Preparing for preschool, tips for toddler parents highlights:
- Start talking about preschool only a week or two before it starts and keep the conversation low key and positive.
- Describe what to expect at pre-school and use story books as an aid.
- Let your little one make simple decisions like choosing their backpack, first day outfit and lunch box.
- Use game play to practice self help skills like taking off shoes and coats, asking for permission to go to the bathroom and eating a packed lunch.
- Say a quick loving good-bye at drop off.
Starting preschool is a momentous milestone for both toddlers and their parents. We bet you're wondering how the newborn and infant stages passed so quickly and yet so slowly.
Every child adapts to this transition in their own way. The ease at which your little one adjusts to starting school will be impacted by many factors. Mere months make an essential difference when it comes to developmental skills in toddlers. In addition, there are considerable variations in napping and potty training schedules among toddlers. Further, your toddler will be influenced by their personal temperament, experience with being cared for by others, and older siblings.
So it's important to know that every child is different and that there's no universal skill set your toddler needs to start school successfully.
And, you're already doing the most critical thing you need to do to prepare your little one for preschool by creating a supportive and loving home. Loving family connections are the foundation of academic success. This is true from a child's first day of school until the end of their formal education and even beyond as they navigate the world of the workforce.
This week we're sharing some more simple ideas we hope will help you and your little one start school all smiles.
Talk about preschool positively but keep it low-key.
Many well-meaning parents talk about preschool too far in advance of the first day. This feels intuitively like the right thing to do to get your little one ready for this momentous occasion in their life. However, in doing so, you may inadvertently convey to your child that this is a massive event in their life, which may trigger overwhelming feelings.
Also, toddlers are only just beginning to understand the concept of time, and if you tell them something is happening they think it’s going to happen RIGHT NOW. It can feel overwhelming for them to know something new is coming but also have no sense of when. In addition, if you make too big a deal out of this milestone, your child may end up being more worried than excited.
Instead, start talking about preschool in a casual, upbeat manner about two weeks before class starts. You can refer to older children they know who are in school which helps to build a sense of familiarity. For instance, when you see a child they know who goes to school you could say, “Remember how much she loves going to school? Well, soon you will get to go to that school too.”
At the same time, avoid being dismissive of your little one's worries. It's tempting to quickly reassure your child and move on. Still, it's also important to answer their questions patiently and acknowledge their fears as valid.
Tell them it's normal to feel worried. Explain that starting something new feels scary for many people and provide some simple ideas to help them overcome their anxiety. For example, if they're concerned about missing you, tell them it’s ok to miss people when they aren’t there and that you will miss them too but you know they will be safe and taken care of at school and will get to do fun things they wouldn’t get to do at home!
Reassure them that a preschool is a good place where they will have fun and learn but if anything at school ever makes them feel sad they can share that with you too. This helps children feel more in control and validates their feelings which helps reduce their anxiety.
Help your toddlers understand what to expect at preschool.
If you can visit the school, tour the classroom and meet the teacher before the first day. If a visit isn't possible, then take them on a weekend campus tour. Play on the playground, and explain the fun things that happen at preschool every day like storytime, class pets, learning to read, and meeting new friends.
Walk your child through the morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up routines to give them confidence that they’ll be safe and cared for. If they're taking a bus, check with the school to see whether they allow practice rides or visit the bus stop before school starts and review how it works.
Play 'preschool' with your toddler, using gameplay to practice activities like saying goodbye, taking off their shoes and coat, storing their personal items, sitting criss-cross applesauce, listening to stories, and singing songs.
Arrange a playdate with some of their preschool classmates and review the ins and outs of making friends.
Entering a room full of new faces makes most toddlers (and many adults) quiver with fear. Meeting a few of their classmates beforehand is sure to make the first day less overwhelming.
This doesn't need to be epic. A couple of informal playdates at a local playground with a few classmates will help ensure your child sees some familiar faces on their first day.
The weeks leading up to the first day of school are also a good time to review how to make friends with your toddler. You can do this by providing an example of how you recently made a new friend in an unfamiliar situation.
Role-playing might help them feel braver approaching a potential friend. Have them practice an opening line like, "Hi, I'm Jack. I really like your backpack. It's my favorite color. What's your favorite color?" Also, starting school is the ideal time to review how to be a good friend with kindnesses like sharing and taking turns.
Be sure to assure them that their classmates might also feel nervous and it’s ok to feel that way when meeting new people.
Read books about preschool before your toddler’s first day.
There are many adorable storybooks about starting preschool, and reading them with your toddler may help lessen their first day of school anxiety. Storytime may provide a comfortable space to talk to your little one about preschool with examples of characters who share their feelings.
Some of our favorites are:
Let your little one make simple decisions about starting preschool.
Let your child make a couple of decisions before starting preschool. Go shopping and let them choose their backpack or lunch box. Too many options can be overwhelming for young children, so limiting choices to two or three is ideal.
You can also encourage them to help you pick out their first-day outfit or assist with packing their lunch or loading their backpack.
Involving them in simple choices like these provides little ones with a sense of control and emphasizes that they're a big kid now who is getting exciting new privileges.
Consistent morning and bedtime routines make school days more enjoyable and productive.
If you don't have a consistent schedule at home, your child might find it more difficult to adapt to routines at school. Routines teach children orderly habits, sequencing, and concepts of time. They help them adapt to the structure of a school day and provide a framework for creative learning.
We find it helpful to create and maintain consistent morning, after-school, and bedtime routines.
The morning routine may include helping your child make their bed, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush their teeth and hair, and gather personal items. Many young children love a chart that lists tasks with a picture next to each to provide a visual reminder. You can find lots of beautiful children's morning and bedtime routine charts on Etsy like this one.
Implement an after-school routine with a snack and a designated area for homework for older children.
Then create a comforting bedtime routine with activities like bath time, changing into pajamas, reading a book, brushing teeth, singing a song, giving hugs and kisses, and tucking in. These tasks add closure to the day and settle down a restless toddler.
It's a good idea to start these routines a couple of weeks before school starts. If you already have these routines in place in your house you’re a step ahead of the game!
Practice self-help skills at home before your toddler starts preschool.
It might be a good idea to help your little one practice the self-care skills they'll use at school. Make a game of practicing putting on and taking off their jacket and shoes, unwrapping the food in their lunch, and asking to use the bathroom. If they don’t know the Montessori coat trick now’s the time to teach it. They’ll feel like a superhero once they master it and no more wrangling their little arms into jackets for you!
If your little one is eating a packed lunch for the first time, maybe have a picnic together to practice. Your toddler's fine motor skills are still developing, so opening plastic containers or sandwich bags can quickly turn into a frustrating battle.
Going to the bathroom probably occupies the top spot on your toddler’s list of anxieties about starting school. Most toddlers can’t completely control their bladder. Even many five-year-olds are still at risk of daytime wetting accidents. Bathroom signals may come on too suddenly to get permission and find a bathroom, especially when they are distracted by school day activities.
Most accidents happen in the afternoon so remind your child to go to the bathroom after lunch, whether they feel they need to or not. Also, tell them that they can go to the bathroom whenever they need to and explain how to tell the teacher they need to go.
Explain that even if they have an accident, the teacher will help and they shouldn't worry or feel bad about it as it is normal to have accidents every once and a while.
Execute a loving, cool as a cucumber goodbye on the first day of preschool.
It’s best to prepare yourself for a few tears on the first day of school so that you can stay positive and not relay anxious feelings to your perceptive toddler. Try not to look worried and avoid having a long goodbye.
Our natural instinct as parents dropping a toddler off on their first day of school is to stay too long, give lots of hugs, and mama will miss you so much over and over again with tears in our eyes. This feels totally natural to you but might make your toddler freak out.
It’s better to say a quick, upbeat goodbye accompanied by a confident reassurance that all will be well. Keep it simple with a short with a “Mama loves you so much, have a great day, and I’ll see you later.”
Make sure they know who will be picking them up, Mama, Dada, grandparent, or a caregiver, so that this does not linger as a fearful unknown in their little mind. If they know someone they love is coming to get them later, it will be easier for your little one to relax and start having fun with their new friends!
Sometimes a goodbye routine smooths the transition. For example, give your little one a kiss on the palm to hold all day long or sing a particular song before you leave. Good-bye routines are comforting to children and help them let go and embracing a new activity.
Also, as hard as it is, try to resist the rescue. Don’t run back in the classroom if you hear your child crying, as upsetting as this can be. This is a significant change, and your child may, quite understandably, feel sad and scared. However, running back into the classroom after saying goodbye is likely to prolong their distress. It’s better to wait outside for a few minutes until all is well or call to check in later in the morning.
Rest assured, teachers have many years of experience with helping families make the shift to preschool, and once your child adjusts, goodbyes will be much easier.
Preschool is an exciting and emotional time for everyone but these simple actions and routines can make the transition easier and less stressful. Even if there is a rocky start, trust that you have chosen a school with loving, capable teachers and your little one is getting the benefit of playing with their peers, introduction to the world of learning, and a wonderful experience that will serve them well in all their future years of education.
From our families to yours,
Joana + Lauren