It’s that special time of year… As kids grow a bit older, parents sometimes (really, really) look forward to the start of the school year. Jokes and memes abound around the end of August and start of the September about overjoyed parents finally regaining their freedom (from having their kids around allll the time).
But for the younger set, just getting ready to be in any type of school for the very first time, it can be a difficult process — for the entire family.
Somehow, it went incredibly smoothly for my own little fam, this very week, as the oldest of my two kids started preschool for the very first time.
She had never even been watched by a babysitter before (just Grandma for a few hours very occasionally), and her half-day at school was the longest we’d ever been apart, except for the day after my younger baby was born.
But, to my delight, she loved it. And so I’ve been thinking a lot about what exactly it was that we did that made it work so well.
From timing and preparation to personal preferences, I think it all matters.
So let me share with you now what I’ve found: 20 20 Crucial Steps For Starting Preschool.
20 Ditch The Band-Aid Approach
You know that thing where you rip off the band-aid, and just sort of get it over with? That might also bring to mind that other cliché of “throwing ’em in the deep end,” right?
The very first thing I asked upon touring the preschool that I thought I might want my little one to attend was how the transition would go. Would I be required to just drop her off on the first day and hit the road? I was not comfortable with that — because I couldn’t imagine that it would go well.
But instead of this approach, something much smoother went down. We got to schedule a “transitional visit” during the weeks leading up to her actual first day, where one or both parents (and even younger sib) would come hang out there the whole time, so everyone felt comfortable.
19 Teach Earlier About Teachers
The teachers at my little girl’s program all told me excitedly how great it was to see her just diving right in and having a good time. They kept asking, “So she really hasn’t been in any preschool or daycare before???”
What I think did the trick in helping her to be so ready, in part, was that although she’d never yet been in school, I had given her at least a few chances to try out listening to another adult, following instructions, and even just being able to rely on another grown-up besides me and her daddy.
We chose Parks & Rec ballet, where I sat right outside, but she was still on her own with a teacher providing instruction. She took a few sessions during the year before she’d go to preschool.
18 Getting Used To Group Time
Do I have an idea for you! It’s free, it allows children to practice sitting and listening in a group setting (as well as group participation), and it’s also just super fun.
It’s free children’s story times at your local public library!
In my neck of the woods, they even offer multiple options for parents / caregivers and little babies to attend, as well as toddlers and older kids.
It helps kids to sort of know the drill. There are segments where they are encouraged to sit quietly, follow simple instructions, and contribute their own voices and ideas.
Throw in mini dance parties, and maybe even some bubbles, and oh, man, you’ve got a good time on your hands — and one that will help kids be more prepared for preschool.
We’ve gone at least once most weeks for the last few years.
17 When The Time Is Really Right
I understand that it’s the real world, and that for some families, what works best is for both parents to be working out of the home from the time the child is still a young baby.
But I’m just saying, it was really, really nice to see how easily my little girl adapted – and how eager she was – when I simply waited to put her into a preschool program until she was clearly actually ready for it.
I saw this readiness grow and grow over the last year, as her start date approached.
At the park, she would dive right in and start playing with any other kids there. She got to that age where she started wanting to know the “how” and the “why” behind everything.
When she spent time during the day out being around other people and mentally stimulated, she would eat and sleep much better.
It basically just became clear that she would really enjoy and benefit from a preschool program.
16 Bust Out The Books
Dude, around my house, we learn about everything through reading together. My two little ones love to cozy up on my lap, help turn those pages, and put together the words they’re hearing with the pictures they see in front of them.
We started reading every day at infancy, and it’s a key part of our daily routine.
Including some stories about little ones going to school for the first time — and putting them into heavier rotation as the start date neared — really helped my girl to warm up to the idea with even greater enthusiasm.
We liked the Berenstain Bears book where Sister goes to kindergarten for the first time, and also one we happened upon at the library called ABC School’s For Me.
15 Mom’s Feelings Matter
Does anyone else notice that their own feelings and attitude rub off on their young kids in a major way?
That’s why I think it’s important for you, the parents, to feel positive and comfortable about the whole thing as your sweet baby begins school for the first time.
Plus, it’s just one of those things where it will probably work out best for everyone if you follow your instincts.
I think you should have an excellent vibe about the preschool or center after visiting it yourself. If you have any questions or doubts, you should address them, such as by bringing them up with the director.
14 Plan Waaaay Ahead
If it’s a quick, sort of last-minute decision to put the child in school, I have a feeling it might leave everyone feeling a little jarred.
Even though we had planned for many, many months when and where that first day of preschool would happen, it still felt a little surprising and wild, just because it was such a big change to our family routine.
Planning really far in advance, though, did help us all to have time to prepare. We knew what was coming. My little one knew where her school was and what it looked like, and would point it out as we drove or walked by.
You may really have to plan way ahead, anyway, to get on a waiting list and reserve a spot, but I think it ends up working out very well for other reasons, too.
13 Start Small
I just can’t really imagine being a little kid and suddenly going from being with my mommy all the time to spending like 8 hours a day away from home and all things familiar in a preschool or childcare center.
It just sort of worked out that we chose to only do a couple half-days each week as my little one started preschool. (It is SO expensive where I live, but we wanted her to have some sort of preschool experience before elementary school.)
And starting with just quite limited time there is helping our family with the adjustment, too.
She’s so excited that she says she wants to go every day! But she also doesn’t want to miss all the fun and regular activities she’s accustomed to enjoying with me and her little sister — and her sister misses her terribly when she’s at school.
12 The Loveliest Lunchbox
What’s nice is that at this age, the simplest thing can really help kids warm up to something or get excited about it.
When I realized I’d need a practical way to send food with my little one for lunch on days she’d go to preschool, I knew that an awesome new lunchbox could be used as a tool to make going to school more appealing.
It totally worked.
A week or so before her start date, we took her to a children’s store I know she loves, where she got to browse and decide on the lunchbox that she liked the very best.
That’s the one we got, and she couldn’t wait to try it out when school started.
11 Communication Is Key
Sure, very young kids might not understand everything that you try to explain to them, but it sure seems that the more we try to communicate, the more they comprehend, right?
I helped my little girl prepare for preschool by starting to talk about it with her a long time ago. As I mentioned earlier, we pointed out where it was, even when we were just starting to think about taking a tour of the place we were most interested in.
We brought it up happily and casually, not like a big deal. It was fun and easy, not scary or daunting.
We talked about it more and more frequently as the start date neared, including more details the closer we got.
She even started bringing it up now and then, too!
10 Pick A Place Close To Home
There are so many aspects of having my girl at a preschool very nearby to our home that I think works really, really well — for everyone.
First of all, like I said, she could feel that it was a familiar place. She’d been seeing it from her seat in the stroller as we walked or jogged by for years. She knew where it was in relation to her favorite park. She would point it out happily as we drove by on this or that errand.
Not only did this allow her to be even more comfortable with it; it also, of course, allowed me to have an easier time.
Honestly, I really do like being so nearby to my sweet first baby during this very first time that she’s not right beside me all day every day.
Plus, being able to travel only a few minutes to drop her off and pick her up makes my life sooo much easier than it might be if she were farther away.
9 Familiar Faces
Clearly, to be in a sea of strangers can sometimes be a little daunting.
It’s comforting to have someone around who you know, or even at least recognize.
Is there a friend or child from the neighborhood who will also be attending the same school?
Or maybe it’s even just that your little one has had a chance to spend a bit of time at the facility and get accustomed to the faces and voices of the teachers and other staff there. This seemed to work really well to me.
Although my tot didn’t have any close friends who went to the same school (before starting), I think it did help that we would see my mom-friend and her little one while visiting and touring the school, and that I could explain to her that she knew someone there.
8 Watch And Learn
Sure, there’s that ultra-important aspect of you totally vibin’ the place yourself, but be sure to also observe your child during your tour or any visits that you make to the school.
I will warn that I thought I’d have more time to simply do this. It ended up being really hard because this or that staff member wanted to eagerly speak with me or explain this or that. Meanwhile, my little one was running off and diving right into all of the fun.
Still, though, it was clear that she felt happy and comfortable there, and I’m sure it would have also been clear if she wasn’t.
7 Shop Around
So that you can have some frame of reference, both to compare how you feel about a place and how your child reacts to a school or center, it’s probably a good idea to visit or tour at least a couple of places before making a decision about where your little one will go to preschool.
The director of the place we ended up getting into and going with even said that she highly recommended that each family tour multiple places, partly for the reasons I’ve mentioned but also because schools often have waiting lists, so you may need multiple options.
Check a few places out, and get a better idea of what fits.
6 Pick A Place With Pets
The roughest part about my daughter’s first week at preschool was how upset her little sister was about having to leave the doggies who spend the day at the facility behind.
I don’t know how common or not this is, to have animals at a preschool, but man, what a great way to help kids warm up to a place!
Kids love pets!
There’s a lizard in a terrarium in one corner, and a few little what I’d call “grandma” dogs, those little mellow lap dogs that just sort of cruise around.
It’s one more thing that helps my little sweetie feel excited about her very own school.
5 Create Comfort
Even if your little one is way excited, and you both get a great feeling from the school, there will probably be something a bit uncomfortable about such a big transition: going to preschool for the very first time.
What I realized was really important this last week, when the time actually came to send my little girl off for her very first day, was to send her ready to dive in and be as independent as possible. Anything that I’d normally help her with to get set to go do something, I did in the morning (applying sunscreen, for example).
Having her be as ready to go, physically / practically prepared, and comfortable as possible helped her to have a happy first day. And I figured then she wouldn’t be forced to warm right up to the teachers if she wasn’t yet comfortable.
The next day, I reexamined the idea again, choosing, for example, to put her long hair up and clipped back out of her face and dress her in cooler clothes when I noticed how warm it was there when I picked her up.
4 Little Ones Who Lunch
My little girl’s school handbook actually mentioned this point, and to me, it made a lot of sense. The handbook cautioned against packing anything too complicated to eat or assemble in your little one’s lunch for the day.
I think that surely this was mainly so that the teachers could successfully get a group of little kids fed in a set amount of time, but the important point to me as a mom was that it would help my child to feel comfortable and successful during her time there.
I packed foods that she was used to eating and enjoyed. I gave a small variety of simple and healthy options, just like I would on any other day (but all packed into that snazzy new lunchbox!).
3 One Thing At A Time
It’s just no fun to feel totally over-whelmed. Routine and the familiar are so comforting, and that’s why with the huge change of going to preschool for the first time, I made sure not to introduce any other massive changes right around the same time as that start date.
Sure, there are some things that you just can’t control, but I simply did what I could.
For example, we’d been meaning to get our little one a different bed for some time, and would have right around this time, but I decided to hold off.
One big change at a time would allow her to adjust more easily, it seemed.
I would personally try to avoid starting a brand-new school at the same time as other big life changes or upheaval.
I also made sure to keep the rest of our day relatively similar, such as our naptime and bedtime routines, meal times, etc.
2 ‘All By Myself!’
If you are a parent to a toddler, you have probably already learned this trick, if not to help your child transition to preschool than to simply get out the door to do anything.
Young kids love the chance to feel powerful and capable by doing things all on their own. And really, that’s a good thing.
Even if it takes a few minutes longer, or that outfit totally clashes, try giving your tot the chance to choose what he or she wants to wear that day, for example, or what will go in that tummy for breakfast.
In a world of being told where to go and what to do, it might help to feel like they have some agency.
My little girl was super excited (as I actually clearly remember being myself at her age) to pick out her very own clothes and get dressed for school.
1 At Drop-Off Time, Simply Explain It
Although I had discussed preschool with my little one starting many months ago and more frequently brought it up in the weeks leading up to her start date, I also made sure to take a few minutes to review the practical plan when I was getting her settled in and getting ready to leave.
I didn’t just say that it was time to say good-bye. I went over with her again what would be happening.
I encouraged her to dive in and check everything out, and I reminded her that her teachers or the director were there to help her with anything she needed. I told her that I’d never be far away and that I’d be back in a few hours to get her and bring her home when we would continue on with our regular day.
It all made sense to her, and she liked being reassured that yes, of course, I was coming back again.
No tears, no objections, just one happy little girl enjoying her very first week of school!
Reference: This one mom-of-two’s experience.