How to Know If Your Child Is Ready to Start Preschool?

Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    Are you thinking of enrolling your child on primary school next year? Starting school is a big step for little kids. 

    You might have heard the term 'school readiness' – but what does it mean? Find out all about school readiness and how you can help your child prepare for big school!

    A growing body of evidence suggests that a high-quality preschool helps boost kids' academic and social skills and puts them at an advantage for kindergarten and beyond. 

    For parents of 3- and 4-year-olds, that means looking around for a good program and wondering: What if my child isn't ready for preschool?

    Although there are specific skills a child should ideally have before entering a preschool program, the good news is that you don't necessarily have to keep your child home if they don't meet all the benchmarks. 

    Any preschool should be ready for any child. There's a wide range of ways children develop, and they don't all necessarily grow at the same rate. So in a preschool setting, a teacher should be able to individualise what's happening in a way that reaches all children.

    What Is Preschool Readiness?

    Preschool readiness (also called kindergarten readiness) refers to a child's readiness to make a smooth and successful transition and integration into the preschool environment and its routines and expectations, whether a preschool, kindergarten, kinder, or ELC (Early Learning Centre) environment. 

    These skill expectations include social, Language, play, physical and self-care abilities, which, when well established, make learning easy for both the teachers and the children. 

    With a little bit of operational planning, parents can help to nurture preschool readiness.

    'School readiness measures the knowledge, skills and behaviours that enable children to participate and succeed in school. 

    Parents sometimes think that school readiness means reading, writing, and doing basic maths before starting school. 

    But this isn't the case! Instead, school readiness is about the child's development – their social and emotional skills, physical skills, communication skills, and cognitive skills. 

    Children cannot thrive at school if they haven't developed the skills to manage things like getting along with other children, following instructions, and communicating their needs.

    Research shows that children who start school when developmentally ready to learn to tend to do better in school – and it sets them up for further success later in life.

    Why Is Preschool Readiness Important?

    The development of the building block skills for preschool readiness allows preschool teachers to expand and further develop a child's skills in social interaction, play, Language, emotional development, physical skills, early literacy, numeracy, and fine motor skills. 

    The essential establishment of these skills in advance of entry to the preschool program affords the child more successful access to the preschool environment.

    This can reflect social interaction in making and keeping friends, self-care skills (such as toileting independence and being able to manage their lunchbox independently), emotional regulation to demonstrate age-appropriate responses to frustration and to control tantrums, competent physical skills as they play they engage in when interacting with their peers (both independently and alone) as well as language skills for both listening (e.g. to group play instructions) as well as talking (with their friends).

    What to Expect When Starting Preschool

    Your child is probably feeling excited as well as a bit nervous about starting preschool.

    She might have already been to child care or playgroup and feels comfortable about joining a new group. Or preschool might be your child's first experience of being away from family.

    You might be feeling a mixture of pride, excitement, loss and anxiety as your child becomes more independent, mainly if you're doing this for the first or last time.

    How Can I Tell If My Child Has Problems With Preschool Readiness?

    Here are some signs that your child isn't quite ready for the big transition and the solutions to try for each.

    They Have Trouble Separating from You

    Some children have little or no trouble saying goodbye to Mom and Dad and transitioning into the classroom, while others may cry, cling, or try to get away. 

    Both reactions are perfectly normal. However, some anxiety and homesickness are expected at the start of preschool, affirmed PBS Parents, and this may last as long as a few weeks. 

    But that doesn't mean you need to take your child home. Instead, there are tools teachers and parents can use to help a child say goodbye. 

    One technique she cites is having the child hold a picture of their family as the teacher encourages them to join in the class activities.

    If your child hasn't had much experience being apart from you, give them some practice in the weeks before school starts by having a sitter or other trusted adult watch them while you go out for an hour or two.

    They're Not Fully Toilet-Trained

    By age 3 or 4, most children can use the toilet independently most of the time. 

    Occasional accidents are expected, and preschools typically ask parents to leave a change of clothes in their child's cubby. 

    But some schools have a no-touch policy and won't accept students who aren't yet out of pull-ups. 

    If your chosen preschool is one of them, use the summer weeks to practice potty training. 

    Try using underwear exclusively during the day; it's less comfortable to wear when soiling occurs, and so your child may be more motivated to use the toilet.

    They Have Trouble Following Directions

    A preschooler should be able to respond most of the time to simple one- or two-step directions such as "Sit on the rug" or "Put on your jacket and line up at the door." 

    If that's an issue for your child, give them more practice following instructions and completing tasks independently, suggested Preschool Inspirations.

    They're Easily Overwhelmed

    A preschool room is a lively place, with lots of kids, noise, and activities. Some children thrive on this kind of unrest, while others become shy or tearful. 

    Children with sensory processing issues are susceptible and may be prone to meltdowns in a preschool environment, explained the Child Mind Institute.

    Depending on your child and your school options, you might investigate half-day preschool programs if you think a long day will be too difficult for your child to handle. 

    Or, if your choices are more limited, you might try exposing your child to other busy environments before preschools, such as a music class or a playgroup.

    They Don't Get Along Well Yet With Other Children

    In preschool, children learn and engage in social-emotional skills such as turn-taking, cooperative play, conflict resolution, and recognition of others' emotions. 

    It's not always easy for a preschooler; every child has "I won't share" moments. 

    But a child who consistently has trouble interacting with peers — pushing, hitting, biting, grabbing toys — may need more socialisation at home before school starts. 

    The school setting is an excellent way for children to develop social skills, but children can do experiences at home to prepare them for school.

    For instance, you can plan a playtime with your child where you model appropriate behaviour: I'm going to play with the blue car, and then I will give you a turn.

    They Can't Handle the School Schedule


    A full-day pre-K schedule may begin as early as 7:30 or 8:00 AM and end six hours later. 

    Preschoolers also need to be able to transition easily between activities throughout the day, such as cleaning up the blocks at the end of free-choice playtime and lining up to go to the playground. 

    To make this skill easier for your child, establish a predictable schedule at home and create a routine between activities, such as washing hands before meals or singing a clean-up song after playtime.

    A preschool's day often includes a set nap time, but it may not be as long as the one your child is used to. 

    If that's the case, the teacher and parent should work together and figure out the best solution. 

    Perhaps you'll need to put your child to bed earlier, or maybe the teacher has options for children who need more rest than the schedule allows typically.

    They Can't Communicate Clearly

    A child doesn't have to be a chatterbox to succeed at preschool, but they should ideally express their needs through words or signs. 

    Between ages 3 and 4, a child's speech should be understandable most of the time, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association; they should also be able to put together short sentences and answer simple who-what-where questions. 

    If you have concerns about your child's communication skills, talk to your pediatrician before enrolling your child in school. 

    If your child is professionally evaluated for language delays, let your child's school know, and ask what strategies they have for teaching students with communication issues.

    What Can Other Problems Occur When a Child Has Preschool Readiness Difficulties?

    When a child has preschool readiness difficulties, they might also have difficulties with:

    Self Regulation

    The ability to obtain, maintain and change one's emotion, behaviour, attention and activity level appropriate for a task or situation in a socially acceptable manner.

    Receptive Language (understanding)

    The ability to follow instructions understand basic concepts (e.g. 'big/little, in/on/under/next to'), understand questions ('who, what, where, when, why), and understand vocabulary.

    Expressive Language (using Language)

    They communicate their wants, needs, thoughts and ideas (either verbally or through other ways such as Key Word Sign).

    Executive Functioning

    Higher-level reasoning and thinking skills (e.g. simple problem solving, understanding cause, predicting).

    Emotional Development/regulation

    The ability to perceive emotion, integrate emotion to facilitate thought, understand feelings, and regulate emotions (e.g., contain tantrums in response to an upset).

    Social Skills

    The ability to engage in reciprocal interaction with others (either verbally or non-verbally), compromise with others, and recognise and follow social norms (e.g. take turns in a game, wait for a turn to talk, respond to a social greeting).

    Planning and Sequencing

    The sequential multi-step task or activity performance to achieve a well-defined result (e.g. a construction task such as 'copy this' Duplo building).

    Self Care Skills

    Such as dressing and toileting independently (or at least developing).

    Gross Motor Skills

    Whole-body physical skills use the trunk's core strength muscles, arms, legs, such as running, jumping, and ball.

    Fine Motor Skills

    Finger and hand skills include writing, cutting, opening lunch boxes, playing with play-doh and using tweezers to retrieve small objects for finger strengthening.

    What Can Be Done to Improve Preschool Readiness Skills?

    In advance of the transition into the preschool environment:

    Parenting Expectations

    Increase expectations of the child around self-care tasks such as dressing, toileting, eating, and getting ready to go out of the house.

    Social Skills

    Encourage the child to develop relationships with known and unfamiliar children of a similar age.


    Expose the child to books to prepare them for sitting and listening to stories as part of group time at preschool.

    Early Preparation


    Start preparing the child for preschool at the age of 3 by talking about expectations at preschool/kindy, appropriate behaviour, sit down activities.


    Work with the child's child care educators (if in child care) to identify any signs of deficit or slow development so that these areas can be targeted before preschool/kindergarten.

    Visual Strategies

    Use visuals, such as picture schedules, to help the child understand the routine of their day both at home and at preschool/kindergarten.


    Prepare the child for group excursions when at preschool/kindergarten by going to places such as the library, the zoo, the shopping centre, the post office and help the child to understand appropriate behaviour in these environments.

    Fine Motor Skills

    This is an area that will be a large part of the activities undertaken at preschool, so developing these skills will enable the child to participate in activities much more quickly and willingly.

    Ready for School – How Can You Tell?

    'School readiness' in children includes many different skills and behaviours, such as:

    Social Skill

    Being able to get along with other children, demonstrate basic manners, assert themselves, and play independently and with other children.

    Emotional Maturity

    Being able to manage their emotions, cope with minimal adult contact in large groups, focus on tasks, follow directions and instructions from teachers, cope with the stress of the new school environment, and understand the rules.

    Language Skills

    Being able to talk and listen to adults and other children, speak, communicate needs, understand stories, and identify letters and sounds.

    Cognitive Skills

    Basic number sense, basic thinking skills, being able to wait and take turns.

    Physical Health and Coordination

    Essential health, fine motor skills (such as gripping a pencil and turning pages in a book) and physical coordination (being able to run, jump, climb, and play ball).


    Basic skills to manage their needs without adult supervision include going to the toilet, dressing, unwrapping their lunch, and organising their belongings.

    If you are not sure whether your child is ready to start big school, talk to your child's preschool/ kindergarten teacher or early childhood educator – they will be able to help you assess your child's development and readiness for school.

    Why Should I Seek Therapy If I Notice Difficulties With Preschool Readiness in My Child?


    Therapeutic intervention to help a child with preschool readiness difficulties is essential to:

    • Support them to feel confident following instructions and understanding spoken information.
    • Would you please enable them to make friends and feel confident when communicating?
    • Support social skills to allow the child to be comfortable meeting new people and playing with others, as well parents feeling comfortable taking children to new environments.
    • Help them follow routines and complete unfamiliar tasks that may be challenging.
    • Identify the areas of breakdown if it is unclear what the specific area of difficulty is. Still, there is a sense that they are struggling with their learning, communication, behaviour, gross or fine motor skills and social interaction.
    • Discover fun, innovative ways to help the child to develop an understanding of the skill areas required.
    • Ensure the child has the necessary building block skills for their fine motor and gross motor skills.

    If Left Untreated, What Can Difficulties With Preschool Readiness Lead To?

    When children have difficulties with preschool/kindy readiness, they are might also have difficulties with:

    • Participating in group-based activities and following instructions because their attention and listening are insufficient, and they may also have language difficulties.
    • Peer rejection and social isolation.
    • Difficulties following instructions from others.
    • Poor school readiness and academic skill development may be in a negative state conducive to learning and thus may not have gained the most out of their preschool/kindy experience.
    • Not only does a child become stressed and anxious as they realise their limitations, but also the parents.

    What Type of Therapy Is Recommended for Preschool/Kindy Readiness Difficulties?

    If your child has difficulties with preschool readiness, it is recommended they consult an Occupational Therapist and a Speech Pathologist to address the functional areas of concern. The benefit of choosing Kid Sense which provides both Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy.

    Your Feelings About Your Child Starting Preschool

    Your child takes cues from you, so if you're worried about preschool, she'll pick up on this.

    You might be feeling worried about whether your child will fit in – will he find friends, feel comfortable, feel like he belongs at preschool and be able to do what's asked of him?

    If you show your child that you think she can manage at preschool, she'll start to believe it too. Try not to let your child know about any worries you might have. Sometimes it's helpful to talk to other parents about how they're doing this.

    Developing good communication with preschool teachers can also help you overcome these kinds of worries.

    There's no definitive answer to the question, “when do kids start preschool?” There's an average age range for preschoolers of between three and five years old, but some kids will be ready sooner, and some kids may need to wait a little longer. There are many benefits to sending your child to a high-quality preschool.

    One way to know if kids are ready is to look at their nap schedule. If they still take a long morning and afternoon nap, they might not be ready yet. To get your child ready, you can try merging your child's morning and afternoon naps into one longer afternoon nap.

    5 Signs to Know if Your Child is Ready For Preschool
    1. They are Able To Spend Time Alone. ...
    2. They are Completely Potty Trained. ...
    3. They can Concentrate on a Task for a Longer Period of Time. ...
    4. They are Able to Interact with Other Children. ...
    5. They Have Plenty of Stamina to Complete a School Day.
    Scroll to Top