Your kids' firsts will always feel big and emotional—especially for you—so the first time they go to school can be an overwhelming experience for you both. Preschool is an important opportunity for your child to learn, grow and develop in an educational environment, even if it means them being away from home more than you're used to. Preschool prep before your child's first day will help them feel confident in their new setting and will help you slowly get used to the idea that they're growing up.
Here are five helpful ways to help your child develop independence, confidence and the skills they'll need to settle in at preschool.
When your child attends preschool, they'll likely be entering into a new schedule and routine that the educators establish. To prepare for this transition, create a schedule that reflects your routine at home. Don't have one yet? Now's a good time to put one in place.
Write out or print your schedule and include easy-to-recognize symbols so your child knows what's coming next. For instance, a t-shirt for "time to get dressed" or a bowl of food for "breakfast time". Post the schedule in your child's room or on the fridge—somewhere you will both see it often.
"Having a routine at home can help them follow a routine in preschool," says Tryphena Perumalla-Gagnon, a mother of two and board-certified elementary school teacher. She also suggests attending library programs or playgroups, which she says is an excellent way to introduce repetition and routine to your child. For example, every Tuesday, you might take your child to the library program. It will become a day they can look forward to each week, where they're likely to be introduced to a program that will become familiar and repetitive.
At preschool, kids are taught and expected to take on many tasks by themselves. Teaching some of those skills at home will give them a leg up. Encourage your child to feed themselves with utensils, drink from a cup, and put on their shoes and coat. Preparing your child ahead of time will eliminate the learning curve and give them confidence.
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The emotions of a preschooler can be overwhelming—but parents can prepare their children to communicate their feelings at preschool by helping them to identify their emotions. Introducing resources, like the book The Boy with Big, Big Feelings by Britney Win Lee, says Perumalla-Gagnon, can help to establish what emotions and feelings are. Once a child can identify their emotions, they can learn how to work with them and even overcome feelings they might have. This can make a major difference as they enter preschool and experience all kinds of feelings. Studies also show that the more practice a child has with identifying their emotions, the more resilient they'll be in the future.
Entering preschool is one of many new experiences your child will encounter as they grow. Anything new can be scary but the more you do something, the easier it gets. You can set your kid up for success by consistently trying new things. Whether it's new parks or trails in your neighbourhood, trying new foods at home or meeting new friendly faces at playgroups, these experiences will help your child adjust to the many new sights, smells, tastes, and experiences in their classroom.
When kids enter preschool, they'll not only meet a whole new group of kids, they'll be introduced to new cultures and families—which might be the best lesson of them all. To prepare children and to build their awareness of the beauty of differences, you can start by building a library of books that show tell stories about families that are different from yours. "Having your child understand their social location is important, but also [purchase] for your home that include inclusive family types, body types, gender, and sexuality."
It's also important to remember that COVID-19 has impacted the social exposures that our youngest children have had. Some families don't feel comfortable going to the library or haven't been able to meet many new faces. Being gentle with yourself and your child and knowing that these social experiences will come with time is a great way to prepare for whatever adventure might come next.
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