So this is it, the first year I won’t be the preschool teacher greeting twenty-two children at the door. This is the first year I will be the parent! The parent who has to pack up the lunchbox, zip up the coat and hold the munchkins hand as far as the front door…and let it go!! And as much as it will break my heart, I’m hoping that’s all I’ll have to do. That she will barely say goodbye to me as she steps over the threshold, barely look at me because she is so excited about what this new world holds for her. This is her first step into the wider world, one where she starts paving her own path and forming her own thoughts and opinions based on all the experiences that she wouldn’t get at home.
This is why this transition is so important. Up until now, her world has consisted of immediate family; her ideas and concepts are closely linked to ours. She has, of course, attended many toddler play groups but always with me close by. The transition to preschool is the first consistent separation from the familiar and while this too will become familiar, what she learns and is exposed to is out of my control in a way that frightens and excites me in equal measures. So what to do? Well, prepare her as much as possible for this change so that she settles in well and can learn and develop as much as possible because from here on in the world only gets bigger!!
So here is my list of what I have been doing and what I will be doing as we count down the last four weeks of her unscheduled life.
Firstly, we have been talking about preschool. We didn’t have a setting visit so I have driven by it a couple of times in order to give her a concrete visual of where she will be going and how we will get there. This provides a solid talking point and allows me to determine if she has feelings of anxiety about going to preschool. If your child is showing signs of not wanting to go, it is best to pull back from focusing too much on going to preschool. Also, the concept of time is a difficult one for three year olds and telling them it won’t happen for a few weeks will do little to ease their minds and they will spend a lot of time anticipating preschool and possibly get more worried as time goes on. Listen to what they might be worried about and try to find solutions together. For example, if they are worried that you might forget to collect them, you can help them to write a note to stick on the fridge to remind you what time to collect them at. Little solutions like this can make a big difference but the important thing is to listen to their concerns and not dismiss them.
Books , books and more books is one of my main mantras! There are so many books that will provide a great starting point for talking to your child. We are currently reading books that go through the routine of a school day, once again setting the munchkin up for what to expect. We are also reading books that deal with emotions and relationships in order to allow her space to talk about her own feelings and learn about making new friends and dealing with conflict. Books can introduce so many different concepts and are perfect for this big transition.
Next up for our preparation are the nuts and bolts, the practical items and tasks that can make all the difference. We have been practicing hanging up coats, putting shoes on and opening her new lunchbox. These are all skills that will be practiced and taught while in preschool but it helps to build a child’s confidence if they can do one or two tasks themselves and can also lessen any frustration that might occur through having to wait their turn to be helped. And speaking of lunchboxes, items such as these can help to take the focus off the big concept of preschool and allow you and your child to focus on smaller elements of the new routine that they will be in. Other items to consider are the bag, a new sunhat or welly boots. All of these will be essential but also open a conversation about what these will be needed for.
An important thing to consider is labeling all of your child’s items. With twenty-two children in a room, it can be difficult to keep track of every childs items while practitioners become familiar with them. A good option is to get the printed labels but using a permanent marker works just as well. With the munchkin, I have been writing her name during activities to allow her to become familiar with the shapes that make her name; this will hopefully be of help to her if the setting has her name on her coat hook or bag box. It will also strengthen her sense of belonging in the environment; something that is very important to practitioners at the start of every preschool year.
Snacks are another area that I have been preparing for. The munchkin can be a little particular about food in the middle of the day so I have been paying attention to what she likes to eat but at the same time I have to put my practitioners hat on and remember that realistically she will only be there for three hours and is unlikely to starve in that time! It is worth avoiding large snacks as there is not a huge portion of the three hours given to snack time and children can get frustrated if they feel like they have to eat all the food they are given. Think about giving your child the same sort of snack you would provide at home between breakfast and lunch.
And now we come to the emotional part of this big transition…the first morning! I have yet to run this particular gauntlet so I have to pay attention to these tips myself! Extra time on the first morning is essential. You will want time to find parking, along with all the other parents, and also have time in the event that your child needs a bit of support settling in. All children are very tuned into their parents emotions so try to be aware of how relaxed you look and are acting. Children might interpret your emotions as a lack of confidence in their ability to manage this situation and begin to think that they can’t.
As you enter the room, interact with the practitioner in a positive and friendly manner. This will reassure your child that they can also trust this new adult in their life. Try not to stay too long, if your child settles into the room well, say goodbye and tell them you will see them in a little while. Once again, hanging around might undermine their confidence in their ability to be in control of the situation. If your child becomes upset please remember that the practitioner does this every year and trust that they have various methods under their belt to attempt to settle your child. Also trust them when they tell you that they will contact you if things are not progressing well. Practitioners come a close second behind parents in wanting this to be a positive experience for your child and they will work with you to make sure this is the case even if that means allowing your child to take their time with settling in.
Finally, and very importantly, we have to make sure that we are on time to collect them. We have all worked so hard to get them in the door and allow them to make the most of their time there but being late can undermine all of our hard work. They need to trust that you will be there at the end of the session and this will ensure that the next morning will go well.
As usual…there is a final finally!!! Keep in mind that this is also a big transition for you. I expect that my emotions will catch me off guard no matter how prepared we are. I am all too aware of how much the munchkin will learn and develop and progress and I am excited to see her come into her own. So part of my preparation will be to ensure that once she walks through that door that I have somewhere to be! It’ll be the first time that the smallest munchkin and I will have some consistent time together and I’m sure we’ll find something to get up to. But for now, we’re going to enjoy these last few weeks at our own pace while also looking forward to this very exciting time…and I will figure out how to let go of her hand at the door!