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Newsflash:
Sunday, 25 March 2001

Easing Transition to Pre-School

Written by  Esther Boylan Wolfson

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Some Tips To Help Your Child (and You)
Start The School Year Off Right!

Entering pre-school is a big step for children and their parents. Whether this is your child's first time away from home or whether your child is used to a babysitter or a daycare experience, a child's first experience in a formal educational setting is an important first step towards a lifetime of education. Here are some tips for starting off the school year on the right foot.

Things to do before the first day:

  • Visit Your Child's New School Together With Your Child.
    Most schools have some sort of orientation program before the first day. You don't need to wait . If the school is near your house, pass on an occasional outing and show your child where he will go to school. If the school is open, walk in (unless you see the visit is disturbing teachers who may be preparing for the beginning of the year). If not, just point the school out and if possible peek in the window. By the time your child goes in the doors regularly, the building will already be a "part of her world."

  • Arrange Playdates With Children That Will Be In Your Child's Class.
    The more familiar faces your child sees in school, the better. If you know other children in the area that will be in your child's class, invite them over. If not, call up the school and ask for some numbers of other children in the class who live nearby.

  • Tell Your Child Who His/Her Teacher Will Be.
    Try and find out the teacher's name in advance and tell your child. Say, for example that, "When you get to school, Laura will be your teacher and Steven, Karen, and Michelle will be there to play with."

  • Purchase A Lunchbox/Schoolbag Together With Your Child.
    For most pre-schools, your child will need to bring some sort of bag to school each day. If possible, let your child pick out the bag and choose something that she likes, such as Barney/Sesame Street characters.

  • Make Sure Your Child Is Familiar With Her After-School Caregiver.
    If a new babysitter will be picking your child up from school, try and make sure that your child is familiar and comfortable with her new babysitter before the beginning of the school year.

  • Tell Your Child What To Expect.
    As adults, we know what pre-school will be like. Children do not. Tell your child that pre-school is for "big kids" and their teachers. You might say, "Do parents stay in school? No - it's just for kids and teachers." This may not make the goodbye smooth, but at least the parting won't be a surprise. Tell your child that he is going to eat in school and discuss what your child would like to have in his lunchbox. If the school provides the food then let your child know that her teacher will give out food. Generally talk about things your child will do in school: play with toys, paint, draw, color, play outside, etc. Let your child know that school is "fun."

What to do (or not do) on the first day:

  • Pack Your Child's Lunchbox/Schoolbag Together With Your Child.
    Let your child see that some things from his home will be at school also. If you are supposed to send food, ask your child what he wants and send in foods you know that he will be happy with, especially at the beginning.

  • Consider Letting Your Child Choose a Small Toy From Home To Bring To School.
    If your child seems at all nervous or hesitant about the new school, you could offer her the choice of bringing a small toy from home to school. Point out that there will be lots of new toys in school and that the toy they bring from home should stay in the bag "just in case" he wants it. Sometimes teachers do not like children to bring toys from home to ensure that they do not spend all day playing with them and to avoid fights between children. If that is the case, then tell your child that the teacher wants him to play with school toys at school, but if he wants to keep the toy in his bag, then that is fine. I find that having a "special item from home" in their bag at school is reassuring for some children.

  • Consider Promising A Special Treat At The End Of The Day Because You Are Proud Of Him For Being Such A Big Boy And Going To Pre-School.
    Choose something small that you can give as a treat when your child gets home, just for the first week or two, to help smooth over any initial first difficulties. Tell your child before you leave what the treat is so he knows to look forward to it upon coming home.

  • Do Not Promise Your Child The Treat On The Condition That She Does Not Cry. If She Cries, Do Not Suggest Giving A Treat Only If She Stops Crying.
    If you discuss not crying with your child, you may be setting up the idea in your child's mind that she is "supposed" to cry. Many children who might not think to cry, break down in tears when Mommy or Daddy says upon leaving, "Remember, don't cry." In addition, if you only promise a treat when your child starts crying, then you might be reinforcing that behavior. The child might say, "Hey, when I started crying, Mommy or Daddy offered me a treat, I guess I cry if I want to get treats." If you have already promised a treat to your child come what may, then you can say to her, "Please don't cry. You are going to have fun and do a great job and when you come home you will get a treat because we are proud of you."

  • Do Not Spend Too Much Time In The Classroom With Your Child.
    As soon as you see other parents starting to go - you should leave too. On the first day, it makes sense to spend 15 minutes to a half hour in the classroom showing the child around and making sure the child is as comfortable as possible. After that, unless of course parents are requested to stay, LEAVE. If your child does not want you to leave, ask the teacher what she wants you to do. If the teacher suggests you go, then make sure your child's teacher is with him to help with the transition and leave. If it helps you, wait outside the door for a little while to make sure everything is all right. Sometimes, you can ask the teacher to step out after a few minutes just to reassure you that everything is all right before you leave.

  • Try Not To Be Upset If Your Child Cries.
    Of course, it's always upsetting if your child seems upset. Try and remember - you put a lot of time and energy into picking a good school for your child. You have done your job - let the teachers do theirs and everything will be fine. By the way, many children do not cry at all for the first few days and only the second week or so get upset. Sometimes in the beginning everything is very exciting and only after a while the child says, "Hey, this is where Mommy and Daddy leave me."

  • If Possible, Have A Parent Pick The Child Up On The First Day.
    Obviously, this is not always possible, especially if your place of work is far away, but if it can be arranged, it makes the end of the first day more exciting when Mommy or Daddy comes personally. The ideal situation for a child that will be picked up by a babysitter (in my opinion) is for the parent and the babysitter to come on the first day. This way, the child sees that Mommy and Daddy appreciate the importance of the first day and sees who will actually be picking him up on a regular basis. If you can not arrange this, don't worry. Thousands of children are picked up by babysitters on their first day and are fine. However, make sure that the babysitter who does the pick-up is familiar, as I mentioned above.

  • Don't Be Late For Pick Up On The First Day.
    Save that running in at the last second (which we've all experienced) for when your child is well adjusted to school. Make sure that as soon as parents are allowed in the room - you (or you childcare worker) are there. As a pre-school teacher, I know how difficult it can be to comfort the last children to be picked up on the first day of school. Make sure you are there among the first.

  • How Long Should It Take Until Your Child Is Adjusted To A Pre-School Program?
    Some children are happy and well-adjusted at school after three minutes and for others it can take three months. If your child adjusts immediately - consider yourself lucky. If not, do not worry. Many children take several months until the transition is complete. If you are at all concerned, speak to your child's teacher and see if there is anything in particular that seems to be bothering your child in school. Rest assured, the day will come, sooner or later, when your child will run into school with barely a glance backwards, looking forward to the exciting day ahead!

Good Luck, and May Both You and Your Children Have a Happy School Year!

Last modified on Tuesday, 14 May 2013 11:18
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Esther Boylan Wolfson

Esther Boylan Wolfson

Esther Wolfson , director of our Early Childhood Development Center is an Early Childhood Specialist, who received her BA in English Communications from Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University and an MA in Early Childhood Special Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, both in New York City. Esther worked as a pre-school special education teacher for seven years. Three of those years were spent working in a school for language delayed pre-schoolers, which is her area of specialty. Another special love of hers is cooking with young children. One of her most enjoyable projects was developing a program for cooking with pre-school children for three special education programs. Esther and her husband Myles have three boys aged eight, five and two-years-old. While her three lively boys and her work at WholeFamily, keep her quite busy, in her spare time (if she ever has any!) she is an avid reader who also enjoys creative writing, exercising and swimming.

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