Preparing for your child’s first day of preschool is a very exciting time and often filled with a lot of emotion. In most cases, children adjust quickly, becoming engaged with new friends, new activities, and a new school community. As an early childhood educator and previous preschool director, I want to offer some helpful tips for a successful start to preschool for both you and your child.
Practice makes perfect. Act out a “typical day” at school with your child. Pretend to arrive at school and meet your child’s teachers. Place your child’s backpack and lunch bag in a special area and sit with your child in an imaginary circle (with imaginary friends or stuffed animals) and read a story to them.
Practice saying your goodbyes. Come up with a gesture (blowing a kiss or making a heart with your hands) to express your love and start using it now. Always reassure your child you’ll pick him or her up. Practice acting this out, too.
Be prepared for the first day and have a special outfit (including socks and shoes) ready to wear. Talk through the flow of the morning the night before so your child knows what to expect.
Read with your child every day. Focus on back-to-school books, such as The Night Before Preschool and What to Expect at Preschool.
Engage your child with other children as often as possible to begin to develop social skills. Emphasize how to take turns and share. Model this behavior whenever possible.
Give your child one and two-step directions to follow. Always show positive reinforcement when your child completes the tasks and thank him or her for listening and following directions.
Practice good manners including clean up time. Model good cleaning techniques and engage your child. Sing a song together as you clean.
Engage in two-way conversations with your child and explain that there are times to talk and times to listen.
Establish a bedtime routine for school nights allowing ample time for a good night’s sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement of endorsement supporting the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) guidelines, which says children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10-13 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis.
Attend an open house or plan a special visit to your child’s classroom. This is very helpful for your child so she knows what to expect the first day. It is also a great time for you to ask questions and learn about your child’s teacher, classroom expectations, curriculum, and school rules. Virginia’s Foundation Blocks for Early Learning: Comprehensive Standards for Four Year olds is a great reference for cross checking age-appropriate learning goals.
Lastly, prepare for tears on the first day. If your child is upset, saying goodbye as you have practiced (and leaving shortly after) is the best way for your teacher to begin to calm and engage your child.
In most cases, your child will stop crying soon and begin to adjust and meet new friends. Ask your child’s teacher for suggestions/guidance on this topic prior to the first day of school. Do your best to hold back any emotions you may be feeling. It can be an emotional day for parents, too.
When you pick up your child, be sure to ask specific questions about his or her day.
Janet Beaulieu, M. Ed. is a former teacher, preschool director and early childhood literacy coach. Her newly released children’s book, Twinkle Twinkle Little Mermaid, is a delightful story based on a favorite nursery rhyme and perfect for young readers. It is available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.