Getting ready for preschool? Discover how to help your child transition to preschool, from weeks before to the big day itself.
Who knew the transition process to preschool could be so tough? And not just for young children, but parents as well.
You might have chosen a preschool several months ago, only to find yourself feeling unprepared for the big day. Every other mom seems to have it together, but you’ve barely registered the idea in your head.
Perhaps preschool is the first time your child will have regular interactions with other kids, or even apart from you. You might feel pressured to potty train, and worry he won’t know how to do things for himself. Yet preschool also marks a milestone, one that reminds you of how quickly he’s growing up.
Meanwhile, you wonder how he might take to preschool. Sure, he’s excited now, but you get a sense that he might have plenty of tears come the big day.
No wonder the transition to preschool can feel unnerving, even for parents.
How to transition to preschool before the first day
I hear you, friend. Every parent and child has her own way of dealing with this transition. It can often be one of the biggest changes in your child’s life so far, so no wonder you want to get it right.
I want to share with you what has helped me as my own kids entered preschool. These are based on successes as well as mistakes I wish I hadn’t done. I broke the article down into three parts: before the first day of school, on the first day itself, and after you drop her off.
Let’s take a look at what you can do now as you countdown to the big day:
1. Visit the preschool with your child
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.
Bring her with you on tours if you haven’t made a selection yet. Have her tag along 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 can expose her to their routine while still having the safety of you nearby.
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2. Get your child excited with school materials
An exciting part about going to school is the new school materials she gets to take with her. At this stage, her materials will likely be minimal, but even these can be a fun preschool transition to her new routine.
A few items you can get include:
- Lunch bag
- Reusable lunch containers and utensils
- Reusable water bottle
- An outfit for the first day
Get a head start and grab these school items before the first day.
3. Describe the typical preschool day
Even if you have no idea what the preschool’s exact daily schedule will be, give your child clues on what might take place. Some typical scenarios include:
- The items she might play with, like play dough, puzzles, and blocks
- Eating snacks and lunch
- Playing at the playground outdoors
- Sitting down for story time
- Taking a midday nap
- Painting and coloring
- Putting her backpack in the cubby
4. Play pretend school at home
Create a scene at home 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.
You can even use preschool lingo in your everyday conversation, like gathering books for “story time” or creating crafts for “art class.”
Play games like Simon Says and Red Light Green Light, and sing popular nursery rhymes, especially the ones that include body motion, like:
- Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes
- Hokey Pokey
- Itsy Bitsy Spider
- Wheels on the Bus
5. Read books about going to preschool
Borrow or buy books about kids going to preschool so your child can see other characters feeling the same as her. She also realizes that many of her peers go to preschool and that the experience can be fun.
Besides picture books about preschool, read children’s books about separation anxiety. These address the impending separation between kids and their parents and can help her cope and define her emotions.
6. Encourage self-sufficiency
Have you been doing nearly everything for your child? 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:
- Feeding herself
- Grabbing her own napkins and utensils
- Cleaning up spills and messes
- Putting on and removing her jacket
- Opening and closing her food containers
- Returning books and toys to where they belong
7. Consider part-time preschool
Worried that a full day of preschool might be too much for your child? Consider part-time preschool. Many preschools offer flexible schedules, both for those who need full-day care as well as for those who may not need as many hours.
You might enroll her for a few days a week, like Mondays through Wednesdays. Or you could enroll her for half the day, like 8am to noon. You can even start part-time before enrolling full-time. This way, she gets a taste of school without spending the whole day there.
How to transition to preschool on the first day
It’s the big day! You’ve done all you could to prepare your child to transition to preschool, and now the time is here. How can you better your chances of a fun, positive experience for her? Take a look at these tips to make that first day a smooth one:
8. Get good sleep and food
Start the day off right by preparing the night before! Make sure that your child gets enough sleep so she wakes up alert and happy. Give her plenty of time to get ready in the morning—adjust your bedtime and wake up time as needed.
Then, start the day with a hearty and healthy breakfast so she’s fueled for the day. Stick to a simple meal that won’t upset her tummy, but is a favorite meal of hers.
By ensuring that she’s well-rested and fed, she has two fewer obstacles that could make her cranky.
9. Pack your child’s favorite food for lunch
Help make your child’s day brighter by packing some of her favorite food for lunch and snack time.
Balance this with making sure that she can easily feed herself. Spaghetti might be her favorite, but this could make a big mess. Or, if you think she’d like spaghetti, cut the noodles into smaller pieces so she can feed herself easier.
Even better: practice how to use these lunch items at home before school starts. That way, she knows how to open and close her food containers and snacks.
10. Give your child a token of yourself
Most schools discourage kids from bringing items from home (they tend to get lost). That said, find something simple your child can hold onto during the day. For instance, 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 for her that you’ll come back.
Another idea is to give her transitional objects that she treasures, from a favorite bracelet to a small lovey tucked in her backpack.
11. Leave kindly, calmly, and swiftly
Here’s the thing with saying goodbye: despite your own inner turmoil, you have to do your best to appear calm and composed. Your confidence can rub off on your child—if she sees that you trust her school enough to leave her there, she can feel less anxious about staying.
Then, leave when you say you’re leaving—don’t linger. Even if she’s in tears crying 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.
What to do 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 can be an adjustment. It’s more abnormal 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 at some point at school.
Yes, it might 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 can soon become a 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:
- How to Create an After School Schedule at Home
- Preschool Pros and Cons: Should You Send Your Child to Preschool?
- How to Deal with Separation Anxiety
- 6 Back to School Tips for Parents
- What to Do When Your Child Cries at School Drop Off
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