It happened just like that. You blinked, and all of a sudden, your baby — the precious newborn that only moments ago you were holding swaddled in your arms — is on their way to preschool. This milestone is a huge step for any family, and one that often comes with a mixture of excitement and anxiety. As you get ready for that first day of school, acknowledge and validate any big feelings that arise in both your child and yourself — they come with the territory, after all — but remember, preparing for this adventure can also be tons of fun. Here are some tips for getting your little one pumped for their big day.
Scope Out the Classroom
Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to preparing for your first time ever in a school setting. Many preschools offer the chance for your preschooler-to-be to get comfortable with their new teachers and classroom prior to their first day, whether that’s through an at-home visit from the teacher, a classroom orientation day, or even a short transition period, where your child incrementally works toward being in the classroom for a full day.
Use these opportunities to gather as much information as you can to help your child adjust to the school setting, recommends Jenn Horwitz, education coordinator at The Arlitt Child Development Center. Learn the daily schedule, the bathroom procedure and how mealtimes work. “You can then compare this information with your child’s previous care experiences, pointing out similarities and differences,” she says.
If your preschool doesn’t already offer these types of opportunities, don’t hesitate to ask for an informal sneak peek.
Children use play to process their emotions and better understand the world around them. What better way to help your child prepare for their first day of school than to “play preschool” with them at home? In fact, you may have already found yourself roped into this game. When playing preschool, act out things like circle time, snack time and craft time together. By allowing your child to lead the play as much as possible, you can get a sense of how they are feeling about the big day and address any issues that arise.
Practice “Big Kid” Skills
When looking forward to preschool, start giving your child more opportunities to practice their independence at home. “When they ask for help putting on their shoes or gloves, encourage them to try first before helping,” Horwitz says. Also, build in wait time when your child asks you for something, she recommends, so they can work on that skill, as well. While your child’s teacher will likely help them learn these skills, already knowing what to do will give your child a confidence boost that can help ease the transition—plus, it will be a big help for the teacher.
Prep School Supplies
Taking your child shopping to pick out a new lunchbox, backpack or snazzy outfit for their first day of school is always a fun way to kick off the school year. Then the night before, let them help in packing their lunch and laying out their outfit for the morning. “While we may be tempted to nail those first day of school photos with perfect outfits, it is more important that your child feels comfortable and in control of some aspects of their day, including what they wear,” Horwitz says.
Plan a Goodbye Routine
One of the hardest things about the first day of school — and maybe something that’s already causing your child anxiety — is the drop-off. Prepare yourself to provide a clear and loving goodbye to your child before leaving. “Trying to sneak away without your child noticing will undermine your child’s sense of trust in their new care situation and will make the process of accepting this new transition take longer,” Horwitz says. However, to make the transition more special, she says you and your child can work together to create a goodbye routine — a combination of physical gestures like hugs, kisses, high fives and dance moves — to give your child a sense of ownership over the separation and to bring some levity to the moment.
Pick Up a Book
If you’re still looking for ways to prepare your child for what to expect at preschool, picture books are a great way to introduce new concepts to children. Pick up a couple books from the library about starting preschool, particularly choosing books with characters your child can relate to. A few that Horwitz recommends include Dad’s First Day by Mike Wohnoutka, Love by Corrinne Averiss, Mae’s First Day of School by Kate Berube, and Owl Babies by Martin Waddell.
Starting preschool comes with a lot of fun firsts for your child. As they get acclimated to their classroom and begin to make friends, their excitement for this new phase of life will shine. Enjoy the moment. Before you know it, they’ll be donning a cap and gown and on their way toward an even bigger adventure.