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10 Ways to Know a Child is Ready for Preschool

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

Parents often ask, “When will my child be ready for preschool?” But the answer varies because each child develops at his or her own pace. Some will be ready for preschool earlier than others.

Whether or not the child is ready will be based on the development of certain key skills and milestones. While having each skill mastered is not the goal, it would be ideal to have some general guidelines to meet before the kid is dropped off for the first day of school.

In this article, we’ve compiled a preschool readiness checklist for the things a preschool teacher will be looking for.

10 Skills to Look For When Determining If a Child is Preschool-Ready

Keep in mind that while academic skills can be helpful, readiness skills should be more centered around the child’s personality and temperament.

Child development of these skills typically happens between the ages of three to five as the attention span, memory, and language skills are developing.

The following 10 skills can help caregivers assess a child’s preschool readiness.

1. The Child Shows Emotional Development

The child should be in the process of developing strong emotional skills before starting preschool. This will help the child feel confident enough to take initiative to get their needs met and express how they feel safe. It will also ensure they can ask for help when needed.

Here are some signs the child is developing emotional skills:

  • Notices others’ emotions

  • Can express emotions, needs, and requests

  • Is learning to self-regulate

  • Can share toys easily

  • Will take turns

  • Uses their words to solve problems when frustrated or angry

  • Uses words like “please”, “thank you”, and “excuse me”

  • Tries new tasks without being afraid of making a mistake

2. The Child is Developing Reasoning Skills

Young children should also start to develop their reasoning skills before entering preschool. Reasoning skills allow children to see different perspectives, which leads to the development of empathy and understanding. Not only will this allow the child to be more creative, but it will also help them make connections, and problem-solving through critical thinking.

Here are some common signs a child is developing reasoning skills:

  • Can match identical objects, or match objects by shape and color

  • Understands that objects still exist even if you can’t see or hear them (object permanence)

  • Enjoys taking things apart and putting them back together

  • Remembers short sequences of events that have two to three steps

  • Understands concepts like in, out, front, back, under, over, on, and off

  • Knows parts of the body like head, shoulders, knees, feet, nose, etc.

  • Can draw a picture of himself or herself that includes these body parts

  • Is curious

  • Is persistent

  • Enjoys exploring

3. The Child Can Focus Their Attention

To learn, a child must be able to pay attention. As a child grows, he or she can voluntarily focus on things for greater periods through sustained attention. However, this must be done through the development and continued improvement of sustained attention.

Experts say that about two to three minutes per year of their age is a reasonable attention span. The average attention span for a two-year-old would be four to six minutes; a four-year-old would spend eight to 12 minutes of focused attention, and a six-year-old would have between a 12-minute and 18-minute attention span. Keep in mind that other factors may be present that will influence the attention span like nearby distractions, hunger or fatigue, and how interested the child is in the activity.

Here are some common signs a child can focus attention:

  • Can listen to and obey simple instructions

  • Sits still during story time

  • Carries out instructions with little to no mistakes

  • Asks questions about the story that was read or the instructions that were given

  • Does not seem to notice distractions

  • Is watching the speaker

  • Can maintain a train of thought

4. The Child is Developing Language Skills

A grasp of the fundamental building blocks of language is a sure sign that the child is ready for preschool. Language development skills directly support the child’s ability to communicate, express and understand feelings, learn, think, solve problems, and develop and maintain relationships. It is also the first step to learning to read and write.

Here are some common signs a child is developing language skills:

  • Uses language to communicate requests, greetings, describe things, and many other purposes

  • Speaks clearly

  • Uses accepted language styles, such as the appropriate volume and tone of voice

  • Tells or retells simple stories

  • Uses words in the correct contexts (or close to the proper context)

  • Uses sentences with two concepts or phrases

  • Talks in complete sentences

  • Follows one or two-step directions given to him or her

  • Uses descriptive language

  • Makes up stories

  • Talks about their everyday experience

  • Ask questions about how things work

  • Expresses clear, understandable ideas

  • Recites the ABCs or recognizes some letters of the alphabet

  • Expresses thoughts and needs verbally

5. The Child Engages in Artistic or Musical Activities

Art and music both can play a role in the development of cognition and creative thinking. Art can have a direct impact on the child’s learning pathway to literacy, math, and science. Additionally, music can ignite skills for school readiness, such as intellectual, social, emotional, motor, language, and overall literacy. Engaging in musical activities helps the child get familiar with sounds and the meanings of words.

Here are some common signs a child is developing artistic and musical abilities:

  • Recognizes some basic shapes

  • Can name six to eight colors

  • Draws with crayons, colored pencils, or other art tools

  • Drawings resemble known objects or people

  • Articulates what he or she is drawing

  • Makes up songs

  • Sings or recites nursery rhymes

  • Has a favorite song

  • Imitates sounds and rhythms

  • Plays by using realistic toys to imitate household routines

  • Acts out simple play scripts with others in the form of dramatic play

6. The Child is Developing an Understanding of Math and Science

Math is important for kids to start to get a grasp on early vital life skills. The sooner the child expands their knowledge of mathematics, the more likely he or she will have better academic achievement. Learning math allows children to learn to problem-solve, develop and measure spatial awareness, and how to use shapes and understand them.

Science allows children to learn more about how the world works. It is also essential for them to learn about themselves and how the body works. Knowing these things can help the child gain confidence since they’re standing to develop an understanding of the world.

Here are some common signs a child is developing an understanding of math and science:

  • Knows the difference between a circle, square, and triangle

  • Can count to five (although may make some mistakes)

  • Can identify 1, 2, or 3 quantities of things

  • Is curious about the numbers

  • Knows the difference between “some” and “all”

  • Uses size words like “many” correctly

  • Uses comparison words like “same as” correctly

  • Is interested in patterns and sequences

  • Can sort objects by colors or size

  • Understands the concepts of “morning” and “night” and knows the order of the day

  • Is curious about objects and events he or she sees in the environment

  • Is curious about how things work, and offers possible explanations

  • Is curious about animals and the sounds they make

  • Knows and uses words like “fast”, “slow”, “hot”, and “cold”

7. The Child is Developing Social Skills and is Capable of Group Interaction

The child must be able to get along in a social environment. If the child has already started to develop social skills, this ensures that he or she will be able to flourish in a learning environment with other children.

Here are some common signs a child is developing social skills:

  • Is excited to go to school, learn new things, and meet new friends

  • Enjoys playing in a group with others and participating in group activities

  • Does well with routine activities, like taking a nap after lunch

  • Will anticipate routine activities and responds well to them, such as the nap after lunch

  • Is interested in people in their lives like family members and friends

  • Is interested in common jobs like doctors, teachers, and police officers

  • Easily makes friends and has appropriate interactions with them

  • Asks for help when needed

  • Finishes activities

  • Follows rules and respects limits

8. The Child is Developing Fine Motor Skills

By the time the child is ready for pre-K, he or she should have developed some gross motor skills. Gross motor skills are the abilities required to control the large muscles in our bodies. These skills help children perform everyday functions like walking, jumping, skipping, and more. They are also important for self-care skills like dressing themselves, getting into a car, and maintaining table posture.

In school, kids use these important motor skills to do things like sitting up during classroom instruction, playing on the playground, walking to their classroom, or carrying a heavy backpack. The quicker the child can learn these basic skills, the more physically ready he or she will be for preschool.

Here are some common fine motor skills the child should be developing:

  • Can do activities that require strength and balance, like jumping in place, running, kicking, or standing on one foot

  • Displays some gross motor coordination like maneuvering around obstacles

  • Can ride a tricycle

  • Can run and kick a ball

  • Displays some hand-eye coordination when playing with games like building blocks or putting together a simple puzzle

  • Can use fingers instead of a whole fist to grip a pencil or crayons to write or draw

  • Begins to show a preference for either left or right-handedness

9. The Child is Developing Reading and Writing Skills

Getting a child started reading early has many psychological benefits including inspiring creativity, curiosity, and imaginative thinking. Children can learn to role-play and develop empathy, problem-solving skills, and a sense of morality. This helps them grow self-confidence.

Reading and writing help children improve their communication skills through the expansion of vocabulary and better spelling, grammar, and verbal communication.

Here are some common signs a child is developing literacy skills:

  • Can hold a book properly

  • Can turn the pages

  • Realizes the words in a story convey a message

  • Knows the first letter of his or her own name

  • Knows the difference between some uppercase and lowercase letters

  • Is familiar with some letters and letter sounds

  • Is familiar with main characters in some stories

  • Enjoys reading with others

  • Can hold a writing tool with either a finger grasp or fist grasp

  • Uses crayons, pens, pencils, and markers to draw

  • Seems to “write” in a linear way (this could just be scribbles)

  • Attempts to write their name

10. The Child is Developing Independence

A child who develops independence and can endure separation from his or her caregiver may be ready for preschool. Children who have this ability can build confidence and develop skills that will enable them to succeed in many areas of preschool learning including socially, emotionally, and academically.

If the child is unable to be independent at this time, it could be helpful to wait a bit longer until a better time. Here are some common signs a child is developing independence and is capable of separation:

  • Can be separated from a caregiver for a few hours

  • Enjoys doing things on his or her own at times; this can include things like getting dressed by themselves

  • Likes to work on projects on her or her own for a few minutes

  • Has spent some time being cared for other adults other than the caretakers; he or she did reasonably well

  • Initiates independent play and maintains it

  • Likes to read or do art on his or her own

  • Can be separated for several hours, such as a birthday party at a friend’s house or a sleepover at the grandparent’s house

Assess a Child’s Readiness for the Next Important Step

Early childhood is one of the most important times in a child’s life. Therefore, knowing which school year is the best time for the child to enter preschool is essential. We hope this preschool readiness checklist can help caregivers, teachers, and family help assess a child’s readiness for the next important step in their lives.

If a child fails to develop essential skills during the age-appropriate time, they might need to seek extra help or perhaps even get a diagnosis. Luckily, here at CASRF, we’ve got the programs to help!



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