Featured talk at Bump Club & Beyond Lecture Series, September 15, 2011
Your child is now preschool aged! What an exciting time of change and transition. You want your child’s first experience of school to be a positive one and want to make sure they are ready for the first day of preschool. While children can have many feelings about starting school, it’s natural that parents would have an emotional reaction to this change as well. Some positive feelings involving pride in your child’s growth and independence as well as some bittersweet feelings as your child leaves your immediate care for likely the first time ever.
The stress of deciding on the right preschool can be daunting, particularly if this is your first child or if you did not grow up in a large city. There can be the pressure of wondering if your child will be accepted, if they will do well on the school’s “play date,” if you can financially afford a private school and if the school will expect donations above and beyond tuition. And then there are outside pressures; solicited and unsolicited advice from family and friends, competitive pressure from other families. All of this can evoke much anxiety for parents.
It is important that your child be emotionally, physically and academically ready for the challenges as well. One of the important tasks of early childhood is learning to regulate emotions and manage feelings of frustration or anger. Children look to their immediate caretakers to learn how to manage their own feelings. They often mirror what they see in others so it’s important for parents to reflect to the child that they are competent and will be successful. Even though young children have not yet developed the linguistic sophistication to fully explain how they are feeling, they are very good at picking up on others’ feelings of nervousness and anxiety. Part of building a child’s confidence involves letting them make mistakes and then start to solve problems on their own.
In thinking about preschool readiness, the following points are important to consider:
1) Potty training – On a practical note, most preschools require that children be potty trained. Potty training also indicates that a child has gained an awareness of his or her body. The child is now capable of controlling both their body and some of their emotions. Potty training shows that the child has gained some self-sufficiency. This then leads to other tasks that the child can master such as putting on shoes and coats, washing their hands and playing alone for a period of time.
2) Does your child enjoy playing with friends? A child should be excited to see other children and be able to play in a semi-supervised manner. Exposure to other little ones can be formal through toddler classes or informal through play dates set up by parents.
3) Preschool children should have developed an interest in letters, numbers and music. If your child is excited by learning, he or she is likely ready for preschool. Learning these pre-academic skills also requires that your child have the ability to sit and work quietly. It’s important for children to have opportunities for solo play (not watching the television!) in order to develop concentration and to improve attention span.
4) Separation from parents. Can your child tolerate being left with a sitter or another family member? It’s important to have a transition routine involving saying goodbye and then reuniting. Children gradually learn that when you leave you will always come back. Tell your child in “kid terms” when you will return i.e.; after naptime, after snack, after playtime etc. Giving your child lots of opportunities to be independent and to gradually separate from you will make the transition to preschool easier.
5) An ability to focus on group activities. Participation in playgroups can help children develop this skill. Encourage your child to work on a group project with one or two friends.
6) Is your child comfortable with routine? Having a routine helps a child feel safe and sends the message that the world is predictable. Although preschool classrooms can seem busy and sometimes chaotic, children learn the routine of transitioning into the classroom, saying goodbye to you, having a snack, play time, reading time, napping etc. Before your child starts preschool, make sure that the routine at home is predicable and consistent. While children can push the limits, they feel safe when they know exactly what those limits are. Consistency is key for emotional growth and behavioral control.
7) Stamina. A day in preschool can seem long and taxing to a young child. You can expect that your child will be very tired during the first weeks of school. It’s important to be realistic about how much school you think your child can handle. Some schools offer half versus full day programs. Others offer half week or full day options. If you are unsure, start your child in a program that meets for less time rather than more. As your child’s stamina increases you can up the amount of time that they are in school. This is important as we want to make sure that children are successful and continue to be excited about learning.
8) It’s a good idea to have your child visit their new school, classroom and teacher prior to the first day of class. This will increase their comfort level and ease the transition to school.
Congratulations on launching your little student into school! Enjoy this wonderful time of growth and remember that your confidence in your child will lead to your child’s growing self-sufficiency and excitement in learning about the world around us.