I am a huge fan of pre-school for kids. It’s not that I don’t think I have the skills to prepare my kids for Kindergarten. I am peppy. I can read. I draw pretty well. I totally know my numbers and my alphabet. I can make friends. Still, all of my kids go to pre-school. Even my 1 year old, and she practically jumps out of the car. I feel confident in saying I have 3 little pre-school rock stars who are excited for their morning social life and learning and come home with hugs, art projects, stories and smiles. I believe in the importance of early childhood education and for us, pre-school was the right choice.
As this new school year starts, I know many of you are nervous about sending your precious babies off to school. I know that many kids are terrified at first. I know that the drop off can be an emotional train wreck for mom and baby. I also know that for almost all kids, it gets better. Much better. I say almost all because there are a very few children who, in my opinion, are ready later than others. They just aren’t able to handle the stimulation of a classroom or the separation and the mornings do not improve. There are some tips to getting the most out of pre-school and helping your child to be ready and to be excited. The first few days or weeks may still be tough, but in the end your child should have a wonderful time making new friends, learning to listen to teachers and taking their first jump into education. You might just make a few new friends too!
I am not an expert with a degree, but I have sent three kids to pre-school in 4 years and I’ve got some of the basics down. I would love to hear any other tips or suggestions too!
1. Find a Pre-School: To be more clear, find a pre-school you like and can afford. These two things do not always come together, so be sure to talk about a budget and what you are looking for before you start looking. There are a lot of checklists out there but for me, I want to like the location, the play areas, the director, the classrooms, the curriculum and the teachers! Also, because we are interfaith and many of the pre-schools here are part of a church or synagogue, I need to make sure I am comfortable with any prayers or other religious lessons.
2. Make a commitment: Most schools will ask for a minimum of 2 days for 2 year olds, 3 days for 3 year olds and so on. They are not doing this to take your money. They learned the hard way that kids need to be at the school more than just once a week to feel like a part of the class and make the adjustment. While some kids are fine with 1 day, they often don’t get the same interaction with the class or make the same friends. They also take longer to adjust to some time away from home. While it may seem like a lot, the hours go fast and the kids do make friends, learn colors, letters and numbers, work on communication skills and on being a part of a group. It helps to make your kids a full part of the class.
3. Get excited: Even if you are terrified and nervous, make school sound exciting. Talk to your child about what they will be doing and ask them what sounds fun. It is a great idea to prepare kids by getting part of the reading list and reading those books. Kids love to see something familiar in a class. The most exciting things for us have been the first backpack, picking out their water bottle every year and for Sophia (my 4 year old) choosing her outfit for the first day. Whatever sounds up your alley, pitch it! While you can and should acknowledge your child’s fears and agree that it is totally understandable to be nervous, focus on the cool parts and let your child see how excited you are. It helps, I swear.
4. Get ready and then stop: Get all your basics in gear but wait on stocking the entire list until the school year starts. Everyone will bring wipes and sanitizer and Kleenex and crayons. If you send in your change of clothes and a lunch and then ask the teacher what they need after a week or two, believe me, he or she will need something that was not on the list. Also on getting ready, if you work full time and will not always be the one picking up or dropping off your child, I think it is a good idea to have your regular nanny or sitter meet the teacher (perhaps at the open house or with you one morning) so all of the primary caregivers for your child know each other and know the school’s routine. Make sure that person’s name is on all the paperwork too.
5. Get some sleep: School is new and exciting but it can also be tiring. Your child may change his or her nap schedule and he may need a little more shut eye. When fall comes we roll bedtimes from 8 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and some nights even 7. If your mornings are full of the crabbies and you are barely making out the door, getting a little more sleep in your little genius may help. It helps to start a week or two before the end of summer, but this is tough.
6. Go to school but…keep goodbyes loving and brief: Goodbyes are never fun but for kids, the longer they are drawn out the worse they are. Trust that you have chosen good teachers for your kids and when you read in the handout that they prefer for you to say goodbye, give hugs and leave, they mean it. These people understand that kids get upset and they are ready to calm them down. It is easier for them to do it if you are not there. I know it can be scary and sad to leave them, but stay perky and tell them how much you love them and that you will be back and go. If there is ever a real problem, believe me, the teacher will call you.
7. Keep up with your child and the teacher: Read the newsletters, talk to your kids about school, read the books they read if you can and most of all, be sure to keep up with your teacher. Whether it is a quick update in carpool or a conference or an email, you can talk to your teacher about your child. Believe me, you can learn a lot. The teacher sees a whole new side of your child and as they prepare for going off to Kindergarten pre-school can be a great time to identify early strengths and weaknesses. Besides the early learning benefits for my kids, this has been one of the best things about pre-school.
When you talk to your child, make sure to ask about activities and names and keep up with all the ups and downs. Finally, if you have any concerns about bullying or aggressive teasing or rough behavior, talk to your teacher. Kids will talk about these things and this is a time to stop this behavior before it takes hold and before your child either becomes afraid or becomes the mean one.
8. Tape up that artwork and make some play dates: Your child is a pre-school rock star. They are learning and growing and gaining just a little independence. That’s okay. That’s good. They will always love you and you will get the best hugs when they come home!
I am sure there are a million suggestions and I’m curious to know: What advice do you have for moms prepping for preschool? Guess what?
KinderCare will choose one lucky participant and make donation in their name to the Reach Out And Read chapter of their choice! How cool is that? So hold back nothing moms and do what you do so well…tell us your advice!