Preschool is your child’s first taste of “big kid” school, and if it’s your first child, it’s likely to be your first experience as well. Because of this, you may have plenty of questions when it comes to preschool age and programs. When searching for a preschool program, you may notice some call themselves “pre-K” while others use the term “preschool.” Many parents often ask if there’s even a difference.
Preschool vs. Pre-K: Are they the same?
Essentially, preschool and pre-K are the same thing: education prior to kindergarten. Despite this, most preschools will typically have separate classes for three- and four-year-olds, with three-year-old children attending fewer days or for fewer hours while the four-year-olds attend more often in preparation for the kindergarten year. But regardless of preschool age, the learning is largely similar, with emphasis on learning ABC’s, numbers to ten, and how to interact with other kids. In the end, the goal is the same… to get your preschool or pre-k age child ready for kindergarten.
What Age Do Kids Start Preschool?
Parents often wonder when to start preschool for their kids. While there is no magical preschool age, many preschool programs begin taking children at age three, and the typical preschool age range is three to four years old.
Is My Child Ready for Preschool?
When deciding when to start preschool, age should not be the only determining factor. A major component of when to start preschool is determining a child’s “preschool readiness.” Since each child develops at a different rate, teachers can’t wave a magic wand and say all children are ready at a typical preschool age. There are several developmental areas you’ll want to look at when deciding if your child is ready, regardless of a “typical” preschool age.
- Is your child potty trained? Many schools have a “no diaper” or “no Pull-up” policy for preschool. While kids may have an accident from time to time, they should be potty trained prior to starting preschool.
- Can your child separate from you? All kids may miss their moms and dads, but they should be able to separate from you for a few hours without a total meltdown. Kids who go from a daycare environment to a preschool program usually have no separation issues.
- Can your child play with others? It’s a given that young children don’t always play well in the sandbox, but in a preschool environment, they will need to be able to interact with other kids. Although they will learn more social interaction as time goes on, preschool-age kids should be able to make friends, share and cooperate at a basic level.
- Does your child still take long naps? Preschool requires some stamina on the part of your child. Many programs do provide a short rest time, but if your child still needs a two-hour nap mid-morning to function, you may want to hold off on preschool.
- Can your child communicate? While you may speak your child’s own quirky language, others do not. You need to make sure your preschool-age child can communicate well enough that s/he can be understood by teachers and other kids. Putting your child in a preschool setting when s/he can’t be understood will frustrate your child and others.
- Does your child listen? We all know three-and four-year-olds are not the best listeners, but in order to send your child off to preschool s/he should be able to listen to basic instructions and try to follow them.
- Talk to your pediatrician. If there are medical issues that you think would hinder your child in preschool, talk to your pediatrician. They’ll be able to guide you.
Is Preschool required?
The short answer is no, but this is a debate within itself. For every person who tells you preschool is not necessary, you’ll find someone else who tells you it’s vital. And scientific studies are equally divided: there are plenty of arguments and studies that have been performed on preschool students that also waffle back and forth as to whether these programs truly gives children a step up.
Benefits of Preschool
Despite this, you can’t deny that preschool and pre-K programs come with many inherent benefits. Those that argue all children should attend preschool point to these benefits for preschool-age kids who attend programs:
- Prepares Children Academically for Kindergarten. Preschool-age programs will introduce children to their ABC’s and even show them how to write their names.
- Provides Structure. Children learn to follow a schedule, many for the first time. They also learn how to follow instructions like putting toys away and sitting quietly for a story.
- Teaches Social Interaction. When you’re thinking of the benefits of preschool, social interaction is just as important as academic growth. Pre-K programs begin to show children the right way to interact with their peers.
- Teaches Independence. While there are teachers on hand to help, mommy and daddy are not. Children have to learn they need to get their snack and they have to know when they have to go to the bathroom.
- Physical Activity. With the increase in childhood obesity in preschool-age kids and beyond, many preschool programs are making exercise a part of the daily routine.