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Is your child ready for school?

Little girl at school

So where is she going to school? Friends may ask the minute your little angel turns two. And indeed, many two-year-olds benefit from different stimulation than they would get at home. However, even though two has become the commonly accepted age of starting playschool, there are many children who are not ready for school at this age.

If you are considering starting your toddler at a playschool, it helps to get an idea of whether he or she is ready emotionally, physically and mentally. As children all differ so much, it’s not possible to say at what age they are ready for school, but here are some factors to consider:

Can your child separate from you happily for a period of time?

You – or your child’s primary caregiver – are the most important person in his life. Early separation can be traumatic. If your child is crying and clinging to you every day when you try and leave, it’s most likely a sign of anxiety. This is not abnormal, naughty or manipulative; it is quite normal and age-appropriate behaviour for a two-year-old.

Trying again the following year, with the benefit of a few more month’s emotional growth and maturity, your child might see things as exciting rather than daunting.

How are things at home?

“Take into consideration both your home circumstances and your little one’s developmental stage. For example, having a child start playschool when they are experiencing changes in the family dynamic (a new baby or divorce for example) or a period of intense separation anxiety, can affect their social and emotional development,” says clinical psychologist for Nubabi, Claire Toi.

While most separation anxiety tends to resolve at about 18 months, it can go on into the toddler years. Some children only become upset on separation, but once the caregiver has left, they settle into their school routine.

“However, for a child that becomes very distressed and who a teacher is unable to calm, the playschool situation will offer little benefit. It may result in the child viewing school as a negative space where her needs are not met,” says Claire.

Is your child able to communicate something to you that might be bothering her at school?

Most children at age two, even with an impressive vocabulary, cannot express, or even fully understand, feelings of insecurity or unhappiness. This could be worrisome if there’s something happening that you need to know about.

What is the school environment like?

Depending on your child’s nature, she might benefit more from smaller groups and more one-on-one attention, while others might enjoy a busy classroom environment.

“It is important for children to have a predictable routine at school, this helps to build confidence and security as a child knows what comes next,” says Claire. Routine should also be part of home life.

What to look out for when starting school

  • Acting out is one way a child communicates their unhappiness in the absence of vocabulary and language skills.
  • At home, behaviour changes that you may notice if your child is distressed about going to playschool include aggression, disobedience (in a child that usually cooperates), complaints of pain, for example a sore tummy, or refusal to go to school.

Be guided not by the pressure of peers, or the social norms of the day, but by what is best for your precious child’s unique needs.

Fortunately, school’s not the only option. If you are not yet comfortable with school for your tiny tot, and you work away from home, there are alternatives. Some children thrive in a more intimate environment with a day mother or nanny. Consider a weekly activity, outing, or movement or music class, which you child can go to with his or her carer.

Plan your child’s week to include a few regular play dates with children the same age, an activity with grandparents and some purposeful games and activities to satisfy all his stimulation and early learning needs.

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