It's not college -- it's only preschool. But for many parents, deciding where to send your child is the first big education decision. For starters, preschool may be your child's first real time away from you, so you want to get it right. And then come the questions: Should I send her at age 2, or wait until she is 3, or 4? What kind of program? And what do kids need to learn in preschool, anyway?
Talking to other parents is a great way to get started on your search. But as with almost everything regarding kids, expect to hear lots of different opinions about preschool. For some balanced answers to parents' most-asked questions, read on to see what the early-childhood experts have to say.
Q. We are applying to preschools for next fall. My 2-1/2-year-old is still pretty clingy, and she isn't potty trained yet. How can I know if she'll be ready six months from now?
A. In a nutshell, you can't know for sure. But you can expect your daughter to make some big developmental gains over the next six months. It's true that a child who regularly uses the potty, shows signs of independence, and states her needs with words is more ready for school than a child who can't do any of these things, but most 3-year-olds fall somewhere in the middle of the "readiness" spectrum. And don't forget that a good preschool program is designed for 3-year-olds, with all their quirks, Strasser says. You may want to focus more on finding the right program for her, rather than worrying about her readiness.
In the meantime, consider these additional factors:
- A program that accepts almost-threes (for instance, children must be 3 by December 31) may be more attuned to the needs of young threes, such as separation anxiety and toilet training, than a program that requires children to be 3 by the time school starts in September.
- A school that's not licensed to care for kids in diapers will naturally be stricter about toilet training, while a school that is licensed (such as one with a toddler program) may be more flexible about a child who's still working on potty training. And remember, preschool teachers expect that kids will have an occasional accident -- that's just what 3-year-olds do.
- A mixed-age classroom, in which kids stay with the same teachers and classmates for two to three years, may suit a child who has a tough time with transitions, although such classes are often bigger than single-age classes.
- When you visit preschools, share as much information about your daughter as you can -- the teacher's responses will help you determine whether the program is a good fit.