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What kids need to know before preschool

When deciding if her kids were ready for preschool, Jen Blanford didn’t worry about milestones or developmental charts.

“Honestly, I just went with my gut,” the mom of four from Gambrills says. “When my oldest daughter, Karli, was 3, we did lots of things outside the home, from playgroups to gymnastics classes, but I felt like she was ready for something independent of her time with me.”

Karli was interested in socializing with other kids, and her curiosity about the outside world was growing.

“I definitely think she was ready,” Blanford says. “Although Karli was very quiet, she made friends and adjusted to school very well.”

Blanford was on the right track in assessing whether her child was ready for preschool.

Early childhood educators say children don’t need to know their letters and numbers before heading off to preschool — and potty training isn’t always required these days — but there are certain indicators that help determine whether a child is ready for a school setting.

preschoolers WParental Separation

Many parents begin to consider preschool when their child is able to separate for short periods of time without major anxiety, but a healthy school transition is not always tear-free.

“It is common for children to cry and experience separation anxiety when they begin their first school experience,” says Kerrie Smith, director of the preschool program at School of the Incarnation in Gambrills. “This is very normal and, most importantly, very temporary.”

Preschool teachers agree that most tears disappear quickly after Mom and Dad leave. “Children thrive on routine so once they get used to the new routine, school will become something that they love, ” Smith says.

Social Skills

For some kids, the desire to make friends is a major motivator for attending preschool.

“If you notice your child playing with other children or showing an interest in others at playgroups, playgrounds or the library, they may be ready for preschool,” Smith says.

Though 2-year-olds often demonstrate parallel play, or playing alongside peers rather than interacting with them, by 3 or 4 most children are seeking to engage their peers — a good indicator they may be ready for a school environment.

Attention Span

Preschool teachers agree that children need to have some level of focus in order to be successful in preschool.

“I think if a child is ready, they will show an interest in participating in an activity for a short period of time, whether it is sitting still to listen to a book or coloring an art page, ” says Sandy Honkus, a preschool teacher at Creative Gardens School in Crofton for more than 16 years.

Attention levels vary for different ages, but Honkus says that at the younger level, children are only expected to focus for a few minutes at a time.

“If we can sing a song for a few minutes, that’s all I’m expecting when they first start school,” she says.

Expanding a child’s interest is a goal of every preschool curriculum.

“We build on the basics as their attention span increases,” Honkus says. “As teachers, we are very patient with the children and understand that this is all new for them.”


Communication skills play a major role in preschool and a child who is struggling to communicate may not be ready for school.

“Can your child communicate and make their needs known? Are they able to use words effectively?” asks Amy Richards, an educator with eight years experience who teaches the 4-year-old program at School of the Incarnation. “Consider your child’s language and self-help skills when deciding whether it’s time for school. … These components are vital to preschool success.”

Intellectual CuriositypreschoolABWeb

Teachers agree that curiosity tops the lists of tools needed for a successful school experience.

“If your child is expressing creativity with blocks or art materials, if they like pretend play, they are displaying preschool readiness,” Richards says.

Asking why or how things work and showing a natural curiosity about the world around them is another signal children might be prepared for preschool.

“Children who are being inquisitive or demonstrate an active imagination would greatly benefit from preschool,” Richards says.

ABCs and 123s?

Don’t worry about whether your child is prepared academically, preschool teachers agree.

“Academic learning comes in time, when they are ready,” Honkus says. “As a teacher, that is not my concern. I’ve never had a child that was not ready to learn and ready to receive. It comes to all of them.”

Many parents worry that their child must know and recognize the alphabet, or understand numerical concepts, but these skills develop over time.

“For a 3-year-old, it evolves,” Honkus says. “At the start of the year, we are just hoping they can sit still for circle time.”

By Katie Riley

Click next below for a preschool readiness checklist.

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