Watching your child go through new experiences can be both nerve-wracking and exciting. As children grow and become more self-reliant, it can get even harder to know when to stick by their side and when to step back and allow them to take risks and explore their growing sense of independence.
Starting preschool is a particularly big milestone, marking the start of a new phase in your child’s life. Many parents worry whether their kid is ready for this step and often struggle with the realization that their sweet little baby is now old enough to venture into a world without them always close by.
Why is preschool important?
Research tells us that preschool attendance has a significant and positive impact on a child’s readiness for school. In 2019, the Learning Policy Institute released a report stating that children who attended preschool were more prepared for school and experienced substantial learning gains in comparison to children who hadn’t.
Similar studies have led many countries to focus on early education and allocate significant funding to ensure equitable access for children to high-quality early learning programs, including preschool.
While parents tend to agree that preschool is beneficial, they often worry about their child’s readiness for this big step. So, how can parents help in making this important transition go as smoothly as possible?
How to prepare your child for preschool
Preparing your child academically for preschool isn’t as difficult as you might think. It’s certainly not necessary to fret over whether your child knows all their shapes, colors, numbers, or letters. Instead, preparing children for life and work in the 21st century requires very specific skills and abilities that must be nurtured from a young age.
Creative and innovative thinking has become increasingly important, and the development of skills for life-long learning is now essential. Encouraging children to become curious, confident, and resilient learners will help them to be more successful in our technology-driven society.
Thankfully, play-based learning provides the perfect vehicle for building such important skills.
Play in the early years:
- Teaches children how to work collaboratively with others on innovative projects.
- Gives them the freedom to explore and discover while building the skills they need for effective focus and concentration.
- Enables them to engage in high-level thinking processes as they problem-solve, analyze, evaluate, and transfer their knowledge to new situations and experiences.
So, how can you support the development of these skills at home in preparation for preschool? The answer is very simple. Finding time to play with your child each and every day will do wonders for their development.
One aspect of development that families can greatly contribute to at home relates to communication skills. We know that reading to your child and engaging in reciprocal conversations with them has a highly positive impact on their literacy development and will lay the foundations for later reading success.
A study conducted in 2019 revealed that children who are regularly read to from birth to age 5 are exposed to a whopping 1.4 million more words than children who aren’t read to during those years. Reading to your child from birth is one of the single best things you can do to prepare them for preschool, school, and beyond.
Perhaps the more difficult task when it comes to preparing children for preschool concerns their emotional readiness. Some children might have attended other kinds of early learning programs, but for others, this will be their first time being away from their family. It can be daunting for both the parent and the child, and it’s important to remember that the parent’s attitude will certainly impact that of the child. If you show that you’re concerned or sad about your child spending the day at preschool without you, then your child is likely to struggle more with separating from you and will experience increased feelings of anxiousness.
Preparation tips before preschool starts
So, what are the best things you can do to set your child up for a successful transition to preschool? Here are a few practical suggestions that will help ensure your child’s readiness (and yours).
- Visit the preschool ahead of time. Most preschools offer some kind of transition program where the parents and children can visit the center, meet the educators, and check out some of the experiences and activities they can expect on their first day of preschool. These visits will certainly reduce the stress and anxiety for children (and parents) and allow educators to begin building a relationship with your child even before that important official first day.
- Support your child’s independence. At preschool, there will be times when your child is expected to manage their own belongings and engage in some basic self-care. Knowing how to toilet themselves, wash their hands, pack their bag, open and close a lunch box, put their shoes on, and take off their jacket are all skills that your child will benefit from having prior to the start of preschool.
- Allow your child to express their feelings. It’s important that your child feels understood, and it’s perfectly appropriate for them to be a bit worried or scared about attending preschool. Acknowledging their feelings and providing support will help your child to know that what they are feeling is ok.
- Don’t avoid saying goodbye. Some parents will sneak out of the center once they see that their child has engaged in an activity. While this is often done with good intentions, it can be more upsetting for the child when they suddenly realize that you’re gone. Even if you are expecting your child to become upset and emotional, it’s important that you say goodbye. It can be useful to give a 5-minute warning before you leave but stick to those 5 minutes. Consistency is very important-it shows your child knows that you mean what you say, and the goodbye process becomes predictable.
- Get involved with the preschool. Engage in open and ongoing communication with your child’s educators so that they can support both you and your child in any areas that might be difficult or challenging. Building strong relationships is important for effective learning, and if your child sees that you communicate and trust their educators, they will, too.
The preschool experience is worth it
Starting preschool is certainly a big step for children and families, but it also offers incredibly exciting opportunities for children. Talking to your kid about preschool in a positive way will help them feel more comfortable with the idea of attending.
The thought of your little one heading off to preschool can fill you with sadness, but it also brings such joy when your child shares with you their achievements. Trust me, you will love the paintings and creations they bring home from preschool, and the only real challenge will be finding the space to showcase them all.
There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.—Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
You have spent the first few years of your child’s life supporting them to put down roots. Now it’s time to help them start spreading their wings.
- Pete the Kitty’s First Day of Preschool by Kimberley and James Dean will help you introduce the topic of preschool to your child.
- The Pigeon HAS to Go to School by Mo Willems is a fun and humorous story by this highly acclaimed author.
- Preschool Here I Come by D.J. Steinberg with illustrations by John Joven will help you and your child get ready for an important year of firsts through fun and silly poems.