Preschool is an excellent, gradual way to introduce your little one to the school environment. It gives kids some structure, playtime with friends, and opportunities to learn the basics needed to thrive in kindergarten and beyond.
But not all kids are ready to jump into school at the same time. Here’s what you need to know to start preschool with ease.
1. Find the Right Program
Setting your child up for a positive preschool experience starts with choosing the right school. There are likely several preschools in your community. Ask yourself lots of questions to help narrow down your search.
- What programs are offered and for what ages?
- Where is the school in relation to your work or home?
- How long is the school day? Will you need additional child care?
- How much does it cost?
- Does the school have an application process? What does it involve?
2. Visit and Ask Around
Once you have a short list, call and request to visit the schools. Talk to the teachers and ask about the pattern of the school day. It’s also a good idea to bring your child. You can walk the grounds, meet the staff, and discuss more specific questions and concerns.
Survey your friends about their experiences with certain preschools, too. The more information you can get, the more comfortable you’ll feel about your choice.
3. Forget Age
Rules and regulations for when kids enter public school vary by state. As a result, figuring out when to start preschool may seem tricky. Most children start between the ages of 3 and 4. Still, some parents might choose to send their children earlier or later, or for multiple years.
Rather than simply looking at your kid’s birthdate, consider her personality. What you decide is highly individual and dependent on a number of factors, like your child’s interest in school, her social development, preschool offerings in your area, your schedule and need for childcare, your state’s age cutoff dates, and so on.
4. Look at the Signs
There are some ways your child may show you if he is ready to start preschool. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, your child might do well if he or she shows you the following signs of social and emotional readiness:
- separates without much difficulty from mom and dad
- uses words to express feelings and emotions
- shows willingness to share and take turns with others
- can follow through with two-step directions
- pays attention to stories or activities lasting between 15 and 20 minutes
- has a basic understanding of rules and related consequences
There are also certain math, language, and physical skills that might help you determine if preschool is the right choice for your child. These recommendations vary by age and school. It’s best to discuss any concerns you have with teachers and staff.
For example, some early preschools require that young children are potty trained before starting class, while others are OK with diapers or training pants.
5. Banish Anxiety
Even if your child doesn’t seem to have trouble separating from you or other caregivers, preschool can present new challenges. It’s normal to have separation anxiety when put into unfamiliar situations. At the same time, preschool-age kids are much better equipped to deal with separation than younger children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers some solid techniques for dealing with separation anxiety.
- Create a goodbye routine that’s short and sweet. It could be as simple as a quick kiss or a special hug or certain phrase. Avoid anything too involved that might allow anxiety to grow. While you’re at it, make sure you give your child your full attention during this time.
- Develop consistency in your drop-off routine. This will help your child know what to expect. Not only does this method work to ease transitions, but it also helps your preschooler build independence.
- Speak in terms your kid can understand. If you say you’ll be returning for pickup after lunchtime, say “lunch,” versus 1:00 pm.
By following the tips above, you should break through the worst of separation anxiety in no time. If your little one is still struggling, check in with your pediatrician or teacher for suggestions.
Practice is a wonderful way to prepare for the school year. If your child doesn’t get much time away from you, try dropping him off with the grandparents or with a family friend. You can work on developing a routine, keeping consistency, and other habits that will bolster confidence for everyone involved.
While you’re at it, make sure you’re talking about the transition ahead. Give your child the space to discuss her feelings and work to alleviate any fears she may have.
7. Get a Checkup
Most preschools require a physical as part of the enrollment process. Schedule yours now. Along with having your pediatrician evaluate your child’s health and administer vaccinations, you can ask specific questions about your child’s readiness and milestones.
Your pediatrician can offer referrals to early intervention programs, if necessary, or simply give you some sage advice.
8. Foster Good Sleep Habits
Preschoolers usually need an average of 11 to 12 hours of sleep per day. With the new excitement of preschool, your child might be more tired than normal. Pay attention to his cues and work on establishing a consistent bedtime routine.
Full-day preschool programs often leave time for napping midday. If your child gave up afternoon rest years ago, work with her on respecting quiet time.
9. Consider Your Own Feelings
As with any milestone, starting preschool can stir up many emotions for parents. On one hand, you’re proud that your child is growing up and starting a new phase in life. On the other, seeing your baby suddenly so independent can make you wonder where the time has gone.
Breathe. Remind yourself that you’re giving your child a great start with preschool. More often than not, you’ll start to feel better about everything once the routine is up and going. If you ever feel unsure of your decision, talk it over with your partner or child’s teachers. Open communication will ensure that you meet your child’s unique needs and help put your mind to rest.
10. Make It Special
Before the program starts, get your child psyched up for school. Read books about kids going to preschool for the first time. Find activities that involve discussing the school day. Drive or walk by the school to get your child used to the idea of going there.
Try to make this time special for everyone in your family. Help your little one pick out an outfit for the first day. Snap a special photo to put in your scrapbook. Take a couple hours off from work so you can spend extra time at dropoff and pickup.
Do anything and everything to celebrate this important transition.
Your child is going to start preschool! Now give yourself a huge pat on the back. You’re doing a fantastic job giving her a head start in life.
This is an exciting time, and you’ll soon see your child grow and flourish in new ways, both socially and academically.