Your little one’s first foray into the world, in the form of preschool, can be quite daunting for both of you! Speech and Language Therapist Nicolette Louw gives you some pointers on how to prepare yourself, and your child.
You and your child are probably feeling both excited and a little nervous about starting preschool. Whether she has already been to a playgroup or not, you’re most likely feeling a mixture of pride, loss and anxiety as your child becomes more independent.
But there are several things you can do to prepare not only your child, but yourself, for a smooth transition.
Visit the preschool
Once you have chosen the preschool that you feel is the best fit for your child, take your child to visit it. Most preschools offer orientation visits or have orientation parties. Seeing the classrooms and playground will be highly beneficial for your child as she will be able to see and experience what they’ll do during a school day. Get permission to take some photos of her class so that you can talk about it at home. Meeting her teacher is also a key step in preparing her for a smooth transition.
Talk about preschool
Chat about the kinds of things that will happen at preschool using the photos you took. For example, “Do you remember we saw crayons in your class? You’ll be able to draw with them, like you do at home.” It’s also very important to talk about the things that will be different from home, such as the toilets and playground.
However, ensure you follow your child’s lead when it comes to talking. Often, we talk too much and too far in advance. Make a special calendar for the week before they start so that they can see how many ‘sleeps’ until they start preschool and they can cross off the days in a very concrete manner each night.
Your child needs to feel comfortable when chatting about it, so if they seem uninterested and aren’t asking any questions, then don’t push the conversation. Keeping things low key can also be effective as making a big deal of being “excited about starting preschool” can create some anxiety in certain children. Remember, the more assured and calm you are about your choice to send your child to preschool, the more confident your child will be!
Read books about preschool
Reading to your child is always hugely beneficial so find some time to read books specifically written about starting preschool, like:
- First Day of School by Anne Rockwell
- David Goes to School by David Shannon
- First Day by Margaret Wild
Root them in routines
It is well known that routines help your child feel safe and secure, and this is particularly true when new things are happening. Set up a routine for preschool mornings, such as get out of bed, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, apply sunscreen, pack lunch box, get in the car and go. It would be fun and helpful for you and your child to make a chart with pictures showing the different steps of this sequence.
Be an early bird
You know how awkward you sometimes feel when you walk into a party full of people? Well that’s what it’s like when your child arrives at school when it’s already in full swing. Try and get there a few minutes early as this will give them the extra time they need to settle into an activity. You might also want to consider that the same person drops and picks up on the same day for the first few days.
The key to a good goodbye is to say goodbye once and leave. This is easier said than done, though! Developing a goodbye routine can minimise the stress for both you and your child.
You could choose a special place to say goodbye or do a pre-departure activity, for example, “Blow me a kiss from that window,” or “I’ll push you on the swing 10 times before our goodbye hug.” A transitional object, like a special soft toy or a favourite blanket, can help to comfort your child in the first few weeks.
You definitely need to let your child know when you are going, even if it results in a meltdown. If a parent just ‘slips out’, it violates trust. Key factors to remember and practice are:
- Departures should not be long or dramatic – do not linger
- Be loving but firm
- Be consistent in your routine
Arrange playdates, sooner rather than later, with children who are in your child’s class. This out-of-school activity is helpful for both you and your child to bridge the gap between home and school. Because moms and dads usually attend these early playdates, you get to chat to the other parents, which provides support and an opportunity to chat through things you are all experiencing with regards to settling into preschool.
Handling the hurdles
Very often, your child’s excitement only carries them through the first few days. But after a couple of days or sometimes a week or two, the novelty of going to school wears off. One thing to do in this situation is to continue reacting positively to what your child does at preschool.
Your child always takes cues from you, so if you’re worried or a little anxious, they’ll pick up on this. Good feelings are contagious so if you’re genuinely enthusiastic, your child will be too. Keep all talk about preschool light and positive. Any hurdles will only last a few weeks anyway!
And finally, communication with your child’s teacher is key. Preschool teachers value you as your child’s first teacher and are honoured to take their place as another significant adult in your child’s life, so welcome them as an important partner in your child’s development.
Starting preschool is a huge milestone for both you and your child, so be prepared, but also take the time to enjoy this very special stage with them.