Settling Into Preschool: The First Few Weeks
Whether your child goes to daycare or spends all their days with a parent, transitioning to an unfamiliar environment and learning a new routine is challenging for all young children. Even if your child is excited about going to preschool for the first time, it’s common to feel flutters of nervousness on the big day.
Fortunately, there are a ton of activities and methods to ease your child’s fears and help them settle into their routine during the first few weeks. From establishing a pick-up and drop-off routine to approaching separation anxiety, here is everything you need to know about helping your grown-up-little-one settle into preschool.
What to Expect During the First Few Weeks of Preschool
First Day of Preschool
On the first day of school, you should expect anything from anxious butterflies to excitement to crying. All feelings are okay. Whether your child is a three-year-old or five-year-old, they will all be stepping into a new environment, meeting new friends, learning to take instruction from their preschool teachers and developing a brand new routine. By the end of the day, however, they will hopefully feel more comfortable in their new setting - children adapt quickly to new environments.
First Week of Preschool
During the first week of preschool, you can expect your big kid to be extremely tired. They are exercising not only their bodies but also their minds. Your preschooler may exhibit signs of fatigue by being emotional, throwing a fit, or falling asleep early. To combat the fatigue, it’s essential to feed your child a balanced breakfast and ensure they get a full night of rest before packing them off to school.
First Month of Preschool
During the first month of preschool, don’t be surprised if your little one develops more independence. They may show this autonomy by jumping out of the car in the morning drop-off line without saying goodbye, trying to dress themselves, or throwing tantrums. While it’s bitter-sweet to see your child grow up, try to give them extra cuddles and encourage their independence within your set boundaries.
How to Help Your Child Settle Into Preschool
Going to preschool is a big change, and there are several ways to help your child feel comfortable and settle into preschool.
- Gradual Start: Starting gradually with a half-day and working your way up to a full day during the first few weeks in an excellent settling-in method. Many preschools have this schedule as part of their program or have a few meet and greet days before the beginning of school.
- Develop Routines: Routines are going to be crucial in helping your child feel comfortable in their new setting during the first few weeks. Whether it's a morning routine for getting ready, a goodbye routine in the drop-off line, or a routine when getting home from preschool, consistency is essential. Knowing what to expect next will offer comfort to your child. Sticking to their routine at home will help them stick to their routines in the classroom.
- Transitional Object: If your child has a favorite lovey or stuffed animal, having it in their backpack during the first few weeks of preschool may help them settle in. Other helpful transitional objects include a family picture or a beloved toy. However, be sure to check with your child’s teacher or key worker to make sure it’s okay.
Transition Activities for Preschool
Transitions, which happen any time your little one moves from one task to the next, are one of the toughest parts of settling into preschool. While it doesn’t seem like a big issue, learning to move from one task to another independently is a large part of a child's development. For instance, if your child is doing their favorite activity at preschool and is then asked to transition to clean up, your child is instantly experiencing a plethora of emotions. Transition activities will help your child learn to deal with those emotions to transition more easily. Here are a few simple activities:
- Routines, Routines, Routines: We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again – routines are essential when settling into preschool, especially when learning to transition from one activity to the next. Going from eating breakfast to brushing their teeth is a transition. Saying goodbye to their primary caregiver and saying hello to their preschool teacher is a transition. Setting a morning routine and goodbye routine will help them transition to the next task.
- Verbal and non-verbal warnings: Before starting preschool and during the first few weeks of preschool, develop verbal and non-verbal warnings when you’re transitioning to a new task. For example, when it’s time to turn off the TV and start cleaning their room, remind them when there are 10 minutes left and again when there are five minutes left. Or, a non-verbal warning can include turning the lights on and off.
- Auditory Cues: Learn a specific song that sends a cue for your child to brush their teeth or wash their hands.
Common Challenges During the First Few Weeks of Preschool
Separation anxiety is one of the most common challenges during the first month of preschool. This issue can present itself in many ways, including refusing to go to school, refusing to sleep alone, being clingy at home, potty training regression, and temper tantrums.
The first step to easing your child’s separation anxiety is ensuring you’re not transferring your nervous energy to your little one. It’s common to be apprehensive when your child goes to preschool, and kids can pick up on their caregivers’ anxiety. Next, acknowledge your child’s feelings and reassure them that it’s normal to have these feelings. The good thing is that all of the activities and methods to help your child settle into preschool will also help ease their separation anxiety, including setting up routines, having a transitional object, and making sure they get plenty of rest.
During your child’s early years, friends are made by parents setting up playdates. Going to preschool might be the first time a child is tasked with making their own friends. If they’re reluctant to socialize at school, you can help by building their confidence at home and allowing them to be independent.
Going to preschool is a big change, especially during the first few weeks. However, with these tips, you can help your child successfully settle into preschool.