My memories of being a toddler are fairly hazy, but one thing that remains clear is that I was absolutely petrified of starting preschool and kindergarten. Sure, I had grown up with my cousins to play with, and I had a few friends that lived on my block that I would play with, but preschool was a whole different kettle of fish for me.
Looking back, I wish that my parents had a guide full of tips (like the ones below) to help me get used to going to preschool—and eventually kindergarten—because I wouldn’t wish that kind of anxiety on any child.
I was scared stiff and I seriously dreaded going to school the first few weeks because it was a whole new experience for me since I went from having a babysitter and playing with my cousins to being tossed into a school setting with a bunch of kids that I didn’t know. It would be like me tossing my nervous dog Zoe into a doggie daycare with no preparation or training.
Thankfully, I got used to going to preschool because I was fascinated by all the toys they had and I made friends, but man, it was totally nerve-wracking for me at such a tender age.
20 Use Role Playing Games To Act Out Common Scenarios
In order to prepare a kiddo for the mature act of attending preschool, Zero To Three recommends that parents play role-playing games with their toddler. These games will allow kids to act out different scenarios, such as saying goodbye to their parent, taking off their coat, singing songs, etc.
By setting up a child for success by playing these role-playing games a few months before they start, there is less of a chance that the little one will have anxiety during the first few weeks of attending pre-school.
19 Turn Practicing Self-Help Skills Into A Game
Zero To Three urges parents to prepare their toddler by turning practicing self-help skills into a really fun game for the soon-to-be preschooler.
For example, parents can challenge their little one into having a “race” to see who can tie their shoes faster or playing "school" so that their child can practice taking off their coat, making sure the zipper on their backpack is closed all the way, and unpacking their pre-made lunchbox so that they’ll know what to do once school starts.
18 Read The Kiddos Books About Pre-School
As the saying goes, being forewarned is forearmed. Another way Zero To Three suggests that parents can get their child used to preschool is by reading books to them about the experience.
After reading the books, parents should make sure that they talk to their child about the story and how the characters felt over the course of the plot. You should also take the time out to ask your little one how they’re feeling about attending preschool, too. That way their feelings are heard.
17 Visit The Preschool Several Times With Your Kiddo
Just like pet owners make sure to check out any potential doggie daycares; bringing their dogs there a few times to make sure that it's a good fit, Zero To Three writes that parents should scrutinize the preschool by visiting several times and asking for testimonials from other clients. This way, you can see the school more than once on the good days or bad days.
You can also bring your child along during the visits and ask if the two of you can tour the school together so that they’ll feel a bit more comfortable when they start the program.
16 Have Playdates With Other Kids To Prepare Them For Being In A Group
Socialization isn’t just for dogs; it’s also a great way to help little ones become more comfortable with going to preschool.
Kid Sense recommends that for a few months before the program starts, have playdates with children of a similar age. You can see if any local community clubs or parenting groups on social media websites offer playdates or playgroups to help your little one get used to being around other children their own age in a group setting.
15 Bust Out The Boardgames To Teach Them How To Cope With Not Winning
According to Kid Sense, teaching a child impulse control is a good way to help them get used to being at preschool.
One way parents can do this is by playing board games with them over the weekend before preschool starts. That way, your child will learn how to patiently wait their turn, share a game or a toy, and gain the ability to cope if they don’t get their way by winning at the board game. All of these skills will go a long way to making their preschool experiences into a positive one!
14 'Play Simon' Says To Help Them Learn To Listen To Instructions
I have vague memories of CONSTANTLY playing the game Simon Says when I was in preschool all the way up to first or second grade. I never really thought about why my teachers always made us play that game as a kid, but now I know that websites such as Care.com claim it's a good way to help children learn how to follow instructions.
For parents looking to help their kids succeed at preschool, take some time to play Simon Says several times a week before the program starts and mix it up by adding in funny commands to make your child laugh.
13 Encourage Picking Out Books To Read Before Bed
Kid Sense urges parents to read to their child every day, specifically before bedtime, since it's very important to expose them to different language concepts before they begin preschool.
Let your child pick out the book they want you to read, and during the daylight hours, encourage your little one to pick out and read their own books, too. You can even make a day of it by going to the library; I have fond memories of being a ‘90s kid that spent HOURS at the library and being able to pick out whatever books I wanted to read.
12 Taking The Time To Let The Kiddo Color
According to Care.com, coloring is a great way to teach your child how to improve their fine motor skills before they start preschool.
You can easily download coloring pages or go to any drug-store like Walgreens or Duane Reade to purchase some cheap coloring books.
When observing your child coloring, make sure to encourage them to stay in between the lines (this will boost their fine motor skills) and to name the colors as they go along. If they don’t know what it is, tell them and have them repeat it back to you.
11 Buy Play-Doh So Your Child Can Improve Finger Strength
I remember when I was a little kid I used to spend hours playing with Play-Doh in the toy room at my old house. I had a blast making Play-Doh models of horses, cats, dogs, and an assortment of fantasy animals like unicorns.
Kid Sense notes that purchasing Play-Doh and allowing your child to let their imagination run wild with the squishy toy will help improve their finger strength, which is a useful skill they’ll need for their preschool days.
10 Have Your Kiddo Categorize Things After A Shopping Trip
I always found taking trips to the grocery store with my parents as boring as heck as a kid. That is unless they had one of those old-fashioned gumball machines I could slide a quarter into and get some Sailor Moon stickers or a cheesy mood ring that I wore until it broke three weeks later.
Care.com writes that a good learning experience for toddlers about to enter preschool is to have them help unpack the grocery bags and have them categorize the different items. For example, having the little one put the vegetables in one spot on the table and the drinks at another end.
9 Make Folding Laundry Into A Game
Even now that I am an adult, I still dislike folding laundry unless I can blast my music and dance around like a fool (much to the chagrin of my poor dogs, who are probably wondering why their owner is acting like a dolt) while I sort through the clothes.
Care.com notes that you can instill a love for boring chores like folding laundry AND teach your toddler to identify patterns or colors by having them help you out when you’re sorting through your clothes.
Make it into a game by having them match laundry by color, patterns and items.
8 Use An Emoticons Chart To Help Your Child Express Their Feelings
According to Care.com, children that can verbally express their feelings have a MUCH easier time using age-appropriate behaviors when they are in the preschool classroom.
In order to teach your little one how to express their feelings properly, you can buy or download a chart with simple emoticons, cut them out, glue them onto magnets, and have your child put them on the refrigerator in order to express how they feel.
Once they’re done with that, sit down and have an age-appropriate discussion as to why they’re feeling that way.
7 Carve Time Out For Arts And Crafts
Parents.com writes that it's important to allow your toddler some time to perform arts and crafts before they enroll in preschool because drawing allows them to improve their hand-eye coordination. Learning how to play “music” (even if it’s just a kid jamming on pots and pans instead of an actual toy drum kit) can also help teach a child how to count. It's all about the connection.
Plus, arts and crafts is a big mainstay of preschool and even most elementary schools up until fifth or sixth grade, so it’s important to prepare them for those kinds of classes.
6 Play Games To Explore Their Five Senses
Care.com points out that a fun game to teach your child how to explore and learn the different five senses is by showing your little one several objects like a ball, a hairbrush, etc., and then putting one in a tube sock while you hide the rest.
Then, let your child feel the object in the tube sock and have them try to guess which one it is. After they successfully do that, you can have them close their eyes and bring out the hidden object so they’ll be forced to identify it by smell, etc. It may seem tedious but it's a long, fun way to learn their senses.
5 Create A Sensory Bin
Kids are similar to puppies in that they LOVE to explore and stick their hands into things without really looking. Care.com points out that parents can use this natural curiosity to their own benefit by creating a sensory bin.
For example, a parent can fill up a plastic storage container with oatmeal and salt before hiding little toys like Hot Wheels cars or small plastic figurines inside. A sensory bin is a perfect way to teach your child hand-eye coordination and how to safely explore.
4 Have Your Child Pick Out What's Same And What's Different
Care.com highly recommends that parents download the free worksheets from The Measured Mom and take some time out on the weekends (or Friday night) to play the “What is the same, and what is different?" game.
Children will learn how to pick up the item that stands out from a line-up, and it also comes with four levels of varying difficulty so that they won’t get bored. The worksheets are also appropriate for children entering kindergarten too — not just preschoolers!
3 Explore Nature Together
Parents.com writes that allowing one’s toddler to explore the natural world will improve their powers of observation and learn the basics of science at a tender age. Plus, it's beautiful!
For example, parents can purchase a goldfish and put it in a bowl or fish tank so that their little one can observe what they see. Another idea is to purchase some seeds and have your child help you plant flowers or herbs during the springtime so that they can learn about the life cycle of a plant.
2 Work On Giving Three-Step Directions
According to Care.com, one skill that is very important for toddlers to learn is how to follow three-step directions, which is something some parents forget about because it seems like second nature.
Parents can make this into a fun game by asking their little one to pick up items—like a beloved stuffed animal or doll, grab a household item like a tissue or a napkin—and then pretending that their toy has to blow their nose. Aim to practice this for 15 minutes several times a week so that they keep their skills sharp.
1 Build Or Buy An Age Appropriate Obstacle Course
I remember when I was little, I used to LOVE going to family entertainment centers like the pumpkin patch because they had age-appropriate obstacle courses, a ball pit, an arcade, etc. It was also THE coolest place to have one’s birthday party when I was growing up. It’s a shame that they aren’t as prolific as they used to be.
For parents that might not want to shell out money to go to their local family entertainment centers, Kid Sense notes that you can easily find instructions on how to build an age-appropriate obstacle course or purchase a cheap one online to help build your toddler’s endurance before preschool starts.