Your toddler is driving you up the wall and you’re itching to get back to work. But is preschool the right answer for your bustling bundle of joy?
Chances are if you have a toddler you’ve thought about preschool. While most preschools accept children around the age of two-and-a-half this doesn’t mean your toddler will be ready for school the minute they reach this milestone. So just when is the best time to send your toddler to preschool?
Time it right
According to Roxanne Elliott, founder of Australian online childcare resource centre Care for Kids, the best time to start preschool really depends on your child.
“Three to five-year-old children are keen to build peer relationships and play with their friends,” says Roxanne. “Choosing the best time to participate in group activities or put your child in care will depend on their personality as well as your family’s work schedule. There is no perfect age and each child will adjust to the care environment in a different way,” she explains.
Tips for determining readiness
To help you find out if your toddler is ready for preschool, think about their personality, suggests Roxanne.
“Is your child confident with new people and quick to make new friends? Does he or she adjust well to new or unfamiliar environments? Is your child easily overwhelmed by noise and activity? Is he or she an active littler person who wants to take part in everything or more of an observer? These questions will help you find out if your child is ready and determine the best type of care for your preschooler,” she says.
Readiness for preschool has little to do with age and a lot to do with where your child is developmentally. Preschool will place a number of social, emotional, physical and cognitive demands on your child and even if your child is ready to deal with these demands, they still need to be of an age where they are happy to participate in structured, educational programs with other children.
Your child will need to be fairly independent by the time they enrol in preschool. They will need to be toilet trained and should be able to wash their hands, eat their lunch and sleep alone before being enrolled.
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They will also need to be able to work on projects on their own. Preschool often involves lots of arts and crafts projects that require an ability to focus. You can help your toddler get ready for this by encouraging them to play independently for half an hour or so while you cook dinner or fold the laundry. The key is to keep an encouraging eye on your toddler’s play without having to hold their hand through every process.
They will also need to be able to play nicely with others. This can be a challenge for younger toddlers who may not want to sit and sing or share stories with other children. Taking your child to story time at the local library, or enrolling them in a gym class can help prepare them for this.
Finally, your toddler needs to be familiar with keeping a schedule. Try to get them used to following a daily routine before they start their preschool days so they know that certain things like naps and lunch happen at certain times of day.
Home or centre-based care
If you’re considering preschool for your little one you will also need to determine whether home or centre-based care will be best.
“The advantage of putting preschoolers in centre-based care is that it gives them an opportunity to practise their language and learn social skills,” explains Roxanne. “A quality child care centre can be very beneficial in helping children at this age learn many early skills and provide them with the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of activities they might not be able to do at home,” she says.
However, home-based care is also great for preschoolers provided they have access to age-appropriate resources and games and have frequent contact with other children their age, says Roxanne. “An in-home carer can supplement care with community activities at a local library or park, play groups or other group activities like swimming lessons,” she suggests.
“Even if you are a full-time stay-at-home parent it can be helpful for children to gain experience in a group care environment before they start school so they are comfortable being looked after by adults other than their parents,” she says.
There is no perfect time or age for your child to start preschool. The decision should be based on the needs of your child and your family, not what everyone else is doing. Do what is right for you and your child and the rest will fall into place.