When Do Kids Start Preschool?

little girl with book

What parents need to know about the age that kids start school and what milestones are necessary to start preschool. Parenthood brings along with it some tough decisions in a new world that most aren’t prepared for. I’ve found myself entirely lost since day one! Aside from bringing a baby home from the hospital and secretly having no clue what I’m doing as I looked around at all the medical professionals surrounding me with happy smiles and well wishes on my way home, the other scariest moment of child-rearing was deciding if my son was ready for school. I know you might be full of lots of questions right now and I hope to provide a little comfort and direction at this time as we navigate the following question: What age do kids start school? 

By Maria Healey, MariaHealey.com

What is preschool? 

Let’s begin with a very basic question. In simple terms, preschool is your child’s first introduction to a classroom with education and structure top of mind, led by a teacher. It’s an opportunity for your child to interact with other kids their age and learn from someone other than their own parents. Preschool should not be confused with daycare, however. 

What’s the difference between preschool and daycare? 

kids walking

While daycare is a childcare service offered to mostly working parents with children aged 6 weeks and up, preschool is more school-based with enrichment and educational activities geared toward children who have not yet begun school. Simply stated, daycare employees are more like babysitters outside of the home, whereas preschool teachers are more like school instructors. 

When do kids start preschool? 

If your child started off with daycare, then preschool will be a very natural transition that might be available to them at the care center they are already comfortable attending. On the contrary, if your child wasn’t already used to the daycare environment, you might want to consider a few of your child’s personality traits or educational benchmarks to establish if they are ready to start preschool. Here are some good questions to determine if your child is ready for preschool: 

  • Is my child familiar with recognizing letters and numbers
  • Can my child write his or her name? 
  • How does my child interact with friends? 
  • Can my child sit at a desk and follow instructions from a teacher? 

Why should my child go to preschool? 

parents with kids in classroom

A preschool is a great option for early educational enrichment in children before they even step foot in a traditional school classroom. Preschool is also a great environment for children to interact with their peers with adult supervision as they learn how to navigate the highs and lows of friendship. For parents who work outside of the home, preschool nurtures the educational skills necessary to thrive in a kindergarten classroom. For stay-at-home moms, preschools are a great option for children to learn the personal skills necessary to get along well in the kindergarten classroom. Overall, preschool provides children with an opportunity to learn and engage with friends in a fun environment, setting them up for success in the classroom once they become school-aged. 

What age do kids start preschool? 

Preschool is intended for kids 2 ½ years old to 5 years old, prior to beginning kindergarten. Most children are ready for preschool around 3 years old, in order to prepare them for the kindergarten classroom, and they continue attending preschool at 4 years old and 5 years old until they are old enough to begin kindergarten. 

What will my child learn at preschool? 

mom with daughter

Preschool will help your child develop their social skills with friends through play and their educational skills through teacher-led lessons in reading and writing. Preschool lessons encompass a child’s whole wellbeing, rather than only focusing on a child’s educational milestones. Some overlooked things to teach at home that are often taught in the preschool classroom include listening and communicating, following directions, sharing, and taking turns. 

Which preschool do I want to choose for my child? 

When it comes to picking a preschool, there are plenty of options available so really do your research to determine what the best option is for you and your child. There are a few factors to consider when choosing a preschool, such as school fee, hours of operation, and enrichment activities offered. Schedule a time to visit the locations of your choice to see them in action with other children in the classroom to determine if it will be a good fit for your own child. 

  • School District – If cost is a major factor, check with your local school district to see if they offer preschool to 3, 4, and 5-year olds at your neighborhood school. This is often a free option for parents because it is supported by the school district, which is funded by your taxes. 
  • Church – Consider your area churches as many of them offer preschool enrichment programs at a low cost. Most of these programs will include religious education as well, so keep that in mind if it is something you do or don’t want to include in your child’s educational curriculum. 
  • Montessori or Day School – If you’re looking for more one on one or personalized attention for your child’s educational experience, private school is also an option with a variety of Montessori or Day Schools available for preschoolers and beyond. 
  • Franchised Locations – Some of the first schools that pop up when you conduct an internet search for area preschools will be larger, well-established locations that operate across the country such as KinderCare or La Petite Academy. 
  • Foreign Language – For parents wishing to further enrich their child’s early education while their brains are super absorbent sponges, choosing an immersive foreign language preschool is also an option. 

How do I get my child into preschool? 

Depending on the type of preschool you proceed with, getting your child enrolled will often only require a birth certificate for proving your child’s age and payment of tuition. As can be expected when children are involved, there will be paperwork to fill out and turn in, including a list of emergency contacts or allergies, as well as bank details for automatic billing. If you are registering your child to attend a free or income-based preschool, also prepare to have income verification documents available such as pay stubs or previous tax returns. 

Does my child have to be potty trained for preschool? 

Whether your child is potty trained or not before they begin preschool, wholly depends on the preschool that you choose to enroll your child into. Some preschools are happy to assist parents with getting children potty trained while at school, however, some will require that children are fully potty trained before starting the preschool program, which can delay a parent’s ability to begin their child’s preschool experience. Potty training is an important factor to consider when choosing the right preschool for your child. 

What age do kids start kindergarten? 

kids in classroom

Once your child has completed their preschool experience, they are ready to begin kindergarten usually around 5 years old, though they may also be 4 years old turning 5 before the 1st of September or so (based on your school district) or they might be 5 years old and turning 6 years old after that same date. It is a rather wide spectrum of ages for their first year of traditional school, but overall, a child will be 5 years old in kindergarten. 

The question of what age do kids start school is a difficult one because all school districts vary with their age cut-off for entry into kindergarten, however, deciding if your child is ready to start preschool is more than just an age question. Other factors need to be considered in terms of your child’s temperament and interest in being in a classroom. As parents, we tend to overlook some of these basic skills that preschool can really assist with teaching, especially in the instance of a child without siblings, as was my case. I assumed that because my son was a quick learner at home and that I wasn’t working to bring in money, I didn’t need to send him off to preschool. Looking back on that, I wish I had thoroughly considered all of my options because I see that he would have greatly benefited from learning how to assimilate in a classroom prior to beginning kindergarten at 5 years old. I encourage all parents to place as much emphasis on the social-emotional skills in our child’s development as we do on hitting those educational milestones. 

Headshot of writer Maria Healey

Maria Healey

Maria Healey is a SoCal mom of one. She is a collector of life experiences. She is a regular contributor to the Today Parenting Team contributing stories on topics from how to take better party photos to what you wish you knew emotionally in your child’s milestones. Her favorite pastimes shared on http://www.mariahealey.com include reading, writing, cooking, and getting outside as much as possible.