Starting preschool is an adjustment for any child (and every parent).
Some children adapt to change and social situations more easily than others. This is no cause for concern. However, there are many small and simple things that you as a parent can do at home to help smooth the transition and assist in preparing your child for preschool.
In my 35 years as a preschool teacher and as a parent of two children, I have learned that the single best thing we as parents can do to prepare children for preschool is to help them to develop their independence and resilience. The rest will follow in time.
Let’s get into the activities; they are so much simpler than you think!
Children learn so much from playing. In preparation for preschool, and life in general, it is so helpful if you can take the time to play games regularly with your children. This could mean board games, card games or ball games – such as soccer. It doesn’t matter what the game is, as long as your child is playing with other people.
When you are playing these games regularly, please, please make sure that you don’t let your child win all the time. It’s never too early to learn that we can’t always win in life. It is a subtle way of teaching resilience.
Teach your child that they need to share attention, whether this is with their siblings and cousins or with other adults within the same home. Don’t let your child demand your attention immediately if you are doing something else.
They are soon going to be in an environment with many other children and it will be necessary for them to learn to wait their turn. In big school, children will be required to put their hand up and wait for their turn – in the preschool years we are developing this foundation.
Before starting preschool, playgroups are the closest thing to replicate a preschool environment. Think of it as a soft introduction: there are many other children to play with, toys to share and games to win and lose, secure in the knowledge that parents are still in attendance for the duration.
I would recommend you find a playgroup that uses story times (or start one). Alternatively, your local library should offer story times. Group time and group reading is a big component of the preschool day. It’s great for everyone if your child has already had some practise sitting calmly and attentively in a story time situation. We can always tell which children have been exposed to this experience before!
Overnight Stays with Their Grandparents or Other Relatives
Encourage and enable your child to participate in overnight stays at their grandparent’s house (or with an aunt or uncle). The benefits of doing this are tremendous and grandparents love it – they’ve been waiting for this!
Your child will get used to the idea of being away from you for an extended period of time in an extremely safe, loving and familiar environment. It also introduces change. Your child will need to sleep in a different room with a different bed etc. They will have to eat food cooked by someone else and follow the rules that their grandparents set.
By just by being around grandparents, great grandparents or other relatives, your child will become aware that they can learn from people of all walks of life and ages – everyone is a teacher and it helps your child to develop their attention and listening skills.
Introduce Routines and Consistency
Your child will be expected to follow the routines at preschool. When your child starts preschool, you will need a set routine at home too – to ensure you are able to get them ready in the morning without eternal chaos – in addition to having a set bedtime.
It’s so helpful if you can start introducing your child to not only the concept of routines but some of the routines that will be required at preschool. Some important routines to start with are: eating at the table, washing our hands before eating and addressing toileting needs.
On a related note: be consistent. If you say your child can have 2 more turns on the slide and then it’s time to go, follow it through.
Go on Small Outings
Go on small trips on the bus or train with your child. Use this time together to expose them to different experiences with a variety of people. It has the added benefit of building up their immunity before joining preschool!
Develop Self-Help Skills
Once attending preschool, you will be surprised at how much independence your little one develops – and how quickly. To help prepare them, allow them some independence at home through teaching self-help skills.
For example, your child should be able to dress themselves and blow their own nose. Self-help skills also extend to things like the ability and willingness to bite into an apple rather than you cutting it into little pieces for them.
Make and Accept Changes
As with everyone, children have different levels of tolerance for accepting change. Change happens, however, and we need to learn how to manage and cope as we go through life. Change can be extremely positive and it helps if you set this frame of mind at home.
To help your children build this resilience you can change things in your home; for example, rearrange the furniture in the toy room to help your child accept change.
Another example is that if your child drops their ice cream, don’t give them yours or buy another, share yours with them instead. This also helps reinforce the concept of sharing, which is an essential trait in life as well as building resilience.
Ensure Long Hair is Tied Back
This is a really simple one, but your child will be required to have their long hair tied back at preschool due to health and safety concerns. If your child is not used to this, please help them adjust before they commence preschool.
Get Your Child to Help Tidy Up and Pack Away at Home
Once you start this you’ll be left wondering why you didn’t try it sooner. Children really do like to be helpful – let them!
Teach your child that they need to be responsible for their own possessions and that they are expected to leave things as they find them. Your child will be helping tidy up and pack away at preschool and it really supports us if you reinforce this expectation at home.
Enhance their Confidence and Language Ability
Ensure your child is taking every opportunity to expand their lexicon and getting better at expressing themselves and communicating what they would like to do or have, as well as asking questions – asking questions is a fantastic way for them to learn and reinforce an inquisitive nature.
Allow your child to ask for his or her lunch; for example: “can I have a cheese sandwich please?”
Reinforce Enjoyment of the Simple Things
Give your child time to enjoy him or herself without expensive toys. For example, a box can be a great play thing that will assist your child to expand their imagination, rather than simply a video game.
In this day and age, children are given such a wide variety of indoor electronic entertainment. It’s very easy to fire up the iPad or Playstation and have a few hours of quiet time. But that’s not going to help your child prepare for their preschool life – we don’t have a Playstation at preschool.
Instead, we need to encourage kids to be outdoors; exploring their environment and using their imaginations. Even to go for a walk in the rain with their wet weather gear can be a fun experience.
At preschool they will go outside when it is cool. Introduce them to play in different weather conditions.
Starting preschool is a big deal for you and your child. But you can help make it smoother for all of us. If you can ensure your child is used to the idea and into a fitting routine before day one, I promise it will be an enjoyable experience for us, for you and most importantly, for your little one.