Starting preschool is a big deal. Your child is starting their first day of school.
I can’t believe it sometimes since I swear yesterday she was a tiny baby in my arms.
Besides having a mix of emotions about preschool, I really wanted to make sure I prepared her as well as possible. I want her to have an easy transition and to be confident. There was no one better to give me such advice on how to achieve this than my friend, who has been a preschool teacher for over 30 years.
Since it is hard to find good advice, I have passed it all on to you and your little one. Here are all of the ways you can prep your soon to be preschooler, even when they don’t want to go.
Check all of your reactions
I have had to learn this lesson a few times. Toddler (and kids) really pick up on your feelings about something. I emphasize this in my toddler guide with a few tips.
It is really important here when your child is looking to you for cues on if this new “preschool thing” is something to be excited about or worried about. Additionally, they are going to look to you for confidence in their ability.
This advice really resonated with me when I was hanging out with my mom friend whose kid is going into kindergarten. Her daughter asked her mom if she was ready for kindergarten and her mom was like oh yeah you are so ready you got this. And I saw just how much confidence this gave her child.
So, I started trying it with my 3 year old and sure enough the same response. Even for simple things, like oh let’s get your shoes on. You got this, you can do it, you are such a big kid.
My kid’s big concern is that we will leave. She says she wants someone (as in mom or dad) to stay with her. We do not show concern on our face. We always with words validate her feelings but emphasize that she won’t be alone and that she can do it. She will have her teacher and all the other kids. While she might feel nervous because it is something new, we know she will do great. I need to give her confidence that she can do it (be away from mom).
Lastly, having a preschooler is a big deal for you. If you are having your own emotions, then find someone to chat with from a good mom friend to even a therapist. Working out your emotions will help you be able to be more emotionally available for your kids.
The easiest way to label everything is with a black thin sharpie. I labeled shoes, backpacks, lunch boxes and clothing this way. However, if your kid hates clothing tags, I highly recommend these labels.
When you label, only use your last name. This way it will be all ready for your next little one. If you have a common last name, then use a second sharpie in purple (or another color) and put a dot next to your name.
Read books about preschool
Books about preschool are one of the best ways to give kids an idea of what preschool is all about. It takes some of the fear away because they now know what to expect. Read it as much as you can. You can stop and ask your toddler questions about the book. You can also say things like how exciting, soon you will get to do circle time with all of your new friends, or you get to go to preschool soon too!
My favorite ones are:
- Llama llama Misses Mama
- Llama Llama Learns to Read
- I Love You All Day Long
- The Kissing Hand
- The Night Before Preschool
- Curious George’s First Day of School
- Daniel Tiger Goes to School
- I’m going to Preschool
Before our first dentist appointment, we read a book about going to the dentist. I also kept telling my child I knew she would do a great job. She was such a big kid. She was ready! And she did fantastic. I think without this type of prep, it would have been a very different visit.
Adjust morning and evening routines
I decided to make over our morning and evening routines not only because of preschool but also because being late can start the day off wrong for your little one.
First, if you are rushing and stressed, your little one will pick up on this and it will alarm them. The way they usually handle this is by not being as cooperative. I know, the exact opposite of what you needed. So, make sure you get up as early as you need to not feel rushed.
Additionally, showing up late can put the child in a panic. They will have missed the settling in phase and maybe even morning circle time. Just think how much chaos you might feel if you show up to something late.
So, in the evening we always:
- Have kids pick out their outfit so it’s ready for the next day
- Pack lunches and backpacks
- Make sure shoes and other gear are next to the door ready to go
The important parts of our morning routine are:
- I load the car with backpacks, lunches and any other gear before I wake them
- We don’t leave bedrooms until dressed
- We don’t go downstairs until hair and teeth are done
- If they don’t finish breakfast, then I have cups for their cupholders so they can bring it
Depending on the type of child you have, a way to visually comprehend the routine might be helpful. You can take a white board and either draw or print and take pictures of the tasks and then use magnets or the marker to cross off when completed.
Write a social story about going to preschool
Social stories are one of the best ways to help a small child through anything that they aren’t a big fan of. The reason this is different from just buying books on the subject is that you make it to fit your child. The story should star your child and be the exact situation they will encounter. The main points are that you validate the feelings they have on the subject and then show the child conquering the fear. The child needs to see them victorious and succeeding. It gives them confidence and also shows them what they could do when they come to this situation in real life, such as actions they could take or words they could use.
Just grab paper and markers. I even made this with my toddler since she is so into arts and crafts. She really liked making it.
Learn how to do hairstyles that keep hair out of face all day
My child’s hair is very soft and fine. Most days, she is sporting the mop look as the original hairdo is all but fallen out. This was one of the very first things my preschool friend mentioned to me. Do hairstyles that are comfortable and stay all day. It can be very annoying to a child to continually be looking through their hair or needing to brush it out of their face.
Clothing that won’t hold them back
Similar to the hair advice, try to put your child in clothing that is comfortable and easy to go potty in.
For instance, jeans might not be the best option since they aren’t as great for play and they can be pretty hard to do for the potty. You want clothing that your toddler can take off on their own for the potty since one of the skills they want to learn is going independently. Be aware of dress length for this reason because dresses can be tricky for potty training.
When it comes to shoes, you want ones that they can put on by themselves such as Velcro strap ones. We also made sure they weren’t a tripping hazard. We have found that shoes that round up in the front are fantastic. Our absolute favorite are New Balance shoes since I think they are also built well and provide good support.
Online shopping to keep the excitement going
We did online shopping together because it is easier for me. Additionally, my child picked out items and then the excitement of them arriving (like how waiting for Christmas is almost better than Christmas). They would arrive over multiple days; she would get all excited for every item. This would also give me a chance to bring up preschool again. Explain why she needed the item. It was also a positive association with preschool (getting gifts). I would always say that is so cool you get a backpack because you are a big kid going to preschool. Wow!
Some preschool supplies we bought online
- Backpack they can easily carry
- Bento Box so they only need one container opened
- Sleeping bag for nap time
- Comfortable Play Shoes that they won’t trip in
- Water bottle
We did the Skip Hop brand so her backpack, lunchbox and water bottle in unicorn all matched. Their lunch boxes are bento box styled, which I love.
Use their favorite character to give them extra confidence
If you have a Minnie Mouse, Daniel Tiger or Paw Patrol fan, then use that to your advantage. It might not be your first choice to have all of their school supplies be Minnie Mouse, but it could really help them.
Besides, every time they get a new item for preschool, they will be that much more excited so more positive association with preschool.
Just like writing the social story and talking about/reading books about preschool, these are other ways to give them more exposure before the big day.
Toddlers love to play pretend so instead of playing restaurant or space exploration, play preschool. Grab dolls, stuffed animals or their favorite action figures and have them attend preschool. You can do snack time, sharing, circle time, playground time, reading and singing time.
Be sure to act out the “students” leaving their mom or dad and have one student feel sad. When this happens, watch your toddler start to watch what will happen very intently if this is a fear for them. Now, you need to have the characters act out ways for the student to cope. Have the student tell the teacher I am sad. Have the teacher reassure the student they will have fun and mom will come back at 3 pm.
Then continue with preschool activities and try to show how much fun they are all having.
Try to do as many different situations your toddler might run into. For example, have one of them need to go potty and ask. Have two want the same toy and work it out. Have another two play on the playground together.
Another way to give your child some practice before the big day is to do a mini preschool. You would need the help of a close friend or a grandparent. For us, it was my preschool teacher friend.
What you do is you do your new evening and morning routine for preschool and then you drop them off at someone else’s house. The key part is you leave, and they do an hour or two without you. Preschool will probably be longer and that is okay.
Be sure to have it be a raging success by having them do the child’s favorite activity. For mine, that is baking so they baked a cake and did an art and craft project. I then picked her up and made such a big deal on how great she did. I let her show me everything she did and was like wow you are so ready for preschool; you are going to do great.
By the way, if they contradict you saying no, they aren’t ready. You need to emphasize again that they will do terrific such as what, no you are being silly you are going to do great, I know you will. And then distract them to another subject such as can I see that awesome craft you did, do you want to hang it up in your room when we get home?
Who should drop them off?
If you have any choice, it should always be the parent they separate better from. Once they are good with the transition to preschool this will matter less but this can really help in the beginning.
If they are more attached to mom, then saying goodbye to mom at home and driving with your other half is best. It is easier for them to say goodbye to mom if they still have someone with them that they are close to. The second separation then at preschool is easier for them.
Extra tip: Make that car ride special by always playing their favorite song.
Visual comprehension of the new changes
My last tip is if your child does well with charts, then make a week calendar that is picture based. Show that she or he has school 4 days a week and then no school for 3 days. You can check the calendar every night. They then get an idea of the rhythm of the week. You can even say things like oh tomorrow you have school but then the next day you are home with me.
You can add their other activities in as well. We do this on a white board and use fun color markers that way I can also add in special activities or event every week.
Pursue prepping for preschool Today
Preschool is a big step for both you and your little one. I hope I have given you some ideas on how you can tackle the transition and make that first day even better.
Expose them as much as you can to what preschool will be like with play, books, talking and social stories. Get them excited by doing some shopping together and then remember to label everything. Continually check your own emotions and if you need to find an outlet for them. Lastly, start the morning and evening routines that will set you up for everyday success on getting out of the door on time.
Lastly, don’t forget that first day photo of your new preschooler! Be sure to get a family picture as well.