Most pre-schools begin accepting children at approximately two years old. Age is not, however, the perfect marker to judge readiness. One should also consider where the child is developmentally. Is she physically, emotionally, cognitively and socially ready to participate in a daily structured or semi-structured educational programme with other children?
To help with determining if your child is ready for pre-school, consider the following telltale signs:
1. Independence. Developmentally, a child should possess certain self-care skills which require minimal or guided assistance by an adult such as washing hands, identifying and voicing that they want to use the bathroom or taking themselves to the bathroom, eating lunch without being fed and fixing their clothes, among other things. Note well that pre-schools tend to have a preference for potty-trained children, however, many pre-schools will help potty-train those who are not.
2. Communication skills. Ideally your child should be able to communicate whether verbally or by pointing. Remember, however, that your child will be attending the perfect place to help develop these skills so do not worry too much if your child is not speaking in full sentences, it will only be a matter of time. Additionally, your child should be able to follow requests and simple instructions. Collectively these things will help in ensuring that they benefit from the aim of pre-school.
3. Has your child spent time away from you? For some children pre-school will be the first time they leave the protective and familiar home environment. For children who have been taken care of by nannies/helpers/grandmas, they are accustomed to being away from mommy and daddy and tend to ease into pre-school with minimal separation issues. Don't worry too much, however; many children leave their caregivers for the first time to go to pre-school and do just fine. The trick is to help your child adjust in small doses. Many pre-schools will allow you to drop your child off for an hour or two during their first few days there, and as the child gets more used to the environment, gradually work up to a full day.
4. Is your child used to a daily routine or schedule? Pre-schools are fairly structured environments in which different activities take place at specific times throughout the day. There is a good reason for this -- children become increasingly comfortable and develop a sense of control over their day when the same things happen at the same time each day. A child who maintains a routine of specific eating, sleeping and playtime at home would have already been accustomed and will transition smoothly into the daily activities of pre-school. If your child does not, however, maintain a routine, do not be daunted, it is not too late to introduce them to one as part of preparing them for pre-school.
5. Is your child in good health? It is absolutely important that your child be in good health. Because your child will be in the presence of many other children, it is important that they are up to date on all immunisation requirements and are free of communicable illnesses. If your child is sick, you should delay entry into pre-school until the child's health improves.
6. Is your child ready for group activities? In addition to developing reading, counting and other skills, pre-school is really for socialisation and experts agree that socialisation is the best indicator of whether a child is ready for pre-school. If your child loves to be with other kids or is fascinated by them and has the capacity to socialise, your child may well be ready to begin pre-school. pre-school will help to introduce the idea that learning can be fun, to teach kids how to share, compromise, and get along as a group.
Being able to assess your child's readiness is key to determining if they should be enrolled in pre-school. Starting pre-school too soon or with a child who is not ready can prove to be stressful for the child and in turn the parent. If your child is uncomfortable with separating, do not force them to attend as your good intentions may very well backfire. There is nothing wrong with keeping your child at home, however, one should ensure that the environment is one which is stimulating and will foster age-appropriate development. Not all children attend pre-school and they turn out just fine too!
Doneisha Burke is a clinical psychologist (MSc) and lecturer specialising in child and adolescent issues. She may be contacted at email@example.com.