How to prepare your child for preschool is a question that can loom large in many parent’s minds. It’s a big step in your child’s life as well as yours. It will more than likely be filled with excitement and apprehension; as well as a letting go on your part.
During this time, you’ll probably hear a lot about ‘school readiness’. But what does it really mean and is your child ready? The term generally refers to children being academically ready, socially ready, independent and possessing communication skills. All these of course, are relative to their age. Some countries start their children in preschool at three, while others start at five.
Research tells us that how well a child settles in at preschool (and school), and how well they do, is largely determined by their parents. So when it comes to preparing for preschool, how can we prepare them in the best way possible? How can we help make this important transition smooth and successful? Below are some practical tips designed to help you do just that.
How to prepare your child for preschool
1. Allow them to become independent
It’s well known that independence builds confidence in our children. To help your child become more independent in preparation for preschool, you can:
- Encourage them to get dressed on their own, including putting on socks, which tend to be a bit tricky!
- Along with your child, decide on some easy jobs they could do at home, like setting the table or helping to tidy away after playing.
- Buy shoes that are easy to put on and take off. Ones with velcro fasteners, rather than laces are ideal.
- Encourage your child to go to the toilet with no or minimal help. You can also pack some wipes into their bag if they find them easier to use. They can also come in quite handy in case of any accidents!
2. Develop their social skills
Your child will already have started developing these skills with children they’ve socialised with. At preschool however, they will be challenged with interacting with several children who they don’t know, and without you there to assist. They will still have a teacher or assistant to guide them, but to help them get prepared you can:
- Encourage them to share and take turns either with siblings or when on playdates.
- Talk to them about how others may feel. If someone’s behaviour causes another child to be upset for example, explain the cause and effect. Empathy is something that is taught and now is a great time to start teaching it.
- As well as playdates, encourage your child to be sociable when you’re going about your day. It may be a child sitting next to you while waiting at the doctors, or sitting at the table next to you at a cafe. These situations are also ideal for modelling social behaviour to your child. You can initiate a conversation with the parent of the child leading up to the children interacting.
- Many children at this age go through a biting or hitting phase. If your child is one of them, discourage the behaviour in a firm but supporting and loving way. It’s also another opportunity to teach empathy. Explain how the child they bit will feel as a result of their action.
- As your child’s role model, model acceptable ways to express emotions. If another driver on the road angers you for example, express your annoyance (if at all), in a calm and acceptable way – rather than give way to road rage!
- Use consequences and keep to them. Let your child know that if he/she does X, then Y will happen. If consequences aren’t consistent, not only will your child become confused, but they will also struggle more with consequences given at school.
- Keep to regular bedtimes. Getting enough sleep will become even more important when your child starts preschool. Not getting enough sleep will impact their ability to learn, make things harder to deal with and harder to keep their emotions in check.
- If your child is quick to get frustrated with a task, or gives up easily, sit with them and encourage them to carry on.
- Research has demonstrated the powerful effects and benefits of hugging; especially for children. Give your child plenty of hugs and kisses every day. Some research recommends twelve hugs a day 🙂
3. Build their communication skills
Preparing for preschool involves developing your child’s speaking and listening skills; which are crucial for their learning. They are also the first steps for both reading and writing. At this stage, communication is also crucial so that your child can explain what they are feeling to their teacher. As with other skills, you can help your child through modelling. Model the kind of language you want your child to use. This includes not using words that you wouldn’t want them to use!
- Regularly engage in conversations with your child and model active listening skills. Children are super quick to notice if you’re pretending to listen!
- Build on your child’s vocabulary by introducing new words into your conversation and explaining what they mean.
- Encourage your child to listen to others when they speak, whether it’s another child or an adult.
- Enjoy language together through singing, poems and nursery rhymes.
- Let your child help to write messages to family members or friends.
Using the above will help tremendously in preparing for preschool. In addition to these, you may also want to think about other aspects that will help your child to make a smooth transition. Below are some that you may want to consider.
4. Visiting the preschool
It’s a good idea to either take your child with you when you are making your selection of a preschool, or take your child to visit well in advance to them starting. Arrange a time when the children are there, and ask the principal if both of you can spent an hour or so where your child can observe, or if they feel confident enough, take part in an activity the children are doing.
5. Reading books on starting preschool
Reading to our children is the single most important activity we can do with them. And in the run up to their first day at preschool, is a great time to read some books on the topic. Some recommendations include:
- Maisy goes to preschool, by Lucy Cousins
- The night before preschool, by Natasha Wing
- Daniel goes to school, by Becky Friedman
- What to expect at preschool, by Heidi Murkoff
6. Going shopping
Whether the preschool has a uniform or not, you can have a fun day shopping for their first day. If the school doesn’t have a uniform, maybe your child could choose an appropriate outfit for their first special day? Or they could choose from what they already have and get it out the night before.
7. Practising school bed times
As mentioned above, getting enough sleep is vital for children. You may find that you need more time in school mornings to get your child and everything ready and therefore need to get up earlier. In the week before starting, begin the new bedtime and getting up regime.
8. Packing healthy lunches/snacks
It’s no secret that good nutrition positively impacts a child’s learning. With your child, decide on what healthy lunches/snacks they would like to take. As certain foods, like nuts, are often banned from schools, find out what other foods may not be allowed.
Depending on you and your situation, your child’s first day may be more emotional for you than your child! You’ve done all you can to get them ‘ready’ and now you have to let them go. You may find it difficult to keep your own emotions in check, which is completely understandable. One thing you may want to do, is plan your morning. On my daughter’s first day, I had agreed with the principal that I would stay downstairs until a given time. If I hadn’t heard anything by then, I would leave. I shared this plan with my then four year-old daughter, so she felt comfortable and secure that I was there (and I felt comfortable and secure that she was OK!). As it turned out, I heard nothing and all was well. This may well have been attributed to her age, as she was four months shy of turning five.
If you’re not able to do something similar, you could plan to do something with friends; go for a coffee or do something that you enjoy. Some parents will be busy getting older siblings to school or/and having to go to work. Whatever your situation, work it so that the first day is easy for you as well as your child.
Over to you..
Have you experienced the first day of sending your child to preschool or is the time imminent? Do you have stories to share or questions to ask? If so, I would love to hear from you in the comments below.
Related: How to Choose the Right Pre-School for Your Child/ Kids’ Nutrition, Learning and Lunch Boxes/ Kids Talk: Strategies to Support Your Child’s Language Development/ Montessori Model: The Right Approach for Your Family?