Helping Your Preschooler Get Ready for “Big School“

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Mom and preschool child“You are your child’s first teacher.”

I have taught for 22 years, and I do believe I have said this to parents for 22 years, as well. As a parent of a preschooler myself, I understand that sending a child to preschool can be an emotional experience. Since I have always worked outside the home, the experience of a little one starting “big school” is probably easier on my emotions than most. However, my youngest is about to start preschool and this is pulling at my heartstrings since he is the baby.

“There are so many wonderful things parents can do to prepare their preschoolers as well as themselves. From social skills to self care skills, home is a great place to start.”
-Katie Presley, Preschool teacher for 22 years

Boy smiling at his deskSOCIAL-EMOTIONAL

Social-emotional skills are those skills needed by children to express and manage emotions, form healthy relationships with others, and be curious and comfortable in their environments. These skills are the basis for the preschool classroom (especially a three-year-old room).

A great resource I found is www.brighthorizons.com. This site has practical (and easy) tips on fostering emotional development in your preschool child.

Here are some ways to help foster these skills.

1. Discuss emotions when the child is having a hard time.  
For example, the parent can say, “I see you are sad because you are crying and have a sad face. Can you tell me what made you sad?” Also, discussing emotions of characters in a story is helpful.  We do this often in the classroom setting as it helps children to be more self-aware.
2. Model, model, model.
Preschool children are great imitators. Model socially acceptable behaviors such as giving a compliment to your child or another family member, cleaning up toys together, and taking turns.
3. Teach them to take turns
Speaking of taking turns, this is a tough skill for preschoolers at times. The norm differs in each classroom. In our preschool classroom, taking turns means asking to play with a toy when the other child is finished playing with it. This teaches respect for the other child playing with the toy  as well as patience. It is hard to wait for a toy! I have found this to work quite well, though.
4. Help children to develop the skill to follow directions
Following directions is a skill that children begin learning even before preschool. One of the objectives my children meet for the school year is to follow two-step directions.
Parents can help children develop this skill with age-appropriate chores. “Please pick up your shorts from the floor and put them in the hamper,” is an example of two-step directions at my house!
In the classroom, it may look like cleaning up or doing “work” at the table. “Color the square blue and glue it on the paper,” is an example of classroom directions. One tip is to make sure your child is looking at you when you give directions.  Children have noticeably short attention spans.
5. Empathy can be innate and learned, as well.
Some preschool children naturally show empathy. Some do not. I am not being negative when I say this, but only speak from lots of experience (remember we must model what we teach).
ALL children are unique, so it makes sense that they react differently to others around them. I always have a “mama hen” in my classroom…usually a little girl that tries to help anyone that needs it. But I have had some precious little boys that come to the aid of their classmates when someone is sad or hurt.
I cannot stress this skill enough! The site www.healthychildren.org has tips on teaching empathy and helping preschoolers learn to resolve conflict.

Preschool Boy eating lunchSELF-CARE

Self-care skills are what I like to refer to as “practical skills.” These skills are the ones that most of us parents think about working on before preschool begins. Potty-training (every preschool has its own set of rules about this), getting coats on/off, rolling up a nap mat, opening lunch items, and hand-washing are only a few self-care skills that preschoolers are learning as they go!

Parents can help make preschool an easy transition by working on some of these skills before preschool begins.

1. Potty-training
In my school, preschoolers must be fully potty-trained when they come in August.  Some preschools allow Pull-Ups, and some do not. Make sure to check with your little one’s preschool regarding potty-training. Although it may seem insignificant, potty-training is quite complex (as you all know).
My own children used Pull-Ups like a diaper, and we do not allow these at my school for the same reason. The hardest part about potty-training is teaching a child to wipe and pull up his/her underwear and pants.  I have been working on this all summer with my own child. And please do not take this the wrong way, but teachers are BUSY in a preschool classroom. There is a reason most preschools have the potty-training rules.
Also, some preschools do not allow teachers to wipe children for health code reasons.  
2. Handwashing
Due to the current situation with the coronavirus, most children have probably been fully taught how to wash hands. However, I have a poster in my own classroom that we discuss that shows children pictures of the correct way to wash hands.  The other issue with hands is that some preschoolers still like to put them in their mouths.  I always try to gently remind children that germs are “invisible” but still on our hands. I will be teaching these concepts when school begins, and parents can start now. One more tip: I teach my boys and girls to sneeze and cough in their elbows instead of their hands. That way, they are not touching items or doorknobs with germs on their hands.
3. Lunch items
I have always wondered why children do not have more time to eat in most school settings. Not only do preschoolers take longer to eat, but I think it would be better for their digestion. Most preschools have 30-35 minutes for lunch (my preschool is in a school with grades prek3 to 6th grade). By the time we get everything opened, quite a bit of time has gone by. Preschoolers that can open some items independently can do so while the teacher is helping another child.
Also, preschoolers thrive on doing things by themselves. Let me add that I will always help a child. But preschool is the beginning of something bigger, so fostering independence (even by opening chips) is important! Parents can practice this at home over the summer by packing a lunch with items that their child might be taking to school.
4. Nap mats and backpacks
Most preschools have nap mats and children bring backpacks. Practice unrolling and rolling the mat at home. Also, let your child practice zipping, unzipping, and putting on his/her backpack. Believe me, dismissal is a busy time, and this really helps your child and his/her teacher!
5. Nap time
Most preschools have a nap or rest time. The Mississippi Department of Education requires a rest time each day. Preschoolers are not required to go to sleep but must rest quietly so that others can sleep.
Explaining to your child that naptime is “quiet” time is helpful when he/she goes to preschool.
Two notes I want to add about nap: Sometimes children have potty accidents at nap even though they are potty-trained. Children sometimes sleep hard at school, so do not let this alarm you (if it happens often, then there may be an issue such as a urinary tract infection; I am not a doctor, but this is what I tend to see).
Also, children wake up from nap on occasion with fever. The child may have been well the whole school day, but this happens on occasion.

Mom and daughter in classroomCLASSROOM READY

​1. Prepare your child to learn

Classroom ready for me as a teacher simply means that a child is ready to learn! Not long ago, a parent came to me concerned because her soon-to-be preschooler does not know all his numbers. I told her that if he did, I might be out of a job. Ha!

Many times, I say that I do not recognize my preschoolers when we get out in May. They grow exponentially during this time! I have had a preschooler in August that did not know one letter and then was trying to read by May. Remember, all children are unique, and just because your neighbor’s preschooler knows all his/her letters by December does not mean that your child will.

2. Practice sitting still and listening

Classroom ready means that a child can sit still and listen to the teacher read a book. The child is ready to play learning games, go to “free” centers (like the kitchen area or baby dolls), and can sit at the table and follow directions during small group time with the teacher. Preschool is pivotal in a child’s social, emotional, physical, and educational development.

mom and daughter going to preschoolSETTING A POSITIVE TONE

Remember what I said about parents as a child’s first teacher? I really believe that!  Seeing our little ones grow up is rewarding and emotional at times. And with everything going on in our world, we parents are understandably concerned about school starting. But we can set the tone for all our children, no matter the age.

1. For preschoolers, specifically, staying upbeat in front of them is so important.

Preschoolers can always sense parents’ emotions, and that includes anxiousness about school. My advice is to smile, give a hug, and a QUICK goodbye.

2. Give them time to adjust

Trust me on this! The longer parents linger, the more likely the child is to start crying. If your child is already crying as you leave, give him/her some time to adjust.

Preschool teachers see this often and have experience helping little ones feel safe. I had a student one time that cried every morning for months. By the end of the year, he did not want to go home at the end of the day! This was extreme, so please know that your child WILL adjust. It takes time.

Mom giving Daughter apple for schoolCOMMUNICATION AND SUPPORT 

1. Support your child’s teacher and school any way you can. 

In so many families (mine included), both parents work outside the home. Since I have always been a teacher, I have never been able to be the Homeroom Mother or help with parties. There are so many other ways to be supportive, though.

2. Check folders daily

My preschoolers have backpacks and daily folders. If your child has something similar, check his/her folder every day. Teachers send lots of notes about school functions, parties, and dress-up days in addition to children’s daily work that they have completed. If your child’s class/school has a social media page, check that as well. Sometimes I will post something on my class Facebook page that I forgot to send home in a note.

3. Attend PTO meeting

Our school has PTO meetings four times a year. These meetings are awesome because parents can get information that pertains to the whole school. There are many ways to support your preschooler in his/her educational journey.

4. Trust the teacher

Last, but not least, please remember that your child’s preschool teacher has his/her best interests at heart. Preschool is really school! We have a set of criteria and objectives given to us by the Department of Education that we use to gauge teaching and learning in the classroom. If you ever have questions or concerns about your preschooler, let your child’s teacher know. I tell parents to email me at my school so that I can get back to them as soon as possible.

Preschool is educational, important, fun… and cool!
Mom walking son to preschool

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