Gearing Up For Preschool
As many of our little OWLs at OWL Academy are outgrowing our center and excitingly heading to preschool, we are reminded that it can also be a stressful time for both child and parent. Children are adapting to a new schedule and potentially intimidating environment, while parents may have to drop and pick up their child or manage tele-education. You could be struggling with the decision to send your child back to school in general and it is understandable if you or your child is finding it hard to cope with the transition during a time that can feel unstable as is.
How can I get my child ready?
You may think that in order for your child to be ready for preschool they need to know their ABCs or tell the difference between colors. You do not need to drill them on shapes and numbers before the first day. Though those are important skills for children to learn, a lot of that learning can be done at the preschool itself. Your child does not have to be an academic in order to for them to go to preschool. Instead, there are other things you can focus on at home that will support a healthy, smooth, and happy transition to this next big step!
- Get into a routine: Even before school starts, get your child into the routine of waking up and getting ready like they will when school starts and making sure they go to sleep at the same time every night. The longer they have to adapt to their new routine the better they will handle the transition!
- Read: Books not only help with literacy, letter recognition, and attention, but they can also be great tools to help teach your child about topics like sharing, manners, and what to expect from their first day. Here is a list of great books that can help your child get ready for the big day! Remember to try to read them more than once. Repetition is key to helping your child remember the message and story of the book.
- Practice!: Use playtime to act out what it might be like in school. Practice saying hello to the teacher, sitting down quietly, or hanging their backpack up. Having practiced these activities beforehand can make them more confident when faced with the real thing.
- Build their confidence: It’s possible your child is feeling apprehensive about preschool and may not feel like they are ready. Simple things like having a backpack like a “big kid” or allowing your child to pick out their own clothes for the first day can help them feel more in control and braver when facing their new fear. If you show your son or daughter that they can manage at preschool, they’ll start to believe it too!
- Listen to Their Feelings and Discuss: There are many things your child could be feeling before they start preschool: excitement, nerves, or even flat out fear. It’s important to talk to your child about what they are feeling and show them that their feelings are valid. No matter what your child’s worries are, their feelings about preschool can directly impact their experience when they get there. Let them ask questions even if they may seem silly to you. Your child might be worried that you’ll forget to pick them up or they will be missing out on fun things with you. Once you know what the feeling is you can help them work through it. For example, a child with the fears above might be comforted by reassurance of the time they will see you each day and how excited you will be to see them or by assuring them that you will save all of their favorite activities for when you are together again.
- Masks: One of the most difficult parts of bringing a toddler in public nowadays is encouraging them to wear a mask when needed. Maybe your child is fearful of people in masks but will be around them or asked to wear them in school. How can we manage this? Explain to your child what the mask is and what it’s used for in simple terms that they can understand. Talk to them about the “germs” that are out there that we can’t see or explain that wearing a mask makes them like a superhero, protecting others from getting sick. Find a mask with their favorite character or make your own with online tutorials like this. Practice wearing them around the house so they can get used to the feeling and help them see it as “normal” because unfortunately, it is our new normal.
How can I get myself ready?
As the parent, sending your child to preschool can be extremely nerve wracking. It’s possible that you and your child have not spent much time apart, especially considering quarantine, social distancing, and the overall national shutdown which could make it harder to say goodbye on that first day. Or, you may be nervous to send them back at all but have to due to family, work, or other personal reasons. Transitions can be hard for all of us because they make us feel a lack of control. Though it is natural to feel this way, it is important not to show it to your child. Children are perceptive and can sense when their parents are stressed and scared which increases their stress and fears. Here are some ways to gain back a sense of control and prepare yourself for your child’s transition to preschool.
- Ask Questions: Do not be afraid to ask the preschool questions. If you are worried about the virus, ask them to walk you through their safety precautions. If you’re worried about an allergy that your child has or a behavioral issue they have been showing lately, ask the school how they will handle it! Having these answers can help put many of your nerves to rest.
- Get organized: This is another great way to gain back a sense of control. Make sure you have all of the supplies you might need, even if schooling from home. Learn the names of their teachers, therapists, or other staff members that will be working with your child and ask them about the school day routine. Knowing this can help you plan for the future and discuss the day with your child when they come home. For children going to in-person school, make sure their belongings are labeled clearly with their name. Organizing your things, ideas, and plans can help make the transition smoother and less stressful for both of you.
- Be prepared for tears (yours and theirs): The hardest part for many parents is the dreaded drop-off. For most parents the first day will be the hardest. Your little baby is growing up! Understand that those feelings are ok. It is normal to not want to leave, supervise the whole day, and rush to the rescue if your child begins to cry. That being said, these are exactly the things to avoid. Your child might cry on day 1, 2, 3, or 10! Every child is different and some may have a harder transition than others. However, as the parent it is your job to support the school staff by making your goodbye quick and positive, allowing the teacher or aide to console your crying kiddo… it’s their job! They have dealt with crying children before and allowing them to handle it will ensure that your child has an easier time with the goodbye in the future. Tell your child that you know they are going to have lots of fun at school and that you will see them soon. You do not have to leave right away. If you would like to stay for 15-20 minutes to make sure they settle in or call the school later that morning to check in, do so! That’s your child, it’s natural to feel protective during the first time they are away, as long as they do not feel your nerves. And, in the end, if you feel like crying too that is ok, just wait until you are out of your child’s sight!
ASD and Preschool
Parents of children diagnosed with ASD or other developmental delays may face some additional stress during this transition. From attending CPSE meetings or finding a spot in a school that can provide the additional supports your child might need, it can be a lot to handle. Children with ASD may find the transition to be even more distressing than other children. Do your research on different classroom environments and ratios so that you can pick the school that will best support your little one on their journey to reaching their potential. If you’re wondering what additional skills your child with ASD may need to practice in order to have the best transition to preschool, check out these Tips for Preschool Readiness written by Occupational Therapists.