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Is it time for preschool?

Preschool can be a good place for your child to hone language skills, build on artistic talents and practice simple social skills.

Your child may be too young for kindergarten. But that doesn't mean he or she isn't ready for school.

Preschool, that is.

Among other things, preschool can be a great way for kids to get used to a more structured day like the one they'll soon have in kindergarten.

By doing a little homework, you can tell if preschool is a good choice for your child. What you learn can also help you pick the right one for your child to attend.

Benefits of preschool

Most preschools aren't meant to be a formal start to a child's academic career. But they can teach skills that will be important when your child does start school.

For example, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other experts, a preschool can help a child:

  • Polish his or her social skills. Preschoolers can learn about self-control, sharing and negotiating with others, for example.
  • Get used to learning as part of a group.
  • Become more at ease about leaving home for part of the day.

Of course, kids don't need to go to preschool to learn how to get along with others. But some kids may find preschool especially helpful, according to the AAP. For example, preschool might be good for kids whose home lives offer few chances to play with and be with others.

Specialized programs

For kids with special talents or needs, the right preschool can be an important learning environment. These children may benefit from a program that fits their individual needs and skills.

Maybe you think your child shows extra talent and is ready for extra challenges. If so, the AAP recommends an evaluation by your child's doctor or a child development specialist. If it shows your child is ready, consider a program that builds up talents without putting too much pressure on performance.

Kids with language, hearing, behavioral, developmental or other special needs may likewise do well in a program that targets their unique needs. The special education director at your local school district may be a good resource. He or she might be able to suggest a program for your child.

Choosing a preschool

If you decide that preschool is a good idea for your child, the next step is finding the right program.

A lot of factors can go into choosing a program. The U.S. Department of Education and other experts say a good preschool should:

  • Mirror your goals and values. Does it aim to build a child's self-confidence? Do you agree with the school's approach to discipline? Can you visit and observe at any time?
  • Recognize and meet kids' needs. Does the preschool have plenty of books, games, art materials and other supplies on hand? Are they right for your child's age and ability?
  • Feature fairly small classes. The AAP recommends no more than seven 3-year-olds for each staff member and no more than 14 children in all.
  • Use teachers who are trained in early-childhood development. Make sure the teachers and aides are kind and patient with the kids.
  • Offer a safe and clean environment. Is there always an adult present who knows basic first aid and how to respond in an emergency? Is the school clean? What's its policy for sending sick kids home?

Getting ready

There are lots of ways you can help your child get ready for school, whether it's preschool now or kindergarten in a few years.

For example, make sure your child has lots of chances to talk and listen. Encourage him or her to ask questions and solve problems too, advises the U.S. Department of Education.

Create opportunities for writing and drawing by keeping markers, crayons and paints handy. Let your child listen to music, sing and play simple musical instruments. Also, keep a close eye on TV time.

And since language is so important at this age, read to your child every day.

By doing some of these things now, you can give your child a head start on learning.

Reviewed 9/27/2023

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