It’s that time of year! Summer is coming to an end, and many parents are frantically preparing for the quickly approaching first day of school. If you have a little one who will be starting preschool soon you might be even more stressed than most. It's a big leap, especially if your little one has been by your side up until now. You might be asking yourself how you can help prepare them and what you can do to help the transition go smoothly. Or at least as smoothly as anything can go with a toddler! Below is a list of ten tips that will help you set your little one up for preschool success.
- Pretend or role play preschool with your kid at home. You can set up some dolls or stuffed animals to mimic scenarios and expectations of how a day at school might go. An example of some scenarios you can play out are sharing and possible conflicts they might encounter. This will be a good tool to use in the future to help them explain how school was as well. Especially if their language skills are still a bit challenging for you to understand. My son still likes to set up all of his stuffed animals for a circle story time and I often over hear him playing out scenarios on his own. It's a good opportunity to listen to what he's saying because oftentimes he reenacts past events, which might include things that happened while at school.
- Practice fine motor skills. Don’t be afraid to hand your toddler a pair of scissors (with supervision!). Providing them opportunities to practice skills such as cutting will give them more confidence when they encounter the task at school. The Busy Toddler Blog has a lot of fun activities designed just for this skill that you can check out here.
- Invest in some wipe clean workbooks. This one from Scholastic is wonderful. It has pages for tracing, connect the dots, mazes, matching objects using lines and circling, and so much more. Plus the ability to wipe the page after each use means you get more bang for your buck! These books start with beginner pen control and have many follow on books as your little one gets older.
- Teach your toddler to start dressing themself. YouTube is a great tool for learning the easiest techniques for difficult tasks such as putting on a jacket. A part of allowing them to get dressed on their own is also allowing them to pick out their own clothes. For my own son, I first started with providing two options. The less choices he had to decide from the quicker and less stressful the process was. We eventually worked our way up to allowing him to pick out his clothes altogether. We store his clothes in four bins on the floor of his closet – socks, undies, shirts, pants/shorts – and each morning he knows to pick an outfit and dress himself. Next step is shoes! Most kids won't learn to tie their shoes until pre-K or kindergarten so this isn't something you need to worry about quite yet.
- If your toddler is still drinking from a sippy cup start transitioning to small open cups. Not all schools will use open cups but it’s a good skill to have regardless! Start by filling the cups only about ¼ of the way and move up from there. It might be best to start with just water at first until they’ve gotten the hang of not spilling on a regular basis. If your little one still has a ways to go before preschool you might want to consider a set of training cups like these. My son attended part-time occasional daycare starting at 9 months, and they had him drinking from an open cup before he turned one. Something I personally never would have thought to introduce that young!
- Schools function on routine and it will make your child’s day go by with fewer meltdowns if they're already accustomed to one. Parents magazine suggests posting a schedule your little one can look at each day, using pictures to list their daily schedule. Here’s an example of a daily schedule you can implement at home:
7:30am Independent/Open* Play
9:00am Outside Time
2:15pm Arts/Crafts (or any other structured activity)
3:45pm Independent/Open* Play
5:30pm Bath/Brush Teeth
6:30pm Story Time
*Independent play is allowing your child to play on their own with little to no assistance. Open play is allowing your child to choose the activity, whether that be on their own or with you.
- Provide your child time during the day to play independently. Most young toddlers (under age 3) still don’t really play with each other, this is referred to as parallel play. You can read more about that here. And the teacher to student ratio will likely not allow for one-on-one play. Also, depending on the style of the school it might even be expected that kids play on their own at certain times during their day. This is particularly common in the Montessori method. The ability to play independently also helps children build problem solving skills as well as the use of their imaginations.
- Prior to sending your child to school set up a few play dates to give them an opportunity to practice their social skills. According to this article from Parents magazine, it is also important to schedule time with other kids your own kid doesn’t know or doesn’t know well. This will help them adjust to new classmates.
- Take advantage of your local libraries! Many of them offer story times for a variety of age groups. You might also have a nearby music and movement class for toddlers, or anything that provides an opportunity for your kid to practice their ability to sit still and listen for at least 10 minutes. Nearby museums are also a great place to find opportunities to practice this skill.
- Last but not least, if preschool is completely new to your kid – if they weren’t in daycare for any period of time or haven’t spent significant time apart from you prior to now - plan some time to be apart from them in small doses. Leave them with a friend or babysitter for a couple of hours and increase the time just a bit every time after. Additionally, you should consider scheduling a time to visit the school with your little one before their first day, if that isn’t something the school already requires. Some schools might also suggest your little one attend only half-time their first day or two. This will help ease them into being at school without overwhelming them too much.
Don’t forget to make school sound fun and exciting leading up to the big day. Take your little one along when it’s time to purchase a lunchbox and backpack, or anything else they might require. If they have to take their own lunch you can have them help you prepare it. On the big day plan their favorite breakfast to get them fueled up for a day full of exciting new adventures. Big beginnings require extra special treats! Even if he'll only eat one...