Summer is winding down and it’s time to start thinking about back to school. I’ll be honest, I have never been a fan of back to school. As a kid, I never realized why, but raging anxiety and debilitating migraines was my reaction to the first week of school for many years. Little did I know it was social anxiety and a very introverted personality that left me feeling completely depleted and begging my mom to let me stay home. I’m an adult and don’t have to go back to school, thank god. But I now have a toddler who goes through that process (and I’m almost positive it’s harder on me).
I remember dropping my toddler off at her first day of school last fall like it was yesterday (I was the one choking back tears). It’s a big transition and a lot of emotion for everyone. With many of us heading back to school in person this year, I wanted to share some tips for how to prepare your child for preschool (with some advice for parents too). While it can feel overwhelming, the right preparations can help set kids up for success. And as parents we can play a big role in preparing them for this big milestone.
I am certainly no expert, but I hope this can serve as a guide to help you in this transition. I’ve also included some thoughtful advice from my friend and early childhood educator Jacquelyn, who shared some of her best tips to prepare for the year (and the first day) to make the transition to preschool as smooth and stress-free as possible.
How To Prepare Your Child For Preschool
When it comes to preparing for preschool (and daycare) there was one person in particular I leaned on for advice. My friend Jacquelyn is a mom to a preschooler and an early childhood educator. Here’s what she said when I asked about preparing for preschool:
Here are some tips to get your child ready for the transition.
Get back into a routine
Summer can be filled with more relaxed routines, late bedtimes, and less structured meals. A few weeks before school starts it is helpful to get your child back into a healthy sleep and meal schedule. According to Jacquelyn, “getting into a routine that will mimic their weekly school wake-up and meal-times will help alleviate some of the adjustments of being back at school or going for the first time.”
Visit School Together
If your school has an open house take advantage of the opportunity for your child to visit their classroom and meet their teachers. With Covid, this isn’t always a possibility. But even going to the school grounds and walking around talking about school can be helpful. “This can relieve a lot of anxiety ahead of the first day of school. And give you time to preview what the drop-off routine will look like,” said Jacquelyn.
Play School At Home
Whether it’s the first time your child is attending school or they’ve been before, it can be helpful to share with them some things they can expect. You can read books about preschool and have conversations including what you’re both excited about. Jacquelyn recommends things like “play with blocks, paint, draw, play with babies in the Dramatic Play corner, etc.”
start Practicing Lunch
This is something I did with my toddler before she went to daycare for the first time. She had never eaten out of of a lunchbox, so a week before school started I served her lunch in her planetbox lunch box to get her used to that routine.
Some preschools require children to be toilet trained. If this is the case, it’s a great idea to prepare ahead of time. “Focus on developing independence with their toileting, dressing, and hand washing skills,” Jacquelyn said. “Teachers in preschool are always there to help and support children where they are, and the more confident your child is in self-care skills, even in asking for help, the smoother the transition will be.”
Tips For First Day At Preschool
The first day I dropped Marin off at daycare I was an absolute wreck. I was anticipating the worst and having not had the opportunity to see the school or meet her teachers I was incredibly nervous about how she would react. Of course she walked in, starting playing and didn’t look back. The first week we eventually had some crying with goodbyes but her teachers were amazing in helping both of us work through that transition. I asked Jacquelyn for some advice on the first day at preschool along with tips for children with separation anxiety. Here are some suggestions she gave that can help:
set up playdates
Jacquelyn recommends setting up playdates ahead of the first day of school so children are familiar with their peers. It’s a great opportunity for you to get to know fellow parents from your child’s class as well.
Spend time at school
Whether you arrive early on the first day or you are able to go in advance of the start of school, “spend time on the school playground and point out the entrance to your child’s classroom. This can help a child feel comfortable in the new space and have some familiarity on the first day,” Jacquelyn noted.
Establish a good bye routine
If there’s one thing I’ve personally learned about drop off, it helps to keep good byes short and sweet. Typically, the longer I linger, especially if my toddler is upset, the worse it gets. Jacquelyn has some advice for good byes.
Jacquelyn added “following a drop-off script can be very helpful. Detail the steps, what you will say, and at what point you will leave. It is important to convey your confidence in your child and in the place and people you are leaving them with. Teachers are prepared for children to be more shy, sad, and anxious in the first few weeks of school and are intentional in establishing warm relationships and predictable routines that help children ease in.”
Jacquelyn said she establishes routines with parents who need to leave quickly so tears won’t escalate. She sends them a picture of the child happily at work in the classroom within a few minutes to help relieve worry for parents and helped them say goodbye more easily.
Prep the night before
Jacquelyn recommends working with your child to prepare their things the night before. “Have your child help prepare their lunch or snack, pack up their backpack, and choose their clothes the night before. This helps give them a sense of ownership and independence and will help the morning go smoothly.”
create a visual schedule
Jacquelyn recommends creating a visual schedule which can be as simple as a few simple sketches to let your child know the sequence of the morning/pack-up routine. “I often create individual visual schedules for children in my classroom, and a quick sketch of the morning routine helps keep things running smoothly with my preschooler at home. I include the things that she needs to get done and what time we are leaving. For children in the classroom, I always include a sketch of their caregivers coming to get them at the end of the school day as a reminder that it is coming.”
create a positive mindset
Our children are observant and take their cues from us. If you are calm and confident about the start of school it helps assure them that everything will be ok. Try not to ask if they’re scared/nervous too many times as it may make things worse. If they seem nervous or stressed, reassure them that they will be ok.
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