When Should I Apply for Preschool?

The importance of pre-K (a school-year long program that takes place immediately before a child’s Kindergarten year) to childhood development cannot be overstated. Attending pre-K helps children gain confidence and self-esteem. It helps them get accustomed to school routines. It teaches them how to communicate with teachers and peers. It lights up pathways in the brain that will be absolutely essential to later learning.

In a high-quality, child development centered Pre-K program children learn valuable life skills such as how to work and communicate with others, how to consider others and make good decisions in all situations, and how to take care of a shared classroom space. They also get a head start on their academic education. This sets the stage for them to do well in school long term.

When Should I Start Thinking About Pre-K?

As a caring parent, you want the best for your child. This, of course, includes a quality education. If you’re wondering when to start thinking about pre-K, rest assured that it’s never too early. Planning can help you check out different options to find the one that best suits your needs.

On the other hand, enrolling your child in pre-K before he or she is ready is counterproductive. That’s why many educational experts recommend that children start pre-K once they turn four years old. Before that a child may benefit from a shorter pre-school day in a program for three year olds where the activities will match their developmental level and readiness. A Mother’s Day Out program or other supervised play group situations are also good ways to introduce a child to learning in a group before they attempt the full school day demands of Pre-K.

Is My Child Old Enough for Pre-K?

Most four-year-olds are ready for pre-K. However, you’ll need to check with the sponsoring agency of the program you are considering to see what its age requirements are. Most stipulate that children have to turn four by a certain date. If your child doesn’t meet the requirements for the school year you are planning you can consider a program appropriate for their current age as noted above, or search for another sponsoring agency that may have a different or more flexible start date.


What Should a Child Be Able to Do Before Pre-K?

Having certain skills in place at Pre-K entry will make the experience a more positive one for your child and for you. Most programs will require your child be fully potty trained before they can participate in a Pre-K program. If your child is already 4 and has not accomplished full independence with their bathroom needs you can consult with your pediatrician to find ways to help your child reach this milestone before they enter a Pre-K program.

For all other skills and abilities needed for success in Pre-K your program should be willing to work with you to help your child adjust and develop, however, there are things you can do to help your child be prepared. 

  • Besides using the bathroom on their own, help your child develop other self-help skills. Can they brush their teeth, put on and take off articles of clothing–especially jackets, sweaters, and sweatshirts, clean up their spot after a meal, drink easily from a cup, and use a spoon and fork when eating? These are not only great self care skills that will help them when they begin attending Pre-K, they also help your child develop the large and small muscle skills they will need for other tasks like writing and cutting. 
  • Help your child feel comfortable with being away from you for an extended period of time. Pre-K school days are generally 6.5 hours long. While it’s not uncommon for kids to miss their parents, they should not become completely inconsolable if you’re not around. Give your child practice by having them stay with friends or relatives for a few hours a day a few times a month. Or enroll in a part day program that isn’t as long as the Pre-K day and perhaps has fewer academic demands–as noted above, a Mother’s Morning Out or supervised play groups are good choices. This also gives children the practice they need in responding to another adult as the leader or authority figure in the Pre-K environment. They will understand that sometimes the “teacher” will give them directions that they must follow to keep themselves safe and learning.
  • Help your child feel comfortable being in a group of children. This can be accomplished by some of the same methods as noted above (i.e. participating in a Mother’s Morning Out or preschool program where the “school” demands are a little less.) If your child is already accustomed to being with other children under the supervision of an adult other than yourself they will be that much more ready to participate in the Pre-K classrooms environment.
  • Read and talk to your child often. Discuss all the places you go, what you see there, what the people you see there are doing, why you are going there. Notice elements of the environment–what colors do you see? What sounds do you hear? What languages are people speaking? Are there any interesting smells? Read books you have at home or visit the public library to borrow books or attend a story time. A strong vocabulary and sense of language use will be of great benefit to your child in Pre-K, so the more you can work to develop that now and during their time in the program the better they will do.


If you need to make changes to your schedule or practice some new skills to prepare your child for pre-K, summer can be an ideal time to do so. That way, your child will be ready to fully partake in all that a pre-K class has to offer.

When Does Pre-K Enrollment Start?

The pre-K enrollment deadline varies depending on which program you want your child to attend. It’s usually in the spring or early summer, but some start enrollment as soon as January or February. It’s best to apply as soon as possible. You will want to give yourself time to find other options if you discover your child can’t attend the original program you had in mind.

Apply With MECK Pre-K

MECK Pre-K is high quality free pre-K education open to all four-year-old children in Mecklenburg County. Classrooms are located in licensed childcare centers and taught by licensed teachers and highly qualified assistant teachers. MECK Pre-K is administered by Smart Start of Mecklenburg County and funded by Mecklenburg County.

Do you have a child who is not old enough for pre-K this year? Sign up for our email list and be notified when they’re eligible for MECK Pre-K. Simply go to MECKPreK.org/future-meck-pre-k-students and select your child’s age group.