For most young children, preschool is their very first introduction to school and being away from mommy and daddy.
Here are some tips for parents who are preparing to send their child to preschool, whether it's for the first time or they're heading back for another year:
Get familiar with the school
One of the most important tips I can give as a parent and former preschool teacher is for you and your child to become familiar with the school the child will attend. If possible, ask to take a tour of the building and your child’s classroom. Most programs have a scheduled meet and greet that will give you and your child an opportunity to see the classroom and meet the teachers. Ask to see a daily schedule which will help you when preparing your child for the first day.
Get your child motivated for school
Before school starts, help your child look forward to going to school. Talk about school in an upbeat, friendly way so that they will think of it as a happy place. Discuss all of the activities they will have at school and how they will make new friends and learn many new things.
There are quite a few picture books about going to preschool. My all-time favorite and the one I always recommend is "The Kissing Hand," by Audrey Penn.
Make sure your child is playing with other children
Give your child opportunities to play with other children. Preschool children who play with other children tend to adjust more quickly to the social aspect of school. Encourage your child to take turns and to use their words when playing with other children.
Set a routine
It is also important to set up a routine before the first day of school. This is will help your child understand what they need to do to get ready for school. That will make a first day calmer and less stressful for both of you.
On the first day of school, it’s very important for you to remain calm. Your child will pick up on any emotion you express, so matter what you are feeling be sure that they see you are happy. Separation can be very stressful for most children, so be calm and say, "I love you and I will be back," smiling. I cried each time I dropped my children off (preschool/kindergarten, the first day of each school year, and yes, even college). I know how hard it is to hold it in and then cry in the parking lot.
Be quick about saying goodbye. Explain that you are leaving and that you know they will have a great time. Let them know you will be back to get them as soon as school is over. It’s always OK for them to cry -- don’t discourage it. Crying is their way of expressing their feelings. Take the opportunity to let them know you understand they are a little sad but that you will come back later.
NEVER SNEAK OUT. Always be honest and let them know you are leaving, then leave.
If your child continues to have difficulty separating from you, he/she may keep a picture of you or their family in their pocket or backpack. Some children are comforted knowing they have “mommy” with them.
Return on time
Always return ON TIME and with a smile. Focus on the positive -- try not to express how much you missed them or ask if they missed you. Doing that will teach your child that being separated is not good. Instead, ask them to tell you all about how much fun they had.
Preschool is the very first experience with going to school. As an educator of young children my goal was always to make it a happy and positive experience, so be sure you as a parent are channeling that positive energy.
Tina Bartkowiak is a retired preschool and early childhood educator of 30-plus years.