By Stephanie Katzman
Preschool is a time for socialization, academic and emotional growth, and lays the foundation for a child’s love of learning. Whether at 2, 3 or 4 years of age, your child will benefit greatly by learning to explore, create and develop friendships outside of the home. Learning to depend on others is an important life skill, and preschool is the perfect opportunity to expand a child’s sense of community and introduce guiding and caring adults outside of the family. In doing so, children learn to embrace others and begin to develop strong social experiences to build upon as they grow further into childhood, adolescence and take with them into adulthood.
A preschooler’s success starting school for the first time greatly depends on his/her readiness, the parents’ willingness to separate and finding the right school to serve both the student and the family for years to come.
Is your child ready? When deciding if your child is ready for preschool, you want to be confident that your child will embrace a program that teaches the ability to understand multistep directions and teaches the ability to use materials in an age-appropriate manner. These two steps are important and allow young children to build upon new experiences for enduring knowing and understanding. It is also important to know if your child is willing to embrace interaction with new adults and children.
When thinking about your child’s readiness, your pediatrician is a good resource for assessing your child’s development. At a checkup, you may notice that he/she will ask things like, “Does your child have good eye contact?” or “Does your child seem interested in the toys you have provided for him/her?” or even “Is your child pointing to express his/her wants or needs?” These are all developmental milestones that are important when thinking about your child’s school readiness.
Are you, as parent, ready? Many new families struggle with this question because they are hesitant to broaden a child’s experience beyond the routines of home. However, many students at preschool age are ready to socialize and interact with others. This is a growth milestone and should be encouraged within the parameters of family values.
Just as important as the child being ready for school, the parent must be ready to separate from a child.
Deciding if they are ready to allow their child to separate from them can be quite a feat for many parents. We recommend that you and your family ask these important essential questions to help you prepare for this milestone:
“What will school provide my child different from what he/she receives at home from me?
What are the benefits of being at school and are these benefits important life skills for success in the future?
What are the concerns about starting school?
Has the school I have researched addressed my concerns with appropriate care and attention?
Are the schools I am considering for my child places that share our family values about education?
Will the school have an impact on my child’s learning to support the challenges of grade school and beyond?
The decision about starting school will depend very much on how comfortable parents are with the answers to these questions.
What is important for every parent to remember is that children develop at different rates, especially in the early stages of life. A neighbor’s readiness, for example, may not match your child’s readiness and should not be cause for alarm. Deciding if a child is ready for school is an important decision that should be made by parents and depends much upon growth development, social/emotional readiness and family values.
Finally, do your research. Finding a school for your child is one of the most important decisions you will make before choosing a college. You will read about progressive schools, Montessori, Reggio Emilia, religious, traditional and a variety of other philosophies. To make your choice you have to decide where you feel your child would thrive and in which of these environments your family will be able to build a community. When making such decisions we encourage families to make decisions based on the context of readiness, but also the context of the world in which we live today, making sure the school you choose is right for a growing family and a changing world.
Wherever you decide to send your child, know that you are providing your child with immense opportunities for cognitive and social/emotional growth. Preschool lays the foundation for the love of learning and can have an immeasurable impact on your child’s academic future.
Stephanie Katzman is the early childhood director at Ranney School in Tinton Falls.