Annie Keeling: Preschool readiness |

Annie Keeling: Preschool readiness

As more schools gear up to open, parents with younger aged children might wonder if their child is ready for an organized school experience.
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As more schools gear up to open, parents with younger aged children might wonder if their child is ready for an organized school experience.

Here are some elements to look for to help determine if your child is developmentally ready for preschool.

• Child has a level of impulse control – able to cooperate with parent’s voice, understand and follow simple rules and directions, have some ways to calm self when upset, and is able to delay gratification (even if it’s for a short amount of time)

• Shows eagerness and ease when getting ready for outings or events

• Is able to sit calmly in a circle with others

• Plays independently for a short period of time

• Takes an interest in other kids – either in small groups or one child at a time.

• Child can be with a sitter or dropped off with someone else without too much difficulty or charged emotions

If a child does not have these skills yet, it does not mean there is something wrong. Just as kids learn to walk at different ages, these skills develop on a different timeline for each person.


WHAT: Nurturing Parenting 8-week Virtual Seminar, For parents of children ages 2-12

WHEN: March 30 – May 25 (off May 4), Tuesday Zoom calls, 7 to 8:15 p.m., weekly video presentations, worksheets, and family practice

COST: Free of charge to Nevada County residents

MORE INFO: Contact 530-268-5086 or

Playing and Sharing

Parents are often concerned that their child might not be able to share in a preschool setting.

The ability to share toys and play respectfully with others is developmental. It is common for young children to be encouraged to share or play together, even when the child is too young to act on this concept.

Knowing more about what to expect in terms of children’s play development can help with parent expectations.

Here are four stages of play:

• Solitary play (Birth to two) – In this early stage, the child maintains focus on an object or activity while alone.  This is how babies and toddlers explore the world.

• Parallel play (Two-year-olds) – This is when the child plays separately from others but is close to them and mimics their actions. The child is playing alongside others without engaging them.

• Associative play (Common at ages 2 and 3) – The child is interested in those that are playing but not into coordinating activities with others. While the child may take another’s toy or mimic other’s play, the child still often prefers to play alone. Sharing is a challenge at this age – it can be introduced and practiced, but impulse control levels make it difficult for children to initiate sharing.

• Cooperative play (Begins around 4 or 5) – The child interacts for the purpose of play. She is interested in others and the activities they are doing. Play is often organized and participants have assigned roles, like playing school, games with rules, teamwork, or role-playing.

While there might be moments where young children experiment with sharing, there are usually many more moments where they grab a toy from another child or scream when their toy is taken.

Until a child grows into the developmental stage of Cooperative Play, sharing will be challenging to learn. They are also simultaneously growing their empathy skills, which affects their ability to share.

With practice and support from loving adults, a child’s sharing will grow when they are developmentally ready.

Steps toward Independence

When readying a child for preschool, there are several ways to help support this transition.

• Parent Support: You can say to your child, “I am here to help you grow into a bigger boy. One place to do this is learning to play with friends (or have some quiet time alone, brush own teeth, pick own outfits, experience preschool, etc.) on your own. You’ve got my support. I’m here to help.”

Kids have an internal desire to grow and become a bigger person. They intrinsically know they are headed toward that. Some parents use, “Well, big boys do that. Don’t you want to be a big boy?” to try to elicit some independence. This is not that. That has the tendency to make a child feel bad if they can’t or don’t want to be the “bigger boy.” Never shame a child when he doesn’t want to be the bigger boy. He’s allowed to say or show, “I don’t feel ready.”

• Practice: Provide a practice opportunity toward independence for the child. For example, give her one task to do at the park while you hang back. You can brainstorm together with pictures or drawing on a whiteboard of what that task will be.

Perhaps it will be 10 minutes on the monkey bars while you swing on the swings. Or your child may go up to the popsicle vendor and order and pay for one herself. Help your child with these ideas and let her pick one that she will try the next day at the park.

• Away time: Before starting preschool, give the child some experiences with a sitter or family member. Be in the house the first few times that person comes to watch your child. Then, let your child know when you will return. For example: “You’ll play some games with the sitter and have a snack. I’ll be back soon after snack time.”

• Visit: When it is time to start an organized experience like preschool, visit the school. If the child has some friends there, take pictures of them having a good time.

Sometimes a child is not ready for preschool or daycare. She might need some weeks to settle into this new idea or catch up to the experience developmentally. Observe your child’s level of independence with other experiences – with friends, extended family, play groups, the park – to help gauge if preschool is a match for your child’s stage of development.

Annie Keeling, MFA, is the Parenting Specialist for Nevada County Superintendent of Schools. Currently, she is teaching parenting classes online. The next Nurturing Parenting Virtual Seminar will start in March. See the Know and Go for more information.


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