Summer is in full swing and although it may be hard to believe, in just a few short weeks, our Facebook and Instagram feeds will be full of first day of school photos. For parents whose toddler may be starting preschool for the first time in the fall, getting your child ready for preschool is often a mix of emotions surrounding this new life transition. For some, it is exciting to launch their littles into this new chapter, while others have feelings of sadness or anxiety about the change. For all parents, though, it is important to have the knowledge and tools needed to prepare your toddler (and yourself) for preschool.
Kim Sellers, director at the College of Central Florida Learning Lab School, and Marlana Rawl, infant/toddler program coordinator at Gainesville Country Day School, have some great tips for parents of first time attendees. First, Sellers suggests that parents bring their tot along for a tour of the new school. This allows the child to become familiar with their new school, as well as meet the teachers and other children. An additional idea that Rawl suggests in helping with these preparations at home is for parents to sit with their child and draw or paint a picture of their child’s school or classroom. “During this activity, parents can discuss with their child the various things they should expect when they start preschool and use their picture as a guide in the conversation,” Rawl explains.
Over the summer, Rawl encourages parents to get their toddler on the same, or similar, schedule as their future preschool. “If possible,” Rawl says, “parents should request the daily schedule for their child’s future class and spend the summer following the schedule as best as possible.” This is a great way to prepare the child for the upcoming school year, since familiarity with the routine will lead to a smoother transition.
For additional learning experiences at home, Sellers suggests using daily routines within the household and turning them into educational opportunities. For instance, when it is time to get dressed, you can help to foster independence by allowing your child to choose between two outfits and then working toward them being able to put their clothes on by themselves. When it is time to unload the dishwasher, you can teach about categorization by having your child group non-sharp utensils, cups, bowls, plates, bakeware, etc. Daily reading is also at the top of the list for routine things to do with your child.
You can also turn everyday routines into games with your child to continue preparing them. For instance, when you get home from the grocery store, you can make a game of sorting items into categories such as fruits, vegetables, meats and boxed items. You can play games like “Simon Says,” to help your child build skills in learning and following directions. You can help your child with identifying patterns and colors by turning laundry sorting in to a matching game and letting them sort darks and lights or match socks and other items by size and color.
If you have specific concerns for your child, Sellers suggests keeping the lines of communication open between yourself and your child’s school. Talk to the school leadership now on your child’s specific needs and things you can be doing to help your child with the transition to their new routine. “Consistency in routine is so important,” says Sellers, “and parents need to remember that it takes some little ones a bit longer to adjust than others.”
“To make the transition smoother,” Rawl says, “children should get to school at a set time during the day.” She explains that it will be much harder for a child to transition when the start of their day at school constantly fluctuates. “Parents should also never sneak out during drop off,” Rawl explains. “Instead, they should have a proper goodbye that consists of hugs, kisses, waves, and a reassurance that they will see them after a specific transition throughout the day.”
Lastly, remember that your child will pick up on and feed off of your emotions. “If you are anxious about your child beginning preschool, then chances are your child will be anxious, as well,” Sellers says. Presenting school as a positive and fun adventure will help with possible first day jitters and prepare your child for a stressful start in their education.