Sending your toddler or young child off to preschool is a huge milestone in parenting. It is also a gigantic change for your child. So having a strategy and plan for preparing yourself and your toddler for the first day of preschool is a huge help. Here are some tips for making the first day of preschool as painless as possible.
If you are still trying to choose the best preschool for your child, you may want to begin with Questions to Ask When Choosing a Preschool. Then come back to these Tips for an Awesome First Day of Preschool.
Planning for an Awesome First Day of Preschool
A Few Weeks Before the First Day
Celebrate the Milestone
Once you have the answers to all of your questions and you are ready to enroll your child, take some time to prepare your child. Celebrate their growth and the fact that they are starting preschool. Read some books about going to school. Start this a few weeks before your child starts school. This will provide opportunities for your child to express anxiety, ask questions, and for you to reassure your child of your love and security.
Be cautious about talking about preschool too much with your toddler as this can create anxiety and fear in your child. Children are resilient, but change can be difficult. Going to preschool is something that is totally new to them and they won’t know how to process the unknown. Your toddler or young child will be looking for your cues for how to respond to change.
Prepare for Preschool – the Shopping List
Take your child shopping to pick out their new water-bottle or nap mat. Choose a stuffed animal or blanket that will help them feel secure while they are taking a nap at preschool. Choose a fun backpack that will hold all of their treasures – their stuffed animal, blanket, and anything else that they need to help them feel secure.
Including your child in the process of choosing something they like can be a special treat. This helps your child understand that what it happening is an exciting thing that you are looking forward to.
Preparing for a Preschool Schedule – A Few Days Before Preschool Begins
Adjust your child’s schedule to match their new preschool schedule as much as possible a few days before school begins. This includes going to bed earlier in the evening so they are refreshed and ready to get up on time in the morning. Set their bedtime 10-15 minutes earlier each night for a week until they are going to bed at the appropriate time to get up on time.
Do the same thing with waking up. If your child is not an early riser, get them up 5-10 minutes earlier each morning while you are adjusting their bedtime so that they get used to getting up on time for school.
Practice with Their New Supplies
Pack a lunch for your child in their new lunch bag and pack your own lunch as well. Make lunchtime fun and eat a picnic outside or at their little table to help them know that they will be able to eat at preschool. Make sure they are able to open their lunch bag and the containers of food. Pack something fun and special in the lunch bag so it is a treat. Make a big deal out of eating lunch from your lunch bag as well.
Most preschools schedule time for napping. You will probably need to purchase some sort of nap mat or bed for your preschool child to nap on. Take some time to help them set up their mat with their pillow and blanket and spend some time lying down with them reading them a story or cuddling on their new mat.
Tips for the Night Before the First Day of Preschool
Plan for the Morning
Choose or let your child choose their clothes for the next day and lay them out for your child the night before.
Pack your child’s lunch so it is ready to go in the morning. Prepare and plan for breakfast so your child will start the first day of preschool with a happy tummy.
Put all school supplies in your child’s backpack or bag. Make sure they choose a favorite stuffed animal, blanket, or toy to put in their backpack to hold while they are napping at preschool.
Take some extra time at bedtime to hold your child, read an extra story, rub their back, or just be close to them to assure them that even though tomorrow has new experiences, your love is the same.
Set your alarm so you have plenty of time to be ready in the morning without being stressed and rushed.
Tips for the First Day at Preschool
Take a Picture
You will want to document and remember this day in history. Make sure your phone is charged or your camera is in your bag so you are prepared for the moment.
Be Prepared for Tears
Change is hard for kiddos (and parents) and you may find yourself melting into tears the first few days you drop off your child. The newness will wear off and often children begin to feel more anxious after a few days when they realize this is the new normal. Re-assure them that you will come back to get them later that day.
Hide your emotions as much as possible. If your child sees your tears (and yes, momma tears at preschool are a common thing) it may make them feel frightened or scared. Keep your voice cheerful and encourage your child to engage in the activities in the room. Help them put their things away and get settled.
Transfer the Hand Holding to the Teacher
Your toddler or young child may be holding tightly onto your hand. Be sure to transfer that connection to the teacher before you leave. The teacher should be able to engage your child in some toys or activities and help them feel involved and supported. This also helps your child to feel your confidence in the teacher’s ability to take care of them.
Make your goodbyes quick and painless
Many parents feel like they need to linger in the morning and make sure that their child starts playing and will be okay. In my experience as a teacher, a child will usually get over their tears very quickly once their parent leaves. When parents hang around trying to get their child to stop crying, it often makes the situation more difficult and last longer. Your child is very smart. If he or she can cry and get you to stay longer, then he or she is getting what they want.
Tears on the first few days are common and expected. This is a big change. The more positive and encouraging you are to your child, the easier the transfer will be.
If you are concerned about your child’s happiness, ask the teacher to let you know that your child is happy again. Often, the tears at dropoff will last a few days and then go away altogether. If they continue or seem to get worse, talk with the teacher, and find out if there are some things that you can work on together to make the morning preschool dropoff time easier for everyone.
Tips for After the First Day of Preschool
Plan a Celebration after Preschool
Talk to your child about something fun that you are going to do after you pick them up from their first day of preschool. Make it a date and don’t forget! This gives them something to look forward to and helps them to realize that you still love them and will still spend time doing things with them. Go for a bike ride, stop at the park, get an ice cream cone or something else that is a special treat.
Talk to Your Child About Their First Day at Preschool
Ask your child questions about their first day of preschool. Be careful to ask them questions in a positive way rather than a negative way. There will be time for them to tell you about the scary or hard things, but you want to focus on the positive first. Often, by focusing on the positive things, your child will forget the little troubles and it will help them to feel happy rather than sad.
Obviously, if something happened that was traumatic, you want your child to be able to talk to you about it, but as a parent, you have the ability to help them communicate and express their feelings through the way you ask them questions.
- Ask them what they did for fun instead of asking them if they had fun.
- Who did they play with at recess, who are their new friends, instead of did you play with anyone?
- What did you make today instead of did you do anything fun?
Let them tell you all about their new experiences.
Bring a snack! Your child will probably be hungry. They may not have eaten much of their lunch because they were excited, talking, or distracted by the other kids. As they adjust to a new routine, they will get used to eating at school. Plan ahead by bringing a snack in the car so that they can keep their blood sugar up rather than having a meltdown before supper.
Tell your child how proud you are of them and this big step of going to preschool. Praise their bravery or project in front of them to your spouse. This helps to build up your child’s self-confidence and security. Find a special place to display their artwork for the whole family to see it.
If you have concerns about how your child is adapting or you have a specific concern, talk about your concern privately and not in front of your child. Talk to your spouse, another mom, or the teacher.
Allow for Down Time
Your toddler or young child will probably be very tired in the first few days of preschool. They are learning lots of new things, surrounded by lots of new stimuli, and may not be getting enough sleep at night or nap time due to stress. Plan for some downtime for them to just play quietly in their room, play a game with your family, or read some stories on your lap.
Try to keep your after school schedule uncluttered the first few days of school to provide home time for your child to adjust to the new schedule. They will miss their toys, their pets, and their home.
Prepare for the Second Day and Beyond
You are well on your way to the second day of preschool and beyond. The more you can plan and prepare the night before, the less stress and frustration you will have in the morning. Take your bedtime cues from your child. If they are tired and cranky in the evening, put them to bed a bit earlier after spending a little more time snuggling and doing things together.
Most toddlers and young children adjust to change very quickly when they feel safe and secure. Using these tips for the first day of preschool will help this transition go more smoothly for your toddler or young child and you!
Good job Mom! You’ll make it through the first day of preschool and live to tell about it! 🙂