Preschool is a very exciting and emotional milestone in the life of a parent. There are so many schools to look at, long waitlists to join (for a fee!), and the idea of your little one being without you all day, possibly for the first time ever. It’s pretty overwhelming.
I am going on my 10th year as a preschool teacher and I have seen it all! I also see it through a different lens these days as I drop off my son at daycare every morning.
There are many ways to help your child (and you!) ease into the adventure of preschool. Here are my top four:
- First and most importantly, please don’t make the mistake of staying too long at drop-off. Those first couple of weeks at a new preschool—especially if children have previously only been at home with mom/dad/nanny—are emotional and unfamiliar. Your children need to understand that school time is their own personal, independent time to have fun with teachers and make new friends; parents are not staying all day. It’s truly best to just come in, say hello to teachers and friends, put away lunchboxes and backpacks, say have a fun day and that either mommy or daddy will pick you up after lunch or nap, give a hug and kiss, and then say goodbye. If they are crying or upset, it’s a great opportunity for the teachers to console them and bond or redirect them into a playtime activity. IT WILL GET BETTER, but it will take time. For part-time children, maybe a month; for full-time children, perhaps two weeks.
- “Practice” visits can be helpful. In preparation for the first day of school, I suggest asking the school if you are able to do a couple trial drop-offs for an hour at a time so that you and your children can practice saying goodbye and your children can experience being on their own in this new environment. An hour is a perfect amount of time to try things out so that they know that mom and dad do not stay with them at school but they always come back to pick them up. Try to schedule this during an outside time or snack time so that the teachers have a good opportunity to concentrate on bonding with your little one instead of trying to wrangle up the class for circle time.
- Familiar things. Another suggestion is driving by the school a couple times in the mornings to get them excited about what they see on the way to their new school. Point out any big trees, fire stations, ice cream shops or parks. Then, when you get to the school, park outside for a couple minutes and talk about how much fun they are going to have at school, what they will do there, and any classroom activities they have on the calendar during their week. You could even sing a couple preschool songs in the car together (ABC’s, Wheels on the Bus, Brown Bear Brown Bear) and tell them they will sing these special songs at school too!
- Some comforting help. During their first few weeks I think it is totally okay for children to bring a little lovie animal or blanket to help ease the transition. However, if they are napping at school and still use a pacifier at home, I would suggest not bringing that to school. It’s very easy for the child to understand they can’t have a bottle, warmed milk or a pacifier in a new place rather than taking that away at home.
Preschool brings a lot of change for both your child and you, but know that it is a great way for children to become independent, social and learn essential skills that they just wouldn’t be able to at home!