Building Excitement, Easing Worries, and Practicing Important School Routines
Starting at a new preschool or childcare center, or even rejoining a center after some time away, is an exciting time for young children. It might also be a bit nerve-racking for children and their parents as transitions and new beginnings can be challenging. To help ease these nerves, there’s a couple of things to keep in mind while preparing your child for preschool.
Schools provide wonderful and unique social and experiential opportunities for young children. The school routine includes new learning and play scenarios such as standing in a line, sitting and listening, waiting for a turn, working through a disagreement, and sharing and playing together. For many children, a childcare center is the first opportunity for them to practice these behaviors and situations while interacting with children outside of their family.
To start preparing your child for preschool, spend time talking about what to expect in the days beforehand. At home, create opportunities for them to practice school-specific scenarios to ready them for their new adventure.
Preparing your Child for Preschool by Setting the Stage:
While adults know the basics of what learning looks like at a preschool or childcare center, young children often do not have a frame of reference. By talking with your child about what to expect at school, you can help them build excitement as they look forward to their first day, create positive associations with school and learning, and ease any worries that may arise. All of this goes a long way towards preparing your child for preschool.
- Read books that take place in a preschool such as Tyrannosaurus Wrecks: A Preschool Story written by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and illustrated by Zachariah Ohara. As you read, talk about how Tyrannosaurus makes some messy mistakes, but is still welcomed by his friends. Then, go back through the story to look closely at the illustrations. Point out to your child that these preschool learners sit in chairs at a table, cut with scissors, paint with paint brushes, build with blocks, eat snacks, and read stories. Talk about which activities your child is excited to try out in their new classroom. For more books about going back to school for your preschooler, visit Scholastic’s list of books about the joy of school.
- Watch shows together such as PBS Kids’ Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood that include many episodes of Daniel Tiger at school. Talk about what Daniel does at school including learning, playing, and creating. Point out how the teacher cares for her students and helps them to learn and grow. Look for objects and items in Daniel Tiger’s classroom that your child might find in their own classroom such as art supplies, blocks, toys, dress-up clothes, and books.
- When talking about the transition to school or your child’s specific school and their teachers, be sure to share positive thoughts. Share any details that you think make the childcare center or school special. Early sentiments around school can have a lasting impact on how your child views their learning experiences.
Preparing your Child for Preschool by Sharing Important Information:
Children do better when they know what to expect in new situations. For young learners, this might include sharing information about their school, visiting their school so they know what to expect when they arrive, and planning consistent drop-off and pick-up routines.
- As you approach the first day, drive by your child’s new school and share your excitement. Make these drive-by visits fun and lighthearted by waving hello to the school or by calling it (your child’s name)’s school.
- Before starting at a new school, establish regular routines for drop off and pick up, and explain those plans as simply as possible to your child. In preparing your child for preschool, it is important for your child to know that someone will always pick them up at the end of their day. You might share who will drop them off and pick them up each day.
Preparing your Child for Preschool by Practicing School Routines:
Early learning centers are often the first place children learn about basic school routines and have opportunities to practice learning in a group setting. Spending time talking about these school behaviors and finding creative ways to practice can help them feel more prepared and comfortable during their first days.
- At home, many children get used to quick responses and support from parents or older siblings. As you’re preparing your child for preschool, find opportunities to have your child wait for their turn. You might tell them you need to do one other task before you can get them a snack or have them practice waiting their turn at a park or library.
- Sharing is another skill that can be challenging for young learners. When you are playing with your child, talk aloud as you take turns with a favorite toy. You might set a timer or count aloud to mark the beginning and end of a turn.
- At school, it is beneficial for older children to know how to ask teachers for help when they need assistance. At home, practice with your child how to ask for help. Instead of simply anticipating a need, model ways for them to ask for help for help as needed. You can do this by sharing the words they might say and how to do so respectfully.
- Learning and playing alongside others is fun and exciting for young children and offers important opportunities for social and emotional development. These new experiences with friends can also present some new social dynamics to navigate. At school, they will likely have to try something for the first time, wait for their turn to do something fun, or share a fun toy. These moments might lead to feelings of frustration or being upset. Before starting at a school, talk aloud with your child about what they can do if they feel frustrated. Young learners might practice taking deep breaths in and out, and preschoolers might practice calming their body by slowly counting to five.
Childcare and preschool settings are filled with so many amazing opportunities for children to explore their curiosities, spark their imaginations, and develop connections and friendships with classmates. As you get ready for this exciting new chapter, making time to have conversations and creating opportunities for practice can help ease the transition in the first days, weeks, and months at school.
For more information about preparing your child for preschool and what to do in the weeks and days ahead of their first day, visit Zero to Three’s Preschool Prep: How to Prepare Your Toddler for Preschool.