Preschoolers 101: Understanding Preschooler Development

How Should I Prepare My Preschooler for School?

Which learning environment is best for my preschooler?

There are many options for school environments and it's possible that no school is the best option for your family. Preschool isn't required by law, so you can put off school until your child is old enough for kindergarten. If you do enroll in a nursery school or child-care center, there are many factors to consider. What is the ratio of children to teachers? Do the children have enough time to play or is it strictly academic? Is the tuition affordable? Do you agree with the educational approach? Some preschools follow certain educational methods, such as Montessori or Waldorf, so you should also learn about these approaches. Jenifer Wana, author of How to Choose the Best Preschool for Your Child, warns that selecting a preschool isn't an easy job. "In addition to finding preschools in your area, you'll want to understand their educational approaches, evaluate the differences between programs, and spend time visiting the schools to determine which ones you want to apply to." Once you've narrowed down possible preschools, take tours of a few to see if they'd be a good fit for your child.

How can I prepare my preschooler for kindergarten?

Many parents begin worrying about kindergarten well before their child is old enough to go. Even if your child is in a preschool program, sending him off to kindergarten can seem like a big step -- his first venture into big-kid life. Many parents want to make sure their children are prepared, so a lot of time is spent drilling them on kindergarten learning basics such as numbers, letters, shapes, and colors. But the truth is, you don't have to use flash cards or teach your child to read a novel to prepare him for kindergarten. Instead, try to develop a general love of learning by reading aloud to him every day and encouraging his interests, academic or not. According to Caring for Your Baby and Young Child, the essential parenting guide from the American Academy of Pediatrics, "the crucial factor that determines whether a student will do well or poorly in school is not how aggressively he was pushed early on, but rather his own enthusiasm for learning."

There are some basic assessments of what educators call "kindergarten readiness," however. By the time your kid enters class, he should have a good handle on fine and gross motor skills and speech, so if you have concerns about these areas, talk to your pediatrician. Make sure your child can grip a pencil or crayon correctly when preparing to learn to write, and help him develop basic self-care and social skills that will be necessary in the classroom, like dressing himself and following instructions. Most children begin learning to read on their own in kindergarten or first grade, but you can set the stage for reading success by raising a reader at home. Keep lots of books around to get your child excited about reading and plan trips to the library to spend time reading aloud. If your child begins kindergarten with an already-developed love of books, he's sure to have an easier time in class.

How can I keep my preschooler safe and healthy?

Accidents inside the home are the greatest risk for toddlers, but with preschoolers it's important to be alert outside, especially on sidewalks and streets. Between the ages of 3 and 5, children start riding scooters and bikes, so helmet safety is critical. Be sure to supervise your child when she's playing outside, but dangers can exist inside as well, so continue to child-proof your home, and keep poisonous materials away from curious preschoolers.

To keep your child healthy, maintain good hand-washing routines. Teach preschoolers to clean their hands with soap and water after they use the bathroom, and before and after eating. This is also an important time to develop good nutrition and exercise habits. Preschoolers need space to run around several times a day; give them enough opportunities for physical activity so that they don't sit for more than an hour at a time. As your little one's palate develops, pay careful attention to choking hazards. Young children should continue to avoid any foods the size of a nickel -- or foods that are round and about the size of the opening of the throat -- such as small chunks of hot dogs, hard candy, whole grapes, and cherry tomatoes. Help your child make healthy food choices so that she'll develop positive eating habits and her growth will stay on track.

Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation.

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