It happened just like that. You blinked, and all of a sudden, your baby — the precious newborn that only moments ago you were holding swaddled in your arms — is on their way to preschool. This milestone is a huge step for any family, and one that often comes with a mixture of excitement and anxiety. As you get ready for that first day of school, acknowledge and validate any big feelings that arise in both your child and yourself — they come with the territory, after all — but remember, preparing for this adventure can also be tons of fun. Here are some tips for getting your little one pumped for their big day.
Scope Out the Classroom
Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to preparing for your first time ever in a school setting. Many preschools offer the chance for your preschooler-to-be to get comfortable with their new teachers and classroom prior to their first day, whether that’s through an at-home visit from the teacher, a classroom orientation day, or even a short transition period, where your child incrementally works toward being in the classroom for a full day.
Use these opportunities to gather as much information as you can to help your child adjust to the school setting. Learn the daily schedule, the bathroom procedure, and how mealtimes work. “Take pictures of the room and the child playing during the visit,” suggests Kelsey Livingston, owner and director of The Sapling School. “At home, the family can flip through the photos together and talk about what the child is looking forward to the most.”
If your preschool doesn’t already offer these types of opportunities, don’t hesitate to ask for an informal sneak peek.
Children use play to process their emotions and better understand the world around them. What better way to help your child prepare for their first day of school than to “play preschool” with them at home? In fact, you may have already found yourself roped into this game. “Act out things like circle time, snack time or do a craft together,” says Laney Strain, lead multi-age teacher at IUPUI Center for Young Children. “And let your child lead the play as much as possible because it will be a good way to gauge how they are feeling about starting preschool.”
Practice “Big Kid” Skills
When looking forward to preschool, start giving your child more opportunities to practice their independence at home. Work on skills, like putting on their jacket or pulling up their pants, and build in wait time when your child asks for something, so they can work on that skill, as well. “Teachers are great about helping children and teaching them how to do these things,” Strain says. “But it will give your child a sense of self-confidence to already know how to do things for themselves [and will be a huge help for the teacher].”
Prep School Supplies
Taking your child shopping to pick out a new lunchbox, backpack or snazzy outfit for their first day of school is always a fun way to kick off the school year. “This allows them some ownership over their school belongings, some control over how their first day will go, and some excitement to use the new items they picked out themselves,” Livingston says. The night before, let them help in packing their lunch and laying out their outfit for the morning, prioritizing their feelings of comfort and control over your desire for the perfect first-day-of-school photo.
Plan a Goodbye Routine
One of the hardest things about the first day of school — and maybe something that’s already causing your child anxiety — is the drop-off. Prepare yourself to provide a clear and loving goodbye to your child to give them a sense of trust, but don’t linger. However, consider creating a goodbye routine with your child — a combination of physical gestures like hugs, kisses, high fives and dance moves — to give them a sense of ownership over the separation and to bring some levity to the moment.
Pick Up a Book
If you’re still looking for ways to prepare your child for what to expect at preschool, picture books are a great way to introduce new concepts to children. “There are lots of stories available about the first day of school or preschool that will help your child,” Strain says. “Check some books out at the local library and sit down and read them together. Ask your child questions about the book and encourage them to ask questions, as well.” If you can find a book with characters that share commonalities with your child, even better, adds Livingston.
Starting preschool comes with a lot of fun firsts for your child. As they get acclimated to their classroom and begin to make friends, their excitement for this new phase of life will shine. Enjoy the moment. Before you know it, they’ll be donning a cap and gown and on their way toward an even bigger adventure.