

“Each of these criteria can vary significantly by child, and screenings only provide a brief glimpse into the child's true readiness,” she says — and also echoes Mercier’s sentiments around the importance of working collaboratively with parents to determine what is best for a child. “We partner with parents to ensure that it's the right time and the right fit.”

Mercier says that children who come into Montessori at age 3 are coming into an age of order and organization, as well as a desire to be autonomous. This comes very quickly after the chaotic “no” period, she said.

Four year olds, on the other hand, are typically very social and even when anxious about their parent or guardian leaving, are eager to fit into the social strata and make friends, she says. Looking to play with others instead of beside them, interest in counting, and using writing tools are all good indicators that the four year old is ready to be in school. At this age, children are typically more open to the concept of sharing, and a willingness to look outside themselves and ask questions is also a good indicator that they are ready to begin preschool at this age.

“I often have parents say their children aren't anywhere near ready to move successfully into my classroom, then call me a month later and tell me they've made a big mistake because their child is bored and angry at home,” she adds.

However, this is not necessarily a good reason to enroll your child in preschool, especially if they are not ready developmentally, socially and otherwise. They are most likely better off remaining home until you are certain they are ready to make the transition into preschool.

Regardless of what age a child enters preschool and what their individual level of readiness is, Repoza-Hogan points out that there is always some degree of transition and adjustment involved for any child.

“Adjustments through the developmental milestone of attending preschool are certainly to be expected,” she says. “Some adjust quickly, others at a bit slower or incremental rate; however, the 'eagerness to learn' is generally the primary motivator to propel them to adapt.”

Julia K. Agresto works full-time as a writer at Rivier University in Nashua, as well as freelancing as a writer for various publications and volunteering as a public relations coordinator for a charity group in Connecticut. She lives in Nashua.

Categories: Preschool

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