For those of you with a child who has stayed home with a parent or close caregiver for their entire life, the prospect of sending them off to school with no familiar face or recognizable surroundings can be daunting to say the least. I know, we lived it. My daughter was home with us for the first two years of her life. The prospect of sending her off along supervised by strangers and surrounded by other rambunctious 2 year olds was scary. Regardless, I knew it would be beneficial for her to start to socialize more regularly with other children and to get used to a classroom setting. Now that we have over a month of preschool under our belt, I wanted to share our experience and what we learned with you.
Our experience –
I wanted to give quick background on Parker’s social skills before entering preschool. She is usually less reserved with adults, but before starting preschool she was very suspicious of other children. She had actually gotten to the point of looking the other way and crying when new kids approached her. We took her to a music class each week, and during the whole class, she would stay right at the side of whoever brought her. So in general, we knew she needed preschool, but we were also worried about how she would adapt to the new environment full of kids. Hopefully it gives you some comfort if you also have a child who is wary of others (perhaps even children) knowing we were in the same boat and had a positive outcome.
Step number one in the process of starting preschool was deciding which preschool we wanted to send our daughter too and selecting her schedule. We visited 2 schools after copious online research. During that visit we spoke with teachers and directors of the school, asked questions, and observed the classrooms. Ultimately we landed on one where we felt the most comfortable with the classroom content and the teachers that we met. It ended up actually being a location where I went to preschool when I was younger. We also decided to start with just 2 days a week initially. We really wanted to ease my daughter into the process and starting slowly seemed like a great way to do that.
First Visit with Teachers:
After we selected the school, we went through the typical administrative process and received communications in the mail/email updating us on procedures and schedules. Then about a week before school started, we went in for an orientation with her two teachers. It did not go well. Don’t get me wrong, the teachers were great. They were warm, friendly and answered all of our questions. We discussed our apprehension on how she would do being separated from us during the drop-off, and they had great advice and provided reassurance. However, Parker cried for the entire first half of the meeting. When she finally calmed down, she started playing with toys in the room. Then when it was time to leave, she did not want to go and threw a major temper tantrum as we exited. This left me really concerned on how day 1 would go.
The Big First Day:
About a week later, the big day had finally arrived. We had prepared Parker by telling her she would be going to preschool in the morning. We had also gotten her a new backpack with Abby Cadabby (her absolute favorite) on the front. She was super enthusiastic about going to school and loved wearing her backpack and posing for pictures.
We headed to school early for the drop-off. My husband went as well, so I had back-up. We held her hands and walked her to her classroom. I have to say it was very hectic. The hall was filled with parents and children going through the separation process, so there was a lot to process. She was completely fine until we got into the classroom and she spotted other children. She looked up at me and repeated “Mama hold” signaling for me to pick her up. At this point, her teacher swooped in and started talking to her, asking her about her back pack and showing her where to put it. I leaned down to tell her good-bye and said we would see her in a few hours. Then I turned and walked out quickly and determined.
My husband and I stopped briefly in the hall to listen for crying, but there were so many crying children that morning, we couldn’t tell if it was her. We then left for the car together worrying about how she was doing.
3 long hours later, my husband went to pick her back up (I had work). Our preschool uses a pick-up line, so he waited in line until her teacher brought her out. She ran excitedly towards him yelling “Dada”. Her teacher told him that she did great, and that she was only upset for a little bit when we first dropped her off. We asked her about her day and what she did, and her first response was “Snack. Throwaway cup”, so the food clearly made a positive impression. We also told her she would go back soon, and she said “yep”. All in all, very positive response from a 2 year old.
How it is going:
Since that first day, she has never resisted going back to school. She is always excited abut wearing her backpack and getting ready to go. She may look sad for a moment when we drop her off, but she doesn’t cry at all anymore. The most difficult part is getting her to tell us something about what she did that day because she likes to answer yes to everything you ask her. Her teachers do send us pictures of her at school and weekly updates on what they are covering in the classroom, so that is very reassuring and helpful to see. Of course she also brings home all the germs from school. She already had a cold and an ear infection after a month. So be prepared for that. Here are a few pictures of Parker enjoying preschool:
Overall, the big transition we were so worried about ended up being a very easy one.
Tips for the First Day of Preschool:
Here are some of the best tips that we were given during this process. They may not work for everyone, but we found them extremely helpful with our child:
- Introduce the concept of preschool: Way ahead of starting the process, start to introduce the concept of school. Parker loves Daniel Tiger, so we started focusing on the fact that Daniel Tiger goes to school every day. We told her she would be starting school like Daniel soon. We got a Daniel Tiger book about him going to school and read that to her regularly. This helped her understand the concept of school before we took her there.
- Visit the Preschool: Before the big day, make sure you take your child to see the school and their classroom. It’s one less shock to their system on the first day if they have seen it and gotten familiar with it ahead of time.
- Purchase Backpack with your child: If at all possible, let your child select a backpack for the big day. At the very least, try to find something they will be excited about. This helps them be a part of the process and to have something to look forward to.
- Let your child choose: Just like with the backpack, let your child select their outfit for their first day. It helps them to feel involved in the process and in control. We like to select clothes and lay them out the night before because sometimes 2 year olds struggle to make a decision quickly.
- Good Night’s Rest: Everyone knows that a tired child is a cranky child. Set your child up for success and ensure they are well rested to handle their big first day.
- Quick Goodbye: This was advice from our preschool, which we found to be very effective. Make the good-bye quick, don’t drag it out. Reassure your child you will be back soon and leave. This reassures your child that you are confident leaving them at school and it is a safe environment, and it also ensures that they don’t go through the cycle of getting upset over and over again.
- Do not sneak away: It might seem like a good idea to try and trick your child and sneak away before they notice. However, this can make your child feel abandoned and potentially erode their trust in you. It’s best to actually say good-bye and let them know you will be back at x time.
- Enlist your Teacher’s Help: Discuss your concerns with the teacher before the first day of school. Trust that they will help with the process, and if there is something you need to make you feel more comfortable, just ask about it. If it’s a phone call update or a picture on that first day, let them know. Preschool teachers are used to dealing with children and parents; they are great at handling these situations and giving guidance.
- Check your emotions: Staying positive and upbeat in front of your child is important. Your child responds to your emotions, so if you are visibly upset, they likely will be as well. Also know
- Follow a Routine: Just like with other separation moments (like going to bed), having a routine can comfort your child. The routine means they know what to expect and makes them feel more in control of their surroundings. Build a routine that works for you on their school days and stick with it.
All in all, preschool has been a success so far. If you have any tips for the transition to preschool from home, please leave them in a comment below.
Thanks for stopping by!