Should I send my child to preschool?

Many preschools have begun enrolling for fall sessions. Is your child ready to go? What should you consider as you make this decision?

There are a lot of factors to consider in the decision about preschool.
There are a lot of factors to consider in the decision about preschool.

 It might not be spring yet, but believe it or not, most preschools are beginning enrollment for the fall session! Deciding to send your child to preschool can be a very difficult decision. Are they ready? What does “ready” for preschool even mean? How old should they be? And is it really worth spending all the money?

Michigan State University Extension recommends children attend preschool when possible. In fact, research shows that children who attend just one year of high quality preschool are more likely to do well in school than those who do not attend preschool. Children who attend preschool are more likely to have long-term educational success, attend post high school education and even have a higher income in their careers.

Why is that? There are important lifelong skills being taught in the early years. As identified in “Recommended Practices: Linking Social Development and Behavior to School Readiness” by Barbara J. Smith with the University of Colorado-Denver, the social skills identified as being most impactful on long-term educational success are:

  • Getting along with others, including parents, teachers and peers.
  • Following directions.
  • Identifying and regulating one’s emotions and behavior.
  • Thinking of appropriate solutions to conflict.
  • Persisting on task.
  • Engaging in social conversation and cooperative play.
  • Correctly interpreting other’s behavior and emotions.
  • Feeling good about oneself and others.

These key social and emotional skills are exactly the skills preschoolers are learning through high quality early childhood educational experiences.

How should you decide when your child is ready to go to preschool?

There are a lot of factors that contribute to this decision. In most areas, preschool programs tend to serve children ages 2.5 to 5, although some programs do serve just 3-year-olds or just 4-year-olds. Programs will vary in the number of days per week a child attends, ranging from two to five days a week, typically. Some programs offer the choice between full and half-day sessions. Some programs require children to be toilet-trained, while others will work with those that are still learning.

The first question to ask is what fits your needs as a parent. Do you need full day care or are you able to manage a mid-day pick-up? Would an afternoon session interrupt your baby’s nap time? Do you need a break from full time parenting? There aren’t right or wrong answers to these questions, but it is important to select a program that will fit your needs, as well as your child’s. It is OK to send your child to preschool because YOU are ready! Not only do you get a break, but they learn valuable life skills and will be more ready for kindergarten.

Once you’ve narrowed down what your needs are, you can begin to look more specifically at programs. Perhaps your local school district has a program or your church or synagogue. Many communities have a variety of early childhood programs run through child care centers as well. Some programs have specific focuses, philosophies or use certain curriculum. Take time to call programs, look at their STARS ratings with the Great Start to Quality, licensing reports with the Department of Human Services and ask friends and family for their experiences.

Federally funded Head Start classrooms are available to children with certain income or risk factors. There are also Michigan funded Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) preschools that are open to 4-year-old children, typically those that will be attending kindergarten the following year. These GSRP programs have certified teachers and receive state funding to help make preschool more affordable. There are even partnerships in communities where the GSRP funding has been utilized to provide slots in Montessori or other private preschool classrooms. It is definitely worth a call to see if your family qualifies to participate in one of these options.

Transitioning to preschool

After you have made the decision to send your child to preschool, it’s time to start thinking about the transition. In order to help your child be more successful in their transition to preschool, it’s helpful if they have had other experiences with young children. Participation in group experiences with parents, such as library story times, “mommy and me” type gymnastics or simply going on play dates, can help toddlers begin to be more comfortable in group settings and can provide an excellent transition to a preschool program.

Preschool teachers typically prefer to have children toilet trained, being able to communicate their needs and working on age appropriate self-help skills. These skills include tasks such as dressing and feeding themselves and being able to follow simple directions. Not all preschool programs require toilet training, so be sure to check with your program about their requirements. If they do require it, you’ll have a goal time frame to have your child ready!

By age 3, children’s speech and language should be developed enough that people outside the family can understand what they are saying. If you have concerns about your child’s speech or behavior, you can always follow up with the Early On program for children under age 3, or your counties Early Childhood Special Education Program for children ages 3-5 for an assessment. Don’t worry, but don’t wait. Early intervention can provide critical supports for school readiness.

It’s hard to believe it’s already time to be making these decisions for fall with snow still on the ground and the polar vortex upon us! However, many programs have already begun enrolling for their fall sessions. Take the time to start looking ahead at your plans for your child to be sure you have the opportunity to select the program that best meets your and your child’s needs, and to be sure that they are ready for kindergarten!

For more information about early childhood education and school readiness, programs in your area and webinars, visit MSU Extension’s Early Childhood Development webpage.

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