The first day of preschool is usually an exciting milestone, but it can also be a stressful one for both you and your child. One of the most effective ways to combat separation anxiety and other stressors is to begin preparations as early as possible, which will help your child understand both what will be expected of them and what they can expect from this new environment. Making these preparations can also help you weather this transition, which can be especially difficult for first-time parents. In the interest of making the switch from toddler to preschooler as smooth as possible, here are ten ways to get your little one ready for the beginning of their academic career.
- Schedule Group Outings and Play Dates – Learning to socialize with peers and work in a group are skills that preschool helps kids to build, but it’s a good idea to start working on them earlier. This is especially important if your preschooler-to-be is an only child, has infant siblings, or hasn’t attended daycare, as they may not have been presented with the opportunity to socialize with children of their own age. Placing an emphasis on the importance of sharing and playing nicely with other kids can help yours to navigate the complex world of small-fry social interactions with aplomb.
- Meet the Teacher and Talk About Routines – Your child is sure to be curious about their new teacher; worries that she won’t be nice or won’t like them can be a huge source of anxiety in the weeks leading up to the first day. Arranging a meeting with the teacher can put those worries to bed, especially if the meeting can be held in the classroom where their preschool classes will take place. It’s important to remember that this new adventure is also a complete disruption of the routine that your child has come to depend on, so talking about what to expect from their new routine early and often is advised.
- Answer Questions (and Encourage Kids to Ask Them) – Some kids are naturally more talkative than others, but even the chattiest child can be struck mute by worries about her new school. Encourage her to ask any questions she wants, but always answer them truthfully; little white lies will come back to haunt you when your little one discovers that you were dishonest later on.
- Imaginative Play – Whether you call it “playing pretend,” “make-believe” or the more scholarly “imaginative play,” these games help children grasp new concepts by applying them practically. Role-playing a typical day at preschool and even indulging in your child’s flights of fancy are valid and valuable ways of letting her experiment with the prospect of attending school and facing a new experience from the safety of her own home.
- Visit the Bookstore – There are children’s books dedicated to every imaginable subject and milestone, with a hefty number of shelves reserved for “first day of school” stories. While reading these new books as part of a bedtime story routine can introduce and begin to explain the basics of going to school, instituting a policy of midday “story time” is the most valuable aspect of the storybook-as-instruction experience. There will invariably be a period of your child’s day at preschool dedicated to listening to the teacher read a story, and modeling this experience at home can help her learn to do just that.
- Work on Fundamental Skills – Though preschool is designed to get little ones ready for kindergarten by helping them master fundamental skills, giving them a head start is always a good policy. Working on learning the alphabet, counting skills, and practicing color-and-shape recognition are all appropriate ways to prepare a child for the academic demands of preschool.
- Practice “Quiet Time” – Kids that are used to having the run of the house and who have a tendency to be a bit on the rambunctious side can benefit enormously from practicing “quiet time” skills. Learning to sit quietly, to listen, and to interact with her teacher and peers in appropriate ways can prevent behavioral issues and disciplinary action.
- Encourage “Big-Kid” Self-Sufficiency – When you’re in a hurry to get out the door it’s tempting to take over for a child who’s just learning to tie her shoes or zip her own jacket in the interest of expediency. However, these small self-sufficiency skills are very important for her to master in the weeks leading up to preschool, as you won’t be there to do them for her. Even though she’ll be under the care of a teacher, self-sufficiency should be encouraged and practiced as often as possible.
- Shop For Supplies Together – Taking your child along for the ride when shopping for her school supplies is an important part of the preparation ritual, as is allowing her to choose as many of those supplies as possible. Personalizing her experience with a backpack in her favorite color, a lunchbox featuring her favorite character, and other items she picked out such as pens and pencil boxes allows her to bring familiar faces along for her new adventure, which can provide much-needed comfort in the first few weeks.
- Adjust Sleep Schedules Accordingly – If you have a child who loves to sleep in, you may be loath to trade in that schedule before you absolutely have to. However, working on getting a little one in bed early and waking her up at the time that she’ll be getting up for school weeks before the first day conditions both of you to your new schedule in advance. Waiting until a few days before school starts can leave you and your child a bit sleep deprived and ill-adjusted, complicating the entire process and dramatically upping the chances of a meltdown when it’s time for you to leave.
Your child may surprise you by skipping happily in to the classroom with scarcely a look back, but she’s far more likely to have a case of nerves and to shed a few tears. Though it goes against every parental instinct you have to leave your crying child in the care of a stranger, lingering will only prolong the process and upset both of you more. Preschool teachers have been thoroughly trained to handle separation situations effectively; by the time you’re out of sight, your little one is likely to already be distracted and otherwise engaged.