Are you and your child ready for preschool? Read tips on how to help your child transition to preschool, from weeks before to the big day itself.
Who knew transitioning to preschool could be so tough? And not just for children, but parents as well. I chose a preschool several months ago, but the day was coming up fast: my son would be going to preschool.
And just like that, I had no idea where to start or what to do. It seemed like every other mom had it together, but I’ve barely registered the idea into my head.
I’ve since learned not to let the overwhelm get the best of me, even as my son transitioned to preschool.
How to transition to preschool before the big day
Below are tips and reminders to keep things in order and make the transition into preschool pleasant—for both your child and yourself.
Let’s break it down to three parts of the transition:
- before the big day
- on the big day
- after the drop off
1. Visit the preschool with your child before his first day
Many kids entering preschool (like mine) have never had formal group settings in the past. If your child is in daycare, she might have better luck adjusting, but even then, visiting the school can help make it more familiar to her.
Consider bringing her with you to drop off applications or paperwork you may have. And ask the school if she can drop in on a class a week or two before her first day. You can sit with her during those hours, and it’ll expose her to their routine while still having the safety of you nearby.
2. Get your child excited by buying school materials
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Remember the “buy new undies” trick with potty training? Same thing here. Take her with you shopping for a new bag (or get her excited about the one you just bought for her).
3. Describe the typical preschool day
Even if you have no idea what the preschool’s exact schedule will be, give your daughter clues on what will likely take place. Some typical scenarios include:
- The items she’ll play with, like play dough, puzzles and blocks
- Eating snack and lunch at set times
- Playing at the playground outdoors
- Sitting down for story time
- Taking a midday nap
- Painting and coloring
- Putting her backpack in the cubby
4. Make-believe a pretend school at home
We all know the benefits of pretend play. At home, create a scene where you’re at “school.” You can even let her be the teacher. Do school work, go to the park for ‘recess’ or show her how to share. Or you can even simply integrate preschool lingo into your everyday conversation, such as gathering together for ‘story time’ or creating crafts for ‘art class.’
Similarly, play games found in preschool, such as Simon Says and Red Light Green Light. And play popular nursery rhymes, especially the ones that include body motion, such as:
- “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”
- “Hokey Pokey”
- “Itsy Bitsy Spider”
- “Wheels on the Bus”
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5. Read books about going to preschool
Borrow or buy books specifically about kids going to preschool. Your daughter will see other characters likely feeling the same as her. She’ll also realize that many kids go to preschool.
In addition to picture books about preschool, read children’s books about separation anxiety. These books address the impending separation between child and parents and can help her cope and define her emotions.
6. Encourage and practice self-sufficiency in your child
Have you been doing nearly everything for your kid? Start letting go and allow her to become more independent. While teachers are there to help, you can boost her confidence by teaching her how to do some things for herself, such as:
- Putting on and removing her jacket
- Opening and closing her food containers
- Grabbing her own napkins and utensils
- Returning books and toys to where they belong
- Cleaning up her spills and messes
7. Consider part-time preschool (at least at first)
If your schedule allows it, enroll your child into preschool on a part-time basis. You might start off with a few days a week for a few hours a day. This way, the days and weeks won’t seem too long.
How to transition to preschool on the big day
8. Get quality sleep and food
If your child hasn’t been on a regular routine, ensure that she gets enough sleep the night before. Start the day with a hearty breakfast so she’s well-rested and fueled for the day (two less things to make her cranky).
9. Pack her favorite food for lunch
Help make her day brighter by packing some of her favorite food for lunch and snack time.
10. Give your child a token of yourself
Most schools discourage kids from bringing items from home (they tend to get lost), but find something simple your child can hold onto for the duration of the day. Something like your hair band to put around her wrist, or a written note from you to tuck into her pocket.
Let her know you plan to get it back from her when you see her again after school—a reminder that you’ll come back.
11. Leave kindly, calmly, and swiftly
Here’s the thing with preschool drop offs: despite your own inner turmoil, you have to do your best to appear calm and composed. Your confidence will rub off on her—if she sees that you trust her school enough to leave her there, she’ll feel less anxious about staying.
Then leave when you say you’re leaving—don’t linger. Even if she’s in tears calling out your name and the teacher is barely able to keep her contained, keep walking and don’t turn around. Sobbing and whimpering yourself sends a bad message that this parting is a bad one.
It’s really not, however much of a milestone it may be. It’s a good experience for her as well as for yourself. Reserve your exuberance for when you see her again after school when you’re reunited.
Take a look at this video about what to do if your child cries at school drop off:
How to transition to preschool after the drop off
You did it: you dropped your child off at preschool. She may have cried (and you may have done so as well in the car), but you pulled it off and properly sent her to her first day at school.
Remember that the first few weeks will be an adjustment. It’ll be odd if nothing goes wrong, from regression at home to tantrums and outbursts. And brace yourself for your child getting sick: If this is her first exposure to other kids, expect her to get sick a lot during those first few weeks.
It’ll be rough.
But then you’ll find yourself in a rhythm. And the faces at school become familiar. You might even be able to ask her about school and hear details about everything that goes on. Preschool will soon become the positive factor in her life—and your family’s.
p.s. Check out Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney, a fantastic children’s book about easing your child’s separation anxiety at preschool:
Get more tips about adjusting to school:
- Creating an After School Routine for Preschoolers
- Preschool Pros and Cons
- 6 Useful Back to School Tips for Parents and Kids
- How to Deal when Your Child Cries at Drop Off
Your turn: How did your kids transition to preschool? What tips helped them overcome the obstacles? Share your experience and advice in the comments below!