The Preschool Age: What a Parent Needs to Know
Sometimes it seems like your life is both in fast forward and in slow motion. Some days are long and yet they all seem to fly by so fast!
It feels like only yesterday I was pregnant and then all of a sudden, we’re already talking about preschool. From tickling their tiny baby toes to discussing their favorite books, we didn’t expect to prepare them for their first year of prekindergarten so soon.
Preschool is a big step for your child and their development, so it’s good to know the most important factors before deciding when your kids should start preschool.
Do they have good social skills? Are they ready for that level of activity and education programs? Can my kids take instructions? Are there even benefits to early childhood education?
All these questions (and more!) may be running through your head. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. That’s why we’ve put together a detailed guide to help you make this major decision.
What Age Does Preschool Start?
Preschool programs are amazing. They are designed to encourage your kids to enjoy learning, but at what age should they start this wonderful process?
That depends. Generally speaking, between 3 and 5 years old, kids will attend preschool learning programs, though some places will take children as young as 30 months. This can vary from state to state and, of course, from child to child.
- In Michigan, their Great Start Readiness Program, a nationally recognized preschool program starts between the ages of 3 and 5.
- In Texas, the starting age for their preschool programs is 3 years old (as long as their birthday is by September 1st of the school year).
- New York has preschool programs available for kids age 3 and up.
- Florida has free state-run voluntary prekindergarten for kids aged 4 and up, though you can find other preschools that will take children sooner.
Families, parents and kids can all benefit from these programs. While there are differences, the goal of each of these programs is to provide a suitable and simple curriculum that will spur the educational, emotional and social development of your kids.
The Differences Between Preschool and Prekindergarten
I remember asking myself, “Are there differences between pre-kindergarten and preschool?” You may be asking yourself the same thing! I can share with you what I learned.
It turns out, while similar, they are not the same. Preschool is a space where kids are prepared for school, generally speaking. They learn the basics of interactions, structure and communication. Prekindergarten is the link that connects preschool and kindergarten. It is more structured and meant to help them transition into the kindergarten classroom.
I explained it to my kids like this. In preschool, they are a caterpillar, doing caterpillar things and enjoying life. That caterpillar eventually builds a cocoon and begins to transition into a butterfly. That cocoon is prekindergarten. With everything they learnt in preschool (as a caterpillar), they move on to kindergarten and at the beginning of their formal childhood education and learning programs, they can spread their wings and fly.
The biggest difference is in the age and the developmental abilities of the kids in the classes. Younger kids (2 ½ to 5) are in preschool and older kids (4-5) are in prekindergarten.
Preschool programs focus mainly on play-based activities and skills that develop:
- Language development
- Motor skills
- Self-esteem and confidence
- Social skills
Prekindergarten programs are more specific and teachers help kids develop the skills necessary for kindergarten.
- Working with other kids on fun projects
- Working independently
- Solution-seeking skills
- Social and emotional skills
- More structured forms of learning
The Benefits of Preschool
Every parent wants to give their child the upper hand when it comes to life. We want to provide them with benefits and skills that will help them in the future. Preschool does exactly that!
Many benefits come from enrolling your kids in a preschool program, above and beyond the expected educational ones.
Friendship is the cornerstone of any great childhood. Study after study has shown that children have a strong need for friendship. They flourish when they have the opportunity to develop robust and deep friend relationships. It allows them to grow in their emotional intelligence, which is arguably just as important as academic achievement. Social interactions in preschool can be the foundation for this.
Have you ever met a kid that wanted to stay still? Neither have I! Preschool is a great place for kids to be engaged in physical activity. Some homes may have screens or televisions that discourage physical activity or they may not have the space to run around. Preschool gives families a place to ensure their kids are able to run, play and get their exercise.
What Do Kids Learn at Preschool?
Kids learn so much in the short amount of time they are at preschool!
- How to take instructions
- Social development
- Differences and similarities with other kids
- Motor skills
- Socio-emotional skills
- Painting, counting, crafts, music, singing, dancing, games and so much more!
Even if your kids are of the right age, it can be hard to judge if they are ready for such a big step. I wasn’t sure at first and had to ask myself some questions to know if they were ready to head to preschool.
Is your child potty trained?
This is a critical one. Many preschools don’t accept kids if they aren’t potty trained. Understandably so. No one would learn a thing if the teacher had to change every diaper in the room! Accidents happen but your kids should be able to let someone know they need to go and go to the bathroom.
Does your child follow directions?
Kids can sometimes have “selective hearing” (as we call it at home) but they must be able to take direction if they are going to be in a classroom and early education setting.
Is their speech understandable?
Little kids are so cute when they speak. However, being cute doesn’t help people understand what you need. Teachers in preschool need to be able to comprehend what your kids are trying to tell them. If not, a preschool program may not be the right place for them yet.
Can your child separate from you?
Are your kids able to be away from you without continually breaking down and crying? They need to be able to move on with their day after you have left so they can get to playing and learning with the others.
How does your child interact with other children?
All kids of that age are learning social skills and there will (obviously) be hiccups but they need to be able to play, interact and take instructions in the same space as other kids for learning programs like preschool to work.
How Can You Help Your Child?
This will be a huge change for your child and as a parent, you want to help them out as much as possible. All kids respond differently to different techniques but these are some ways to make the transition smoother.
Hang out with your kids! They love it. Families can be busy but take the time to visit with your kids. Ask them how they are doing, how their day has been and anything else. Give them the attention they want and need.
Play school together at home
By playing school and other games, you can set the stage for what they are about to do in their preschool program. Go over instructions they are likely to hear while at preschool. Pretend to be the teacher. Run through imaginary programs with them. They will love it and you are setting them up for success.
Read and draw together
This is one of my favorite parts of being a parent. Reading and drawing together. We love listening to fairy tales as a family and then using recordable books to make our own stories. We then draw and record them so that we can listen and laugh at them later!
Listening is an important skill and you can practice it at home with your kids. You can use the amazing sound books from Cali’s Books to work on their listening skills. With everything from stories to Nursery Rhymes, you can find the right sound book for your kids.
Create a new routine
Practice getting up, dressed, getting their backpack ready and more.
Encourage them to do things on their own and allow them to do tasks without assistance, within reason of course.
Share with your children and listen to them
Tell your kids stories of your preschool education and listen to their experiences. Sometimes, all it takes is a little communication to help your children feel more comfortable.
Let them know that being apart is ok and that you will be back to pick them up. There is no need to worry.
Stay positive as a parent
Your kids take your cues from you so if you are outwardly negative, they will pick up on that. As much as possible, stay positive as a parent and it will make a huge difference for your child as they head into their preschool program.
Importance of Preschool Age
Your kids are developing a new sense of self. This is one of the most profound and important steps in their development. Independence should be encouraged and fostered, while at the same time making sure they are safe and still listening to the rules. This can be a challenge but preschool can help with this part of the journey.
The brain of a child is unbelievable! They are soaking up new knowledge every day and they are ready for more. As your kids grasp new concepts and their understanding of the world grows, you want to give them the best stimulus to learn from. Preschool, with the right teacher and curriculum, will do that.
Gender schema development
Kids are at this time noticing the differences between girls and boys and how they interact among themselves and with each other. This is the beginning of a long process that continues into adolescence. A preschool is a great place for kids to interact with and get to know a wide variety of people that will help this process along.
Preschool: The First Big Step
Preschool is the first big step of many in your child’s education. The academic, social and emotional education of kids begins in preschool and it is an exciting time for both you and them. Share with them your feelings and prepare them the best that you can. Have fun with it and if they are ready and it’s their time to go to preschool, help them take that first big step into their future.
Hi! I'm Cali, Founder of Cali's Books
“I’ve loved books since childhood and wanted to transmit this enthusiasm to my children”
I'm a mom of two young children who trained as an engineer and worked in investment banking and at Disney. A French of Caribbean origin (Martinique to be precise!), I grew up in Paris. Los Angeles is now the place I call home!
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