It’s Time for Preschool! What You Need to Know
Starting preschool is an exciting milestone for both children and young parents. As an educator I get to guide parents and children through this transition and make them feel more excited and less stressed about it. To smoothen the transition from home to preschool it is recommended for parents to start preparing days or even weeks ahead. This can be fun!
- Talk to your child
Talk to your child about preschool — about what their expectations, wishes and fears are. The main goal is to let your child become excited about preschool and reduce fears and insecurities about it. It might help to tell your child stories from your own days at preschool — how a typical day looked like, what fun projects you did, how many friendships you developed etc. If you are insecure about where to start the conversation and how to handle your child’s fears or separation anxiety, check out some children’s books about this topic.
These books are my favorite:
- Preschool, Here I Come! by David J. Steinberg (https://amzn.to/2ORQVJs)*
- The Night Before Preschool by Natasha Wing (https://amzn.to/3f2cIZD)*
- I’m Going to Preschool by Marion Cocklico (https://amzn.to/2Ee5uox)*
*The links above are Amazon affiliate links.
2. Get excited!
If you are not excited why would your child be? Whether the start of preschool is weeks ahead or today is your child’s first day, it is very important for you as a parent to be excited and positive about this transition yourself. Your child looks up to you and senses when you are worried. Even though it can be hard to let your child into preschool, try to see the benefits of it: Educators take good care of your child; they not only educate but also entertain and socialize your child with plenty of activities and multiple children. Often this happens to an extend parents are not always capable of doing because of the trillion other things to do in our daily lives. Dropping your child at preschool gives you also a break and time to get some work done, even if it is grocery shopping or taking a nap. Yes, moms and dads deserve naps,too! If you are encouraging and confident about your child going to preschool, your child will be the same eventually.
If your preschool is nearby, take a walk with your child and have a look at the preschool building and playground from outside before preschool starts. You can check out if there is a swing, a slide, maybe even scooters and balance bikes. You can point at them and ask your child what he or she is excited about to play with first. Probably you will find a sandbox and playhouses, many things providing enjoyment for your child. Also, take a look at the windows of the preschool. These are often decorated beautifully and look inviting. Do you see children playing and having fun? I feel that just by walking by you and your child will get a good first impression of preschool and what to expect. What also is beneficial, when your child’s first day arrives, you already know how to get to preschool, what route to take, how much time to plan, where to park your bike or car etc. So you as a parent can be calm and look more forward toward this day.
Another way you can get your child excited for preschool is by going shopping with them for a backpack, lunch box and water bottle they can pick out themselves. There are ones with dinosaurs, butterflies, trucks and even unicorns on them -who doesn’t wish they had such fun stuff when they were younger! Let your child know that they receive these gifts as they have grown to become a preschooler and that they can be proud of that. If you let your child pick their backpack and lunch box themselves (you can always direct them towards your own choice), they are more likely to enjoy them and it will make their first day even more special for them.
3. Establish a morning and bedtime routine
If you haven’t already, establish a morning and bedtime routine for you and your child. If you know that your child has trouble falling asleep at night or difficulties waking up early, plan ahead. If there usually are tantrums before going to bed or screens on until late night, you can end your day an hour or two earlier. Let your child take a shower or bath and read to your child to help them calm down. If you sense any insecurities about preschool, take some time, cuddle up next to your child in bed and talk with them about it. When the first day of preschool comes, your child will be used to this bedtime routine and will have had plenty of restful sleep and energy for the new day.
Tip: The evening before your child’s first day at preschool let your child pick a comforting toy such as a stuffed animal to add to their backpack so that they feel more secure when they start off their day.
If your child tends to be very sleepy in the morning and needs a little bit longer to get going or has tantrums right before leaving the house, wake up earlier. You want to start your mornings slowly and take time to get ready together. If necessary, get up a little earlier than your child and have some quiet time for yourself. Let your child pick themselves comfortable clothes and have a delicious breakfast together. Also, pack the child’s lunch box with each other with delicious food. So when lunch time comes your child will be more keen to eat it. Together these things usually take more time to do but they are a lot more fun and enable you some one-on-one quality time early in the day.
4. Your role as a parent
Usually the first days of preschool for your child are kept short. Educators want your child to get to know the preschool step by step in order to not become overwhelmed. These first days preschools typically invite one parent to accompany their child to smoothen the transition. They want to get to know the child’s needs, the parents’ wishes and also answer questions. Educators talk with the parents about what a typical day at preschool looks like and what they can expect. They ask about the family situation, what your child likes and dislikes and also tips and tricks to calm and motivate your child. The goal is to build a strong and trustworthy relationship between the educator and your child. Eventually, your child is supposed to feel secure at preschool and is comfortable about you leaving. With that in mind, if you accompany your child the first days at preschool give them some space. Watch your child interact with their educator and other children. See how they start to explore and play and whenever they get insecure or have a meltdown (which is totally normal in the beginning) be there to hold them, hug them and tell them words of encouragement.
As you stay in the background mostly and your child becomes more and more involved with his new classmates and activities, distancing from your child becomes easier.
5. Time to say goodbye
The whole process of getting your child to feel comfortable and leaving him or her at preschool without you as a parent staying, highly depends on regional governmental recommendations, the preschool’s individual philosophy and the educators’ individual assessment of your child’s needs.
One example I give you, which I can highly recommend to parents who have some days time to accompany their child at preschool. This method is typically used in Germany and I found it very beneficial as both child and parents have less stress and feel taken care of well:
Let’s say on the first days you sit close to your child. Avoid your child sitting on your lap because you want him or her to interact with the others. If your child is content with you sitting next to him or her and starts to become interested in the preschool activities, go and try to sit a little further away from your child, just enough so your child still can see you. If your child gets nervous and wants to cling onto you, explain to them that you are still with them and you are simply watching them play from another spot. You have to be calm and confident so your child can relax, too. Encourage them to go back and play and have fun and let them know you enjoy watching them. Then when you feel your child is doing well, let them know you have to go to the bathroom or sit in the other room for a minute or two and you want them to stay with their friends and educator. Tell them that you will be back soon. See how this goes. Depending on your child’s needs, capacities and age, the first days will usually last betweem 1 or 2 hours spent together at preschool. The parent leaves with their child after that.
If your child is doing well, expand the time in which you distance yourself step by step. This can be for a couple of minutes now, when you sit down in a different room and read a book or check some e-mails on your smarphone.
Eventually, you tell your child that you will leave for a short period and will pick them up in a couple of hours. Keep your goodbyes short and sweet. Don’t tell your child that you will miss them (this will only let your child feel that he or she needs to miss you, too and make the separation more challenging). Let your child with their educator and wave goodbye happily. If you need support, ask your educator to be there. Educators are experts in this field. If your child cries or has a meltdown in the beginning, this is totally normal and is usually overcome in a couple of minutes. So even if your child cries, say your goodbyes and let them know that you will come back soon.
7. Pick up from preschool
When you pick your child up from preschool, try to be positive and cheerful. Let them tell you about their exciting day at preschool. Again, don’t tell your child that you missed them. You don’t want them to feel guilty to enjoy themselves during preschool.
Your child will have experienced so much during the day. Let the afternoon become a time to give them rest and calm down. I recommend parents to establish a ritual after coming home from preschool: e.g. let your child take a nap, read a book or listen to some calm music. This time is very important for your child as all those experiences need to settle and be processed. After that it is good to take some more time to talk about their day. You can ask your child what he or she enjoyed the most and what he or she is looking forward to the next day.