Starting preschool is a big step—for kids and parents alike—and even adults may need reassuring. Checking in with your own feelings about your toddler being in a center’s care is important to set the stage for a smooth transition. It’s easy to imagine your 3-year-old standing uncertainly in a new classroom, clutching your leg, and begging you not to leave. But the day doesn’t have go that way, if you prepare. Starting preschool can be a happy experience if your child is ready to separate. Look for the clues. The readiness to move away from you while playing and the ability to have fun with others of the same age show your child is mature enough for preschool.
Once you see that your child is up for the new experience, try these tips to ensure a smooth transition from home to preschool:
- Talk about the upcoming change. Kids do best when parents talk about preschool in a positive way. Share with your child that they’ll be making friends and having fun.
- Help them gain self-care skills. Help your child master skills like buttoning shirts and zipping pants so they can dress for school and after using the bathroom.
- Check to see if the preschool requires your child is toilet trained. If so, make sure your child is out of diapers before starting preschool (some preschools require it). Confidence comes from being on the same level of maturity as their peers.
- Let your child help pick out a backpack or bag to take to school. If the school allows, include a favorite snack, a comforting blanket or stuffed animal, and family photos in case your child gets lonely.
- Make sure your child gets enough sleep before the first day of school. If that requires a change in wake-up time, get on the new schedule two weeks before classes start.
- Take your child to their new school before the semester starts so you can both meet the teacher and your child can get familiar with the classroom layout.
- Finally, before school starts, speak with the school staff regarding drop off. Ask what the school’s policy is regarding staying after drop off in case your toddler is having a hard time separating from you. Some preschools allow the parent to stay until their toddler is happily engaged in play or another activity. If your toddler isn’t ready for you to leave right away you can stay for another 15–30 minutes, but try not to engage in the activity. Stay off to the side, and encourage them to make a friend and join in the fun. Then say goodbye to your child, and let them know when you will be back to pick them up.
- Celebrate the day after pick-up. Greet them with a treat or their favorite toy from home, and talk about their day, letting them share and get excited about all the wonderful things they experienced.
Reviewed by Eva Benmeleh, March 2020
- Talk about preschool before it starts to prepare your child for that first day.
- Help your child gain important self-care skills like buttoning and zipping before school to make the transition easier.
- Ensure your child gets a good night’s sleep before the first day of school.
- Celebrate their success after the first school day is done.