Prepping for Pre-School

Jai is going to be two soon. I still can’t believe it.

What that means is that we have another year before we need to consider enrolling Jai in pre-school. The cultural narrative is if he isn’t already enrolled in a quality pre-school before being born, I might as well accept the fact that he’ll never get into college.

I exaggerate but I do have that fear.

Ash and I looked at a couple of local pre-schools but to the extent of checking out their programs online. We haven’t visited, we haven’t contacted them, we haven’t really discussed our options other than: should we?

For a person who likes to be on top of everything and stresses out when I’m not, this “lack of planning” is a new feeling for me. Part of me is concerned that I am not concerned and another part of me isn’t ready for the idea of sending Jai way for portions of the day to be under a stranger’s care.

I am torn between being more proactive or just waiting until I absolutely have to make the decision to enroll him, around age 4.

Jai may make that decision for me: if he isn’t ready developmentally to join pre-school before 4, then I don’t have anything to worry about other than getting him into a decent program when he’s ready.

Right now, because I have a year to go before he can even be considered for pre-school, even part-time, I am not stressing too much. But I do need to start thinking about it because of applications, enrollments, and other deadlines that come up fast.

I also have to consider: what does he need to know before he steps into the classroom? And how can I, as a parent, work with his future teachers to provide him with all the tools he needs to get the most out of his education?

To be clear, this post isn’t about the first day of pre-school or finding a pre-school to send a little one. It’s about what I can do for Jai before I send him to pre-school so he’s prepared when the time comes. I will cross the bridge of the “do I send him at 3 or do I send him at 4” when I get to it.

This is something I can work on now.

How Early is Too Early?

The major component in deciding if a child is ready for pre-school is if they are developmentally ready. Is the child able to do independent play? Potty trained? Able to be away from the primary caretaker for an extended period of time? Some of these requirements are easy to work on, while others may need to happen in the child’s own time. I acknowledge that Ash and I have the privilege of waiting until Jai’s ready for pre-school, but I know there are plenty of parents that need to put the child into school sooner because of financial needs.

A question I am constantly asking myself is if it’s too early to start preparing Jai for pre-school. I am not sitting at home with him going over flash card alphabets, nor am I drilling state capitals into his head. But should I be doing something like this?

I am not an early childhood education expert and what information I find online makes my head spin: he should know his letters, his numbers, and how to tie his shoe at so many months. No, he should know his letters, numbers, and be potty trained instead at a different age. Recommendations of what is best for your child’s intellectual development change month-to-month as new studies come out.

This is pretty standard for much of parenting. There are so many conflicting “do’s” and “don’ts” that it isn’t surprising when parents throw their hands in the air and say “I give up.” I reached that point on day two in the hospital after Jai was born

I ultimately settled on following his lead.

We expose Jai to everything that is age-appropriate (and some stuff that might be a year or two older) and let him decide on what he’s interested in learning.  If he does not want to go through the alphabet when reading a book based on letters, then I just read the book to him and try again at a later point in the day. Some days he’s open to letter identification and other days he just wants to read a book.

Teaching at Home

I engage in more passive teaching with Jai than active. Instead of sitting down with flashcards and actively working through them, I will take whatever opportunity I can take to show him a letter or talk him through a word. For example: Jai loves Batman, so I will pick up his Batman toy and spell out his name in a sing-song voice that he loves.

When we’re driving down the road, he’ll identify objects out the window and I will ask him questions about it: what sound do dogs make? What do you think about that train? Do you see how many cars are over there?

Jai is currently in the pattern recognition and cause & effect stage, so I encourage those teaching moments as well. What happens when we turn this on and off? What is each car emblem we pass in the parking lot?

By approaching his learning from a more passive approach, it makes learning more fun for both of us. If Jai isn’t stressed out over learning a concept, I don’t get stressed over it either. I found that when I taught college composition many of my students understood concepts better when I encouraged passive learning than the standard memorization I underwent in High School and undergrad.

Other ways that I passively teach Jai at home (that will help prepare him for pre-school):

  • Give him opportunities throughout the day for independent play. When I need to work on something around the house, I will let him have access to safe toys in a safe space to play on his own.
  • Encourage and allow safe exploration of problem-solving. Jai loves fans, so he figured out how to reach the switch to his overhead fan on his own. I made sure to acknowledge his achievement and encourage him when he learns a new concept.
  • When engaging in active play, I talk about what I am doing and all that he is doing to help increase his vocabulary. This encourages imaginative play when he is doing independent play.
  • Read at least ten books a day to him. These don’t need to be ten different books; many times Jai wants to read the same book three times in a row. This encourages a love of reading but also helps promote his openness to learning letters when the time comes.
  • Encourage Jai “reading.” Jai loves to sit and flip through books during his independent play or when an adult is in the room with him. He’ll correctly identify words on the page and so we acknowledge that identification. At this point, it is pattern recognition after reading the story multiple times, but this is the beginning stages of literacy.
  • Sing educational songs that encourage letters, counting, or identification. For example, the ABC’s, Counting Monkeys or Ants, and Head/Shoulders/Knees, etc. We encourage correct identification when he does it on his own outside of a song.
  • Put Jai in social situations with children his age and taking a step back while he plays. I try to get Jai to a playground at least once a week and let him run off to play on his own. I stay back a distance if he is playing alone (but always in his line of sight), and get a little closer when he plays near or with another child. I only intervene if Jai takes a toy from another child before they are done playing with it or he bodily interferes with their play (being at the base of a slide or cutting in front of a child in line). I remind Jai that he needs to wait his turn and tell the other child that he’s sorry. I work in the concept of sharing and taking turns as much as I can while it’s fresh so he can make the necessary connections.
  • Encourage bodily autonomy and personal decision making when available. I ask him if he wants to be picked up or held when it’s time to read a book and don’t force it when the answer is “no.” When I want to sit down and read to him I let him pick the books we’re going to read. When it’s time to go out to run an errand, I ask him what toy he would like to bring with him for the car ride.
  • When Jai wants to do a more structured learning project, like the flashcards we have for him, I go through them until he’s ready to move on. He’s too young to hold him to it right now, so to avoid him resenting my more active teaching attempts when he is ready, I drop it and try again a few minutes later. If he rejects it again, I will let it go until later time or date.
  • On rainy days when we can’t play outside, I set up age-appropriate art projects for him to work on. When painting, I gently teach him about only painting in a specific area to avoid a mess around the house. This will help get him used to any rules or boundaries a teacher requires in the classroom for various projects.
  • Provide access to a child’s potty to get him used to the concept of potty-training when he’s ready. At this point he has no interest, so we’re not pushing the matter. But he loves the chair to sit on or put toys in when it’s playtime.

This is by no means a full list of what I do with Jai to teach him at home and prepare him for pre-school. It’s what stands out at the moment as opportunities I actively take to let Jai passively learn.

All of this appears to be what parents naturally do with their little ones, right?

Absolutely. My point is this: just by interacting and doing things with Jai I am teaching him how to be ready for pre-school. I could be pushy if I wanted, but just by being a present and active parent I am already teaching Jai what he needs to know for pre-school.

There is a lot of pressure on parents to get their children ahead so they don’t fall behind, but sometimes not actively doing anything will get the child to learn what they need to know regardless.

But What About Me?

The final piece of this puzzle is me, his primary caretaker. What are my motivations for putting him in pre-school?

In theory, we can skip pre-school and just jump into kindergarten, but what do I get out of keeping him home a few extra years? Likewise, if I wanted him in pre-school when he turns 3, what might be my motivation for putting him there that early?

I’ve thought about this a lot.

Pre-school would be a wonderful socialization opportunity for Jai both for interacting with kids his age and teaching a more rigid schedule structure. While we have a basic schedule on a day-to-day basis, pre-school would tighten it up and require any sort of “homework” to be done prior to returning to the classroom. It would get him used to a more structured environment for when he’s ready to start elementary school.

Keeping Jai at home when he’s ready for pre-school may do him a disservice in the long-run. While selfishly I would love to spend all the time in the world for him, he does need to experience life separate from me, even if it’s for a few hours a week. Pre-school would be able to teach him things I missed and give me ideas for how to augment his learning on the days he’s home from school.

I also love the idea of getting a few hours a week alone where I can work on my own projects, work around the house, or just rest when I’m having a bad day with my MS guilt-free. I don’t want to push him into the classroom too soon so I can get this time back, but I also don’t want to hold him back from learning opportunities.

That’s why when the deadlines come for applications, Ash and I will sit down and look at where Jai is at and extrapolate on where he might be emotionally, physically, and mentally when the school year starts. If we agree that he will be ready, we will submit the applications. If we disagree or believe he won’t be, then we will wait a little longer before sending him off to pre-school.

What’s most important is what is right for him and respecting Jai’s abilities and needs. Learning is so important to me, so I want to make sure to start off his love of learning right so he will enjoy it as much as I do.

How did you know when it was the right time to send your little one to pre-school? What did you do to help prepare them for the process? How did their experience go both at home and in school? Leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.


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Featured photo credit: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

15 thoughts on “Prepping for Pre-School

  1. kat

    Sounds like you’re doing a fantastic job with your son! I didn’t go to preschool until I was 4, so am doing my best to keep my kids out until they’re 4, too. So many parents stress a good academic foundation for their young toddlers, but it’s really playing and socialization that are key. Of course, now that my oldest is 4 and starting a preschool-like program tomorrow, I’m nervous and stressed out, but comforted by the fact he’ll get the socialization that will benefit him for the rest of his life. Best of luck as your son gets older and approaches preschool age!

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  3. I love your thoughts, we did a lot of play groups and activities until we the kids were old enough to go into half day prek within the public school at 4. It was only a couple hours a day but enough for them to get used to the school before kindergarden started. I miss the days of having them home and watching them learn.

  4. Terri Ramsey Beavers

    I didn’t prep my kids for preschool and I wish I had of. We’d both cry when I’d drop them off for the first weeks. I’m sharing your post with my sister who is fixing to go through this herself.

  5. I have two children under age 5 and I’ve been prepping them for preschool, too. We actually homeschool and I’ve discovered they really love learning. This is a great guide to help other parents who have questions about prepping for preschool!

  6. I remember experiencing a little anxiety when my kids needed to start school for the first time too. We all go through it as parents! You’re doing a great job!

  7. Melanie Poulos Walsh

    My little one is in the same place. I am so excited for her to learn and engage with other kiddos. It’s great you’re prepping for preschool so your little one can get the most out out it.

  8. For a parent who has kids that goes to school is quite a work. Form preparation till the end of the school year parent’s esp. mom is always hands on for their kids. And I have so much admiration for those mom.

  9. My boys have both gone to nursery from being tiny so I feel like we’re (kind of) prepped here. It’s a big, big deal – and mum’s are amazing creatures!!! Best of luck lovely!

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