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Preparing Your Child for Preschool
It's All in How You Look At It
The first day of preschool can be exciting for a 3 year old with some simple preparation on the parent's part. Take a moment and think about what it would be like to walk into a strange room, twice the size of any room you have been in before, filled with big people who are smiling and leading you away from your Mommy! Wouldn't it be so much better if it were you leaving your Mommy to go play at "your school" with "your teacher"?
Set the Stage
When a child knows what to expect they can handle many new things. Begin to set the stage by giving your child information. They have no idea what a preschool is and what things are done within its walls. Read a book to your child about preschool or the first day of school. Be sure to find one that meets your child's interests. Is there something in the book about what to expect? Does it tell your child about Mom or Dad leaving AND returning? That is a vital part of your child's preparation. They must understand that preschool is a place where you will take them AND pick them up again. Many children do not have any experience with being in a strange place without their parent. Chidren who have experience with day care will not typically have the separation anxiety that other children have. Making sure your child knows that you will return for them every day is essential to their ability to make this transition.
Did you go to preschool? You can begin with sharing your own experience. Show your child pictures. Tell them about your classroom, teacher and classmates. Tell them about your favorite activities, songs and playmates. If that was too long ago, have your parent share with your child how you enjoyed preschool. Finding out that you liked preschool will help them to know that it is a good place to go. Tell them about how your parent brought you to "school" and picked you up every day.
Visit the Preschool
You can drive by the preschool your child will attend, even visit! Your child will have something to connect to when you mention preschool. If you can make arrangements to visit weeks earlier it will be even better. This will give your child a personal understanding of what it really is like inside. Be sure to take your camera. Pictures of the environment will help your child connect. Ask first, but take pictures of the classroom, teacher, lunchroom, outdoor play area, and the front of the building. It is not typically permitted to photograph children without their parents permission, so be sure to be respectful of this when taking photos around other children. Below I will give you ideas for using the photographs with your child.
Meeting the classroom teacher, having a chance to see the classroom and possibly meeting other children that will be attending will make the transition go smoother. Help your child build a relationship with the teacher. Ask questions about the classroom routines, lesson topics, teacher:child ratio. A classroom with a scheduled routine helps a child to feel more comfortable. They know what to expect. They know when it is time to eat, play and go home. Ask the teacher questions that your child might have such as: Do they play outside every day? Where is the bathroom? Do they eat snacks or meals? Watch your child's reaction to the classroom, teacher and classmates. It will give you clues to what things they are comfortable with and what things may be areas for "study." Typically it is the unknown that creates fear. Intentionally giving your child information on every possible thing they will experience will help to reduce or even eliminate their concerns.
Ask if it is possible for you to visit the playground during off hours. If you can, go play on the playground. Talk about what it would be like to go to school there. You can act out scenarios with your child or use conversation openers such as, "What do you think the kids play out here?" You can let your child be the teacher and you be the child. Tell your child, "I miss my mommy. When will my mommy come?" You can gauge your child's anxiety level by their reaction. Did they become stressed by the conversation or did they react confidently with reassurance. You are shooting for confidence.
Build a Book
Using the photographs you took at the preschool, put together a book made just for your child. You can slip the photos into a small inexpensive photo album and write simple statements about the photo on the pages in permanent marker. If you are creative with a computer, you can make a simple story with the photos. Be sure to slip the pages into page protectors or laminate them as they will be used frequently during these weeks. Make the story simple. Examples of wording might be:
- This is Lexy's teacher, Mrs. Smith. She has brown hair and green eyes.
- This is Dillon's classroom. See the big red trucks on the shelf?
- This is where Lyndsy has lunch. The cook is Mrs. Lawson. She made spaghetti today.
The important part is to make sure to include your child's name in the story. Make sure to give them ownership in the preschool. Encourage them to share their story with others. Grandparents will love being a part of the process. Be sure to include them!
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Build The Comfort Zone
Begin to build your child's comfort zone. At home you can play school. Pretend to be the teacher. Every time you mention the preschool you build your child's experiences stronger. You make it a comfortable subject, but be careful not to make it the only experience you build. A forced subject becomes stressful. Try to weave it into everyday conversations and activities without making it the only thing you concentrate on with your child. As the time for school to begin draws nearer, ask your child if they have any questions. Try to answer them honestly and in language your child understands.
Give your child simple directions with one step to follow. Tell them to put away their shoes. Can they complete the action without reminders? If not, help them practice. First give an instruction, then show your child how to complete it. Continue practicing until they can do it all by themselves. Building independence helps them. Show them how to wash their hands all by themselves. You might show them how to sit cross-legged and listen to a story from the position of sitting on the floor while you are in a chair holding the book outward. You would be amazed how many 3 year olds have only listened to a book from someone's lap. Their feelings are hurt when they are not held while being read a book. A child who has practice is a much happier child once school begins.
Most preschoolers are toilet trained, but if your child is not yet trained, then now is the time to start. Toileting accidents happen. It is not a disaster! However, children who are toilet trained will experience less stress at school. Do not wait for the teachers to toilet train your child for you. This is personal and private and many children are self-concious and want privacy, but when the teacher has to change a pull-up or diaper all privacy is gone. It has even begun to be an issue for some teachers who prefer not to touch a child even for diaper changes. If you have been working on toilet training and have hit a road block then begin walking your child through self toileting, cleaning themselves and changing themselves after accidents. Most children do not want to do it themselves and will prefer to use the restroom. Talk with them about how the other children will be taking care of themselves! Encourage them to be ready for school!
Last, but not least, adjust your child's schedule well ahead of time. A tired, hungry child is not a successful one. They cry and cling and throw fits. Honestly, it is not their fault, it is yours. If you have your child in a morning class, begin weeks ahead getting up early enough to get to school on time. It is embarrassing to a child to arrive late, miss the beginning of class and have every one look at them when they arrive. If they are not fed at school, then be sure to feed them before they arrive. If your child is in the afternoon, be sure to get them out of the habit of napping. Why send your child to preschool to take a nap? A mid-morning nap or maybe sleeping in a bit later would keep them fresh until after class. If all else fails, see if you can change them to the opposite class. Timing can be everything with a child! Getting their routine set well before school starts will help those first days, actually it will help every day, to be the best thing you ever did!
Enjoy Your Preschooler
Okay, you have gotten your child informed, prepared, and independent! They are ready!! What about you?? Get your camera ready, get the absolutely cutest first day of school outfit together (for your child that is) and get the Kleenex ready! You will need it! If you have been successful, your child will walk into the classroom excited and ready to learn. You will turn and walk out to the car and cry. They are finally on their way, but never without you. You are the key to a successful preschool experience for your child, so enjoy. Go home and get that refrigerator ready for some of the greatest artwork ever!!
Photos And Text Copyright 2011 Deborah M. Carey