Is your child ready to start preschool? Here’s how to tell…

The school year is approaching. Here's how to tell if your child is school-ready. By Xanet van Vuuren

“Is my child ready for preschool?” Many parents ask themselves this question as the school year looms ahead. Preschool prepares children aged four to six years for primary school. Although there’s no golden rule to tell when a child is ready to start preschool, there are a couple of “milestones” your child should reach before he can head off to little school.

ALSO SEE: 15 things teachers want you to know before your child starts preschool

Look out for these seven signs that indicate your child’s readiness for preschool:

Has he spent time away from you?

Educational psychologist Ilze van der Merwe-Alberts from the Bella Vida Centre in Johannesburg says the first important physical milestone a child should have mastered before going to preschool is the ability to separate from his parents. “Between the ages of three and four, a child must learn to be okay with saying goodbye to Mom and Dad when they drop him off at school.

“Children who spend most of their time with their parents often find it very difficult to separate from them, even for short periods of time.”

Educational psychologist, Dr Arina Lanser, suggests creating opportunities in which you can leave your child with
his grandparents or a nanny while you run some errands, so that he can get used to not being with you all the time. “If you don’t create these opportunities, your little one may experience separation anxiety when he’s left alone with his teacher in a strange environment.”

ALSO SEE: Dealing with separation anxiety

Can you understand what he’s saying?

“A child must be able to express himself and communicate properly before he can start preschool,” Ilze advises. Although he isn’t expected to speak perfectly, he should be able to use simple sentences of three to five words and be able to describe an event that occurred recently, like a trip to the zoo or a picnic with his family. He must also be able to ask for what he wants and express his needs.

Can he take instructions?

“The ability to understand and follow basic instructions is important, as it makes it easier for the teacher to communicate basic requirements to the child,” says Abigail. If you think this might be a problem for your little one, you can give him easy tasks to do on his own, like setting the plates at the dinner table or handing you the washing so you can hang it up to dry.

Is he potty trained?

While this “skill” is important at some schools, it isn’t crucial at others. It would make teachers’ lives easier if all their students were potty trained, but there are a number of schools that include potty training in their early curriculum. “If a child has been potty trained, it greatly enhances his confidence when arriving and interacting in a new environment.

Your little one should also be able to take care of some other basic needs, like washing his hands, pulling up his pants and eating lunch without any help.

ALSO SEE: 7 ways to teach your toddler to be more independent

Can he put himself to sleep?

If your child has to stay a bit later in the afternoons at preschool, he’ll have to take a nap during the day, which means he has to be able to sleep on his own. If he still needs you to soothe him before he can fall asleep, it‘s a good idea to teach him to self-soothe and fall asleep by himself. He should also be able to go without his dummy or bottle during school hours, so it’s best to start weaning him off them to avoid outbursts when he has to leave them at home.

ALSO SEE: How to wean your toddler off transitional objects like his blankie and dummy

Ilze explains that although children can take their attachment objects, like their “blankies”, to school with them, these objects shouldn’t be carried around with them all day. “The object should stay in their bag and your child can look at it every now and again, but he does need to be able to manage without it.”

Does he interact well with other children?

Your little one must show an interest in other children before he’s ready for preschool. Although he doesn’t have to play with them, he should be able to interact with them and participate in group activities with other children.

If your little one isn’t used to group activities and interacting with other kids, start preparing him. You can take him to the library for story time or sign up for Moms and Tots classes so he can get used to playing with other children, learn to share his toys with friends, and to take turns when playing a game. “A child should also have the ability to reach out to a grown-up for comfort when he needs it, and allow the grown-up to physically comfort him if he’s hurt or sad,” says Ilze.

ALSO SEE: How to develop your child’s social skills

Can he switch from one activity to another?

Most preschools have set schedules which change, for example, from playtime to snack time to drawing time. If your child isn’t good at transitioning, you’ll have to work on this. You can start preparing him with some advance notice. For example, let him know that he’ll be having a bath in a few minutes, and that it will be dinner time before it’s time for his bedtime story. This routine will make transitioning and switching from activity to activity easier when he starts preschool.

“Children like routines and changing from activity to activity, as it prevents them from getting bored and it keeps them busy all the time,” says Kim.

Signs that indicate your child may not be ready to start preschool yet:

  • If he’s having trouble sleeping or falling asleep.
  • If you notice any major regressions in any of your child’s milestones, he may not yet be ready
    for preschool.
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