Most experts agree: attending a good preschool program can have a lasting benefit for your child.
A groundbreaking Carnegie Foundation study tracked a group of students for more than 20 years, from infancy to early adulthood, and found that the students who had been enrolled in early education (e.g., preschool programs offered through Head Start) did significantly better at every stage of school. According to the study authors, attendance at preschool evened out the performance gap between lower and higher income students, increased social competence and school readiness, and helped the kids become better organized, more focused students. They were more likely to graduate from college, be employed, and even register to vote.
Even if there is no question that preschool programs can benefit your child, many parents still wonder when their child should start preschool and what type of program is best. Preschool programs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from half-day, low intensity programs for 3-year-olds to academically rigorous full-day programs that teach second languages.
One of the main benefits of preschool is socialization, both with other children and with adults in an authority position. If your child is showing signs that he or she enjoys being in the presence of non-family adults and can handle groups of peers, it might be time to start the preschool hunt.
However, even with the best socialized kids, the transition to preschool can be rough. According to Parenting Science, studies have shown that preschool-aged children experience higher levels of stress at preschool and learn aggressive behaviors such as hitting, biting, and kicking. If your child seems ready for preschool, many experts recommend starting with small, intimate classes and limited hours at first (although the evidence is mixed regarding the effects of long hours in care).
Your child should also be toilet trained — many preschools will not accept children who aren’t potty trained.
Finally, you can talk to your child about preschool and gauge his or her anxiety level about being separated from you for long periods. If your child has significant anxiety, then it might not be a good idea to pursue preschool just yet — it could backfire.
Remember that a toddler who has difficulty separating from his parents may be picking up on your cues that you don’t feel totally comfortable with the idea of preschool. First and foremost, check in with your feelings about this new stage in your child’s life. Though it is normal for parents to be a bit anxious about their child’s first days of preschool, having this awareness can help you understand what feelings of separation anxiety are stemming from your own fears and which ones are stemming from your child.
Ultimately, the best indicator of preschool readiness is your child, so look for behavior clues that he or she is ready for that big first day of school.
Reviewed by Eva Benmeleh, March 2020
- Kids who were enrolled in early education went on to do significantly better at every stage of school.
- Preschool programs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from low intensity and half-day to intense, full-day programs.
- If your child does well in a group of peers and is potty trained, he or she might be ready for preschool.