If you really think about it, life’s most valuable lessons are taught in childcare and preschool. Be kind to others, share, take turns, wait, communicate needs, follow directions, and build relationships… pretty major stuff! These paramount learning opportunities are critical for early childhood development. As an early childhood teacher with over fifteen years in the classroom, I recently experienced the other side (the parent side) of the first day of school.
So how do we prepare to send our toddlers and young children off to school for the very first time? Here are some tips organized into three main categories to get you on the right track!
Prepare Your Stuff
Childcare and preschool teachers are BUSY, and are often doing a minimum of twenty things at one time. Your child’s belongings need to be as easy to manage as possible. Creating a clear system for things like lunch, water bottle, and sleep items, will benefit everyone. Choose one insulated lunchbox. (We really like the kind with the ice pack built in, so the entire thing gets tossed in the freezer.) Then, choose your food container. We went with a Bentgo bento box. Buy two of these so you never have to stress about last minute washing. Next choose your water bottle, and again, buy multiple of the same one. Having the same lunchbox and water bottle each day creates consistency for your kiddo, and allows the staff to easily identify their items. You really only need one set of sleep items, and these vary depending on age. For our 14 month old, we sent a fitted sheet cover and a sleep sack into school each Monday, and took them home to wash on Friday. Once you have your system in place, label EVERYTHING. There are super cute stickers you can get for plastic items, and iron or stamp on labels for clothing and sleep items.
Prepare Your Kiddo
Starting childcare is a BIG deal for your kiddo, and we should treat it as such. At least a month before the start of school, start talking about school and what it might be like. Doing things like reading books about school and role playing school scenarios can help your child begin to grasp the concept of school. Talk about meeting other children, and set up some playdates or head to the park to give your child some socialization experiences. For the older toddlers and preschool aged children, help your kiddo practice waiting, sharing, and taking turns.
Sensory play experiences are beneficial for any child, but they are especially helpful when preparing your kiddo for school. Sensory play increases play stamina, promotes language development, enhances fine motor skills, encourages resiliency, and creates neurological pathways in the brain. It can also be very calming and offer a way to decompress after a long day at school. For sensory play ideas and tips, follow me on instagram at teacher.mama_ .
In school, your child will follow a predictable schedule. Talk with the school staff about their daily schedule, and slowly align your home schedule to compliment it. You don’t need to go overboard with this one, but try to offer structured time, outside time, lunch time, and nap time that will align to how their day will go once they start school. They will already be adapting to so many new faces and situations, this will be one constant in a sea of changes.
Saying goodbye is TOUGH, especially at the beginning. It helps to have a few dry runs before the big day. It is important to not sneak off, to validate feelings, and to remind your child that you will be back. Create a goodbye ritual and don’t stray from it. Ours was a big hug, a “Mama loves you, Mama will be back after nap and snack,” and then a wave over the wall once I exited the room. Children may respond to goodbye time differently, so it is important to avoid comparison to other children.
If you are anything like me, this might be the hardest check on your list of preparations. This is not only an adjustment for your kiddo, but YOU are also going through a major change. Remember that children learn through observation and imitation. They are like little sponges soaking in everything we do and say. It is so important to keep a positive mindset about starting school. I wish you the very best as you start off this school year. You’ve got this!