To an adult, the preschool existence seems blissfully idyllic — a safe space with caring teachers, daily story-time, and plenty of playtime with peers. Is there really a need to prepare kids for preschool?
Well, just like with any other experience, different children take differently to preschool. Some will jump in with full enthusiasm, while others experience mild-to-severe separation anxiety issues.
The biggest fear for many parents, especially on the first day of joining a new preschool, would be dealing with prolonged crying at the drop-off. Parents need to know that this is a common and normal reaction, especially if your child is cautious or needs a longer time to adjust to new situations.
Of course, the hope would be that your child would settle in after several weeks. But if drop-off issues persist — without abating in the course of the day — and the preschool is unable to support you in finding a solution, you may want to consider the possibility that the preschool may not be a good fit for your child. Parents with more flexibility in their work arrangements have the advantage here, as they have a wider spread of options to choose from, such as switching to a shorter day programme, or even withdrawing their children from school. (Hear from a KSP member whose children skipped preschool, and entered primary school with little-to-no adjustment issues.)
But for now, if you’ve already selected and signed up with a preschool, the best approach is to take things a step at a time. On the homefront, do what you can to better prepare your child for the preschool experience, and be optimistic that the preschool you have painstakingly chosen will be the right place for your child’s formative years.
With two weeks to spare before the new year begins, here are 10 practical tips for helping your child to adjust to preschool life.
Let Your Child Spend Time With A Trusted Relative Or Friend
For children who have led a more homebound existence — especially in this Covid-19 year — spending an extended period of time in a different environment helps to build their adaptability skills. They will have to get used to another family’s way of doing things, and learn to voice their needs or face the consequences. For instance, they will need to ask to use the bathroom, or choose to put up with the discomfort and risk an accident.
Schedule Playdates With Other Children
Letting your child gain exposure to social situations is a good idea — even better if you can plan playdates with children who will be in the same preschool class as your child. Seeing a familiar face or two could do wonders for helping your child to feel more at ease in a fresh environment.
Shop For School Supplies With Your Child
To give your child a sense of control over the process, let him or her choose a school backpack, pencil case, water bottle, and other school supplies. Your child’s preschool teacher may have given you some instructions for labelling belongings, and it’s good to get started on this early while letting your child help out — this is a practice that will continue into primary school.
Adjust Your Child’s Bedtime
This is something that many primary school parents do — they ease their children into “school bedtimes” about a week before school reopens, to minimise physical tiredness and other adjustment issues in the first week of school. Getting enough sleep will help your child to better cope with school in general, and it’s a good habit that will serve your child well for a lifetime. If your child will lunch and nap in school, you may want to align your home routines with the school timings as well.
Play Make-Believe School
If your child has an older sibling or playmate, they can play “pretend school” at home, where they take on the role of student as well as teacher. Kids could use plush animals as their “students,” and have fun creating attendance lists and even homework assignments. In the course of these roleplay sessions, an older child can talk about his or her experience of school, to let your preschooler get a sense of what to expect.
Decide How To Say Goodbye
Although things may not go as planned, you should still talk to your child about how you will be saying goodbye to each other as you drop him or her off for school on the first day. Some suggestions offered by experts have been to sing a goodbye song together, or to have a special hug, kiss, or “high five” routine in place. It’s something that you can rehearse in the days leading up to school, but don’t be too disappointed if your child is unable to follow through on the actual day. With time and patience, the goodbye routine can eventually be something that you both can look forward to.
Read Stories About School
Books that feature the “first day of school” experience can help your child to picture what his or her first day might look like. A picture book can also help children to process — and express — their fears and anxieties. Listen attentively to any questions that your children ask, and check with them if they are experiencing similar feelings about school.
Connect With Your Child’s Teacher
If you are worried about your child’s first day, the best thing to do is to link up with your child’s teacher for a discussion. Do be mindful that class sizes will affect how much individual attention your child receives. At the same time, an experienced preschool teacher would have dealt with many instances of separation anxiety over the years — seek advice from your child’s teacher and devise a plan together for how to handle the first day.
Paint A Clear Picture Of The First Day
In the weeks leading up to school, let your child know what will happen on the first day, e.g. he or she will wake up, have breakfast, get changed, and leave the home. You could even talk about the route that you will be travelling or driving along to get to school. Make a list for your child if he or she needs the reassurance, or simply go over the process several times. On the actual day, provide a running commentary for your child all the way till the drop-off, and let your child know exactly when you will be picking him or her up — try to be punctual or even early!
Be Aware Of Your Own Separation Anxieties
If you’re feeling apprehensive about the first day of school, it’s likely that your child will pick up on these vibes. For your child’s benefit, do whatever you can to manage your own feelings in private. Talk to your child’s teacher, seek support from fellow parents, or even consult a counsellor if you are prone to anxiety issues. If you are a homemaker or have a flexible work schedule, dropping a child off at school can be a chance to get more done — making a checklist of new goals may help you to reframe the situation in a positive light!
Need advice on preschool adjustment issues? Join the conversation here!