At what age did you send your toddler to preschool?

We currently have a nanny who we love, and who is committed with us for a while longer. My husband and I have been talking about whether we would want to extend her, and for how long. Our daughter loves the nanny (as do we), but she is expensive (as she should be). While we have floated the idea of a nanny share recently and haven’t received a hard “no”, before we hired her, the nanny expressed a preference for only working with one child at a time. So while that isn’t totally off the table for the right situation, we aren’t counting on it.

We could transition into another nanny share when our contract is up for this nanny, but our strong preference is to only transition our daughter once, if possible (i.e. in a perfect world we would keep our nanny until we find a preschool that works for our daughter, and our daughter would stay at the same preschool until K).

I know there are preschools that have toddler programs, some of which accept kids as young as 18 months, although it seems like 24 months/2 years is more common for an early start. So my question is – for those of you who had a nanny or nanny share, at what age did you transition your child to preschool, and why? What factors did you consider? How did it go?

I’m especially looking for insight from those who transitioned to full-time preschool, as we need full-time coverage for our jobs.

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Fulltime preschool is hard to find and might be just as expensive as a nanny. I think you'll need to research the realistic preschool options (hours, costs, other policies that are important to you, school culture, commute distance, etc.) before you're able to answer this for yourself.

Kids transition into preschool around 2 or 3, although "transition" can mean part time, like mornings only, and sometimes 4 depending on the situation. Many preschools kind of follow a school calendar, with starting new students around August/September (I'm thinking of Claremont Day Nursery or Albany Preschool, both of which my children attended). So you'd be researching for fall 2023 at this point, then get on the waiting list and hope it moves by then.

We LOVED our nanny and she remains a family friend. She continues to babysit occasionally and her child plays with ours. We did a nanny share until the kids were almost 3. (Both kids have summer birthdays.) In Aug. just before they turned 3, we transitioned to preschool. Because we had built a wonderful relationship with the nanny, we discussed the idea that if she could find a family and if we could help her find a new family/families that needed her 4 days a week, we could keep her for 1 day a week so that the kids will be in preschool for 4 days and 1 day with the nanny. We thought this would be a beautiful transition. We were very lucky and were able to find wonderful new nanny share for 4 days a week for the first year of preschool. The 4 day family's needs changed and they wanted 5 days for the 2nd year of preschool and we were fine with that. We were always prepared to transition to 5 day full-time preschool but we truly appreciated the little of extra time we had with the nanny. We felt very strongly about waiting to send kids to preschool until kids were daytime potty trained and fully verbal. If something happened at preschool, we wanted our kids to be able to share verbally and not rely solely on school's reports or kids' non-verbal clues or behaviors. (We are very glad because teachers don't have eyes and ears that extend to all corners of a busy and active preschool.)

We did a nanny share for my son and transitioned him to a Montessori preschool's full-time toddler program when he was 22 months. There were a variety of considerations with the specific timing, but some of it was the timing of a spot becoming available (a lot of time they are timed to an "academic year" with spots opening in summer or early fall) and our nanny share family moving . Our son did great with the transition even though its earlier than most start preschool.

We did a nanny-share until our son turned 2, which coincided with the first COVID shutdown. He was then home with us for four months, and started at a small (24-kid) preschool full-time (8:00-4:30) that fall, when he was almost 2 1/2 (and potty-trained; amazing what we accomplished in four months of isolation!). Two years later, he is thriving, loves school and his teachers and buddies there, and we wouldn't change anything about our experience. 

We transitioned to preschool when our son was a few months shy of 3. We did it because our nanny share was ending and we didn't want to transition him to a new nanny, then transition again into preschool in the fall, when he would have been 3 1/2. It went fine, but here's the only warning i'll give you. It was given to me and maybe I should have heeded it. Once they're in preschool, they're in school until they're 18 (and beyond if they go to college). My son did great in preschool: made friends, learned a lot about cooperation, had fun. But I think another year of being at home might have been good for him, in terms of being in a less stimulating, sometimes socially intense environment.

We transitioned at 18 months, when the school started (but had been on the waitlist basically since birth in order to make that happen). To keep our spot in the school we had to start when we did, and I was feeling like our kid was ready for more regular interaction with other kids (aside from one-off meetups at the playground).

It was super emotional and hard (for us, kid was fine) but was SO GOOD for us and our kid. He flourished being around other kids and having more diversity of experiences. We benefited from a great community of parents, some of whom have become friends. The school basically did potty training for us and has been a great resource for other parenting challenges along the way. I don't think there's a "right" age, but I know we were scared/emotional about the change, and I'm so glad we took the leap when we did. 

Full time preschool didn't work as well as the nanny for our family at two, while at three it was fine. We did change preschools between the one that didn't work for a full day, and the one that did work for a full day. Transitioning too early was very stressful, because I ended up leaving work as early as possible, and finishing up in the evenings. 

Both our daughters were a couple months shy of 3 yo when they went to the preschool room. For our Montessori preschool, they have both a "toddler room" and a "preschool room"-- most kids transition to the preschool room close to or after age 3. The difference is significant though. Toddler room is lower ratio and kids are still in diapers or potty training. Preschool room kids are fully potty trained and expected to be much more independent-- take themselves to the bathroom, pull out / put away their bedding for naptime; take on and off their own shoes, etc. etc. They are also learning alphabet sounds, word building, reading. I'd suggest touring preschools to get a feel of what they offer, what the expectations and norms are-- it will vary by school! Best of luck

We recently transitioned our 2.5 year old daughter to full-time preschool from her full-time nanny, who she had been with since 5 months old. The cost of her school is about half of what we pay for our nanny, so it’s a significant savings.  We knew she was ready - she’s high energy, social, and was acting out a lot at home. It had also become impossible for us to work from home with her here, so it made sense for all of us. We kept our nanny to care for our infant, so we started her in 5 half days to start, thinking it would be easier on our daughter - play, eat lunch, then come home to nap and spend a few hours with her nanny and baby sister. It was awful. She stopped napping, wasn’t eating enough, and the combo of those two things made the whole day a mess for all of us. So, after only two weeks, we transitioned her to full time and it’s like we have a different kid. She’s happy, sleeping just fine at preschool, temperament has improved. It’s amazing. All this to say, it will take some adjustment, but our toddler is really thriving in full-time school. If we hadn’t had a baby at home amidst COVID, we would have loved to send her sooner.  


If your nanny is good, and your child loves this person, keep this person on.

My child went full time to prep school aged 5 years, but went half time from 4.5 years of age, which allowed the bond between nanny and child, to be less traumatic.

As the nanny I had was real good, my child learnt so much in her care, not only educational, but also out and about in their adventures.

When my child went to school full time, he was happy to take the next step, with zero trauama, and was academically grounded.

Good Luck

We found it was a different decision for each of our kids, depending on the kid, the nanny and our own situation with work, money, etc. Kid #1 started preschool at 3 because I had heard that was the "right" age; Kid #2 started preschool at 18 months because I wanted both kids in the same preschool for a year before the older one started kindergarten; Kid #3 started preschool at 4 because we loved our nanny and kept her as long as possible, but wanted to get him a little group socialization before kindergarten started. I don't think there's a magic right answer, unfortunately - you have to just figure out what makes sense for you and your child.

We sent our daughter to preschool just before her third birthday and the transition was seamless (though fortunately our daughter has done well with all big transitions). She has always been very social so we would have been open to sending her earlier, but COVID made that impossible. We enrolled her as soon as our preferred school started accepting new students again (we had put her on the waitlist years earlier). We too were drawn to full-time, year round programs as my spouse and I have demanding jobs. I’m not sure how old your child is, but my reco would be to do all the research on your preferred schools, get on waitlists, and tune into your child’s personality and needs as she gets a bit older (especially since you’re looking at full time programs, which can be a bigger adjustment). At some point a spot will be offered to you and you can assess at that point — based on the timing, your daughters needs, and how strongly you feel about the program — what makes sense. I found it is MUCH easier to make these decisions when you’re dealing with concrete options in a specific moment in time vs. hypotheticals. For example, we turned down 2 or 3 spots that we were offered in the ~6 months prior, because the programs weren’t our top choices and we felt in our gut that at that point in time, she was better off with her (excellent) nanny. 

The calculus changed when our top choice offered us a spot because a) it was our top choice, and b) by that point it had started to become clear to us that our daughter was really ready for more stimulation and variety in her day, beyond what one caregiver can reasonably provide. In just those six months she had made huge cognitive leaps and it felt like a real imperative. So I guess in summary the factors for us were:

1) school options available to us

2) our daughters development/readiness

3) our caregivers ability to stimulate/meet our daughters needs

I’m not sure what type of preschool one of the reply poster is looking at but in my personal experience, full time preschool for a 2–3 year old is typically cheaper than a full-time nanny, especially if you are paying nanny market rate and ABOVE the table.  We pay around $2200 per month for 8:30 am to 5:30 pm M-F care, and for our preschool, 3 snacks and lunch is included in the cost of tuition.   Not sure where you’re located but we’re in Berkeley, which is decently high cost of living. 

From our personal experience, we were willing to start preschool at 18 months old but COVID happened and many preschools were shut down for awhile.  Fast forward to Fall 2020, preschools we’re opening back up again and we found started him at the COVID cautious preschool we loved and that we felt comfortable sending our then 2 year old.  I think in hindsight 2 years old was actually the optimal age to start him rather than 18 months because he was more ready to interact with other children.   But obv child dependent!

I have read that 2-2.5 is a great time to start children at preschool developmentally.  From my personal experience, the kids who started around that age at preschool learn invaluable social, emotional skills due to interacting with their classmates that help shape them into healthy, well adjusted kids.  A good preschool will teach them how to also navigate BIG feelings. I am a big proponent fostering good social / emotional growth and not just academic growth in children.  I have friends who due to understandable fear of COVID, held their children from preschool until 3-3.5 and the transition was a bit rough.  These children were too used to having mainly only the nanny as the main interaction and missed out on learning how to interact with other kids at an earlier age. Not to say it was impossible to develop those skills but it was a harder transition and a bigger struggle. 

If you’re thinking about preschool get on waitlists NOW.  Good, cost competitive preschools have long waitlist and can take up to a year to get off them. 

happy to discuss further off-line if you have specific questions!

I recommend to parents to start preschool around 2.5, no later than 3 years, unless you have a strong reason to delay starting. We kept our kid with his nanny for an extra year due to the pandemic, and she was so wonderful, and we survived the lockdown a lot better than others, but it was still really hard because it was just not enough for him. After he turned 3, I ended up taking off work one day a week to give him more stimulation and activities. Many nannies are beyond wonderful, but they are not running preschools. We had several friends who had similar experiences with delaying preschool due to the pandemic, and similar issues with their kids needing more than their nanny could provide by the time they were 3. Lots of kids are ready by 2.5 and very ready by 3. They grow amazingly fast, and it's hard to anticipate how much they will grow in just short periods of time. Good luck with your transition!