By Stefanie Tong, Early Childhood Consultant
It’s August, and as an educator, my mind is already racing with all the preparations required for September. We are approaching an exciting time of year as we welcome new families into our centre and reconnect with familiar faces. As an adult, we would all love two months vacation from work, but two months for a three or four year old is a long time. In a few short weeks, I will get to meet families who share the big step of starting preschool, yet each child’s needs will be different. Some children will be ready to say goodbye at the door, while the others will need an adult to stay for a few weeks, and there are always a few parents who have a harder time saying goodbye to their child. Whatever your situation may be, keep open and honest communication with your child’s teacher, they are there to help transition your whole family in this important milestone. Here are a few tips that you may find helpful:
As school approaches, start visiting the school grounds, playing at the playground, take walks around the building or enjoy a picnic outside. If the building is open during the summer (a church or community centre,) take your child inside, use the washrooms there, stroll the halls. This will help your child build confidence and take ownership of the building. When school starts, they will already know where the washrooms are, be more comfortable with the space and possibly help guide others in a new environment.
You know your daily routines are going to change, let your child know too! Telling them that they have to be in bed at 8:00p and wake up at 7:30am may mean nothing to a five year old. Try and use cues that your child will understand like “play time after dinner will be shorter, because we’re preparing our bodies to go to school,” or “after dessert, it’s time to go get into your pajamas.” (You can make dessert as early as you like.) If you’re going to be asking your three year old to dress themselves daily as a new task, start in the summer when you’re not in a rush to get out the door. This gives them the confidence of a new skill, while you have the time to support them through it (not do it for them.) If your house is anything like mine, allocate time for your toddler to decide on a totally different outfit than what was chosen.
For those of you who know that your child will be more reluctant to start a new class or go back to school, pick up a new lunch box, or water bottle that is only to be used at school. Do the same with a few special snacks that can only be eaten at school. This gives your child something to look forward to during the day. Include them in these choices. If you shop as a family, ask your child what they’d like for a school snack verses a home snack. You can either have your children decide on their snacks together or have each child choose their own special snacks.
Talk About School
It’s important to keep school in daily conversations as it approaches so your child (and you) know what to expect. This is a great tool for children who may be anxious about going or returning to school. Ask them open ended questions and let them tell you how the days happen while you help to build their confidence. “I wonder what your classroom will look like? What toys do you think the school will have? How can you be a helper to the teacher? What will you do if need help? I can’t wait to hear your stories from school.” Your child’s answers to some questions will tell you how your child is feeling about school and which areas they require more confidence in. Try and talk about routines at school as well. I use the word talk very openly. Your talks may happen through drawings, painting, playdough, block building or a good old fashion chat.
This will be the most difficult one. As you see your little one go off to school for the first time or to a new classroom, try and relax. Know that everything you’ve talked about and prepared them for up to this moment has made an impact. Your child will pick up on any anxiety or stress that you feel. The more relaxed you are, the more relaxed and confident they will be when entering their environment.
We all adapt to new environments differently. Keep the open dialogue with your children during your back to school or first time at school experience. If your child doesn’t share much about their day at first, at least you know they enjoyed snack time.