Starting preschool is a big milestone for your child, so it’s understandable if you’re feeling a little nervous about the transition. Here’s what you can do to prepare your little one — and yourself — for the big day.
First, it’s a good idea to talk to your child a little bit about preschool, but try not to make it a big deal. “You don’t even have to say the word ‘school’,” says Teece Lester, preschool coordinator at Lake Erie Nature and Science Center in Bay Village. Instead, talk about some of the things they’ll be doing, like playing with friends or playing with new toys.
“Relate it to something they’re familiar with,” Lester says. If they’ve been to storytime at the library, it may be helpful to say: “It’s kind of like storytime, but you’ll get to stay and play with other kids.”
If your child hasn’t yet visited their preschool in person, schedule a tour. This will help to familiarize them with the space and their teacher. Plus, your little one will see all of the toys they’ll get to play with in preschool, which can help get them excited about it.
Having a short goodbye routine can be helpful if your child is anxious during the first few days of preschool.
Jennifer Jackson-Ausperk, LEAPS preschool supervisor at Avon Lake City Schools, suggests using a special goodbye dance, a handshake, or even something as simple as blowing a few kisses before you leave.
Of course, even with all of this preparation, some preschoolers will get upset and may cry at drop-off, but it’s important for you to stay calm. “Parents, please do not match their emotions,” Jackson-Ausperk says. “The longer the parent stays, the longer the child stays upset.” Your best bet is to stay positive, stick with your routine, and keep the goodbye short.
As a parent, it’s hard to see your little one cry when you leave, and their preschool teacher understands that. But most children calm down within a few minutes.
“They calm down really fast,” Lester says, adding, “much quicker than parents would like to believe.”
Most preschools require children to be potty trained before school starts. And while some preschools have a strict no pull-ups policy, others are a bit more flexible, especially during those first few weeks of school.
However, even a child that wears pull-ups normally may have no problem making it through their preschool class accident-free, says Jan Lorko, director of Suburban Cooperative Nursery School in Rocky River.
“We’re only here for two hours,” Lorko says, adding that most preschool aged children have the control to make it an hour or two (with reminders, of course). Still, accidents do happen, so pack an extra outfit with your child each day.
For state licensing, though, most preschool programs require children to be independent when it comes to using the toilet, wiping, and other potty training skills — you’ll want them to have these down before school starts.
If your child is starting preschool soon and isn’t quite there yet, Jackson-Ausperk recommends clearing your calendar for about a week to focus on potty training. Using incentives like prizes, sticker charts, or a bathroom bin filled with special toys and books can all be great motivators to help move the process along.
“There are a lot of tactics,” Jackson-Ausperk says. “It depends on the kid and what motivates him or her.”
Learning Through Play
Aside from being potty trained, there aren’t any special requirements for starting preschool. Rather than focusing on specific skills, spend some time really being present with your child and having fun together.“Children learn so much through play,” Lorko says, stressing the importance of making learning fun.
She suggests reading together every day, going for walks, playing board games, or cooking and baking together. Simple activities like these will teach your child helpful skills for preschool and beyond.
If there’s one thing that all preschool teachers can agree on, it’s that every child is different. As long as your child is potty trained and the right age for the program, you don’t need to worry too much about readiness, says Lester. “They come because they’re going to learn all of these skills.”