From the “Ready to Learn” series
You and your child may feel excited—or apprehensive—about the first day of preschool. This is a big transition for children, especially those going to school for the first time. Children will learn many social and academic skills in preschool that will help them throughout their school careers, so it’s important to help children feel comfortable in the classroom.
To help your child get the most out of the preschool experience, we asked experts at the Ounce of Prevention Fund and Educare Chicago for advice on how your family can prepare for preschool.
Talk and read to your child about preschool
Spend time talking to your child about what their day will be like in preschool. Let her know she’ll be in a classroom with a teacher who cares about her and that she’ll make new friends. Reading books about school is another great way to prepare children. Check out our list of recommended books for preschoolers.
Visit the preschool classroom
To help your child adjust to new surroundings, visit the preschool with your child before the first day of school. Do a dry run of your route to school, pointing out the school entrance and the door to the classroom. In the classroom, point out different activities your child will be able to participate in. Getting a taste of preschool in advance will help your child feel more comfortable on the first day of school.
Meet the teachers
Meeting the teachers before the first day of school will help both you and your child start to build a relationship with the teaching team. You can let your teachers know about your child’s likes and dislikes and what you hope he or she will learn this year. Ask what the first week of preschool looks like. Many teachers will let parents stay in the classroom for a while during the first days of school. Find out so you can schedule accordingly.
Get a good night’s sleep
When your child is well rested, he or she will be better able to manage emotions and stress levels, which is key for starting preschool. Set a bed time and wake-up time for your child before school starts and stick to it throughout the school year.
Create a morning routine
Routines help children feel in control of their surroundings, which eases anxiety. Create a morning routine so your child knows what to expect before heading to preschool. Find out if your preschool provides breakfast so you know whether or not your child needs to eat at home. You may want to create a visual schedule with a picture of each activity for your child so he or she can easily follow along.
Create a goodbye ritual
Separation anxiety is common among preschoolers, and a goodbye ritual can help calm a child who is sad to see their parent go. Your ritual in the classroom could be taking your child’s coat off and hanging it up, sitting down to read a book together, giving your child a hug and a kiss and then leaving. By repeating the same steps every day, your child will learn what to expect when you come to class, which will help to ease anxiety. Your child will also learn that you always come back at the end of the day. Never sneak out of the classroom when your child isn’t looking. That can be traumatic for children experiencing separation anxiety. Learn more about separation anxiety.
Bring a transitional object
Your child may feel more at ease in a new environment with an object that reminds him or her of home. This could be a photo of your family that’s laminated or a stuffed animal that your child enjoys. The child can hold the object during the day as a reminder that this new environment is temporary and that you will come back take him or her home.
Complete any medical requirements
Find out from the school or center what doctor or dentist appointments must be completed or scheduled before the first day of school.
Teach your child important names
Make sure your child knows his or her first and last name. Teach your child your full name and the full names (not nicknames) of anyone who is allowed to pick him or her up. Some preschoolers may also be ready to learn their address and phone number.
Share your contact information
Let the teachers know if it’s best to reach you by phone or email and share that contact information.
Ask what you can do at home
To extend your child’s learning, ask the teachers what skills the students will be working on in class and what related activities you can do at home. If the class is working on counting, the teachers may have ideas on how you can incorporate numbers into your child’s play activities at home.
Try to make time in your schedule to volunteer in your child’s preschool classroom. Your child will enjoy having you as part of his or her school experience and you’ll get to see how the classroom runs and get better acquainted with the teachers. Find out what other parent activities and supports the preschool offers. Joining parent committees is a great way to meet other parents and build a support system.
Ask about potty training
Ask the preschool teachers if they expect your child to be potty trained. You might also want to leave a change of clothes in the classroom for any accidents.
Read more articles in our “Ready to Learn” series.