Making a friend is an exciting, momentous step for a child, and she's usually ready for it sometime after her third birthday. Between thirty and thirty-six months of age, children enjoy time with other kids, but their play is parallel. They play side by side; they might copy each other's actions and run around together, but they don't interact very much. This interaction develops slowly throughout the fourth year. Your child needs to be with other children a few times a week to develop and practise her social skills.
By the time your child is four, he will likely have several friends. But he may come home from daycare and say things like, "Me and Coburn are best buds. But Mirko is not my friend anymore. He kicked me this morning." Knowing how to deal with friends has become important, and having a best friend is one of the major developments in his relationships with other kids.
The way they play
Preschool boys tend to play more active games with their friends than girls do (as many parents will attest), although it's not clear whether this is because of parental expectations or because there is a gender difference. As your child becomes more social, give him pointers on the etiquette of friendship. Tell him, "Come to the door so we can say goodbye to Isaiah" or "There's Peter in the park. Do you want to go over and say hello?" Model the kind of behaviour and language that will help him both develop and maintain friendships. If your child is shy, you may want to give him opportunities to play with the same child often, rather than several different children consecutively. Repeated contact with a known person helps dispel shyness. Try not to make your child self-conscious about his shyness.
Kids, like most adults, don't like aggression. They avoid a child who hits, bites, or takes their toys away. If your child behaves in a way that makes him unpopular, work hard to help him figure out how to get along better. Reward him when he spends a peaceful time with a friend. Catch him being nice and tell him you noticed. If he acts rough with his friend, be very sympathetic to the injured party and talk with your child. End the playtime if your child continues to act out.
The benefit of preschool
At preschool, your child will have the opportunity on a regular basis to spend time with her friends. In fact, the most important reason to send your child to a preschool is to give her opportunities to socialize with other children her age. She'll learn to take turns, to be quiet and listen when others speak (other children as well as the caregivers), to follow a new routine with the group. And she'll probably make a truckload of neat items to decorate your fridge.
Most activities are designed to help children develop language skills and both fine and gross motor skills. Your child will work on learning colours; she'll learn to count and sort and match. And she'll do all of this as part of a group, learning not just from the teachers but from the other children.
As in any school setting, class size is important. Look for a school with one teacher and one assistant for every ten or eleven children. You may need to visit two or three schools in your area to get a good idea of what's available. A good preschool usually invites the parents of prospective pupils to come in and spend a morning observing and asking questions.
Preschool may also help prepare a child for starting the regular curriculum in a regular school, since he has already made the transition to a more structured setting and to learning as a member of a group. When it's time for your child to start school officially, give him lots of opportunities to get used to the idea. Take him to visit the school and let him play in the school playground. Help your child get to know other children in the neighbourhood who will attend the school with him so that he sees some familiar faces when he does go.