Parenthood is quite the adventure—we know the years are short, but the days can be extra long (hello, the sleep deprivation stage!). Somehow, the first time your not-so-little-one goes to preschool feels like someone pressed fast-forward from the moment they were born. Now, they are no longer swaddled in a blanket, but instead, they look so tiny wearing their first “big kid” backpack. As parents, our role is to get them excited about this next phase that begins their formal education.
Of course, anything that is “new” can also feel intimidating and cause butterflies in your preschooler’s stomach. These sentiments are normal and we encourage all the feels when it comes to your LO’s first-day-of-preschool experience. Don’t be surprised if you get caught up in all the emotions, too! There will be many “firsts” you will live through with your growing child, but their first day of preschool is one to cherish in your memory (and in theirs) forever.
In anticipation of this monumental moment in your kiddo’s life, we’re sharing nine fun and simple ways to get them excited about starting preschool.
How to Prep Your Child for Preschool
Visit the school—maybe more than once
Start preparing your child for school well before their first day. “If possible, visit the preschool and tour the building ahead of time. Remember you are dropping your child into an unfamiliar environment and when you visit the preschool ahead of time, the child can transition from home to school with greater ease because it’s not a strange place,” said Beatrice Moise, a parenting coach and board-certified cognitive specialist. You can visit the school several times, and if you’re permitted, you could even play in the school playground to get your child familiar with the setting.
Talk about school
It can also be helpful to talk to your children about the school and what they’ll do once they start classes. Younger kids may not understand everything you’re saying, so Moise recommended putting together a visual guide or book to talk through it.
The language you use as you prepare your child for school is really important. “About a month before the start of preschool, start using words like ‘your school’ and ‘your teacher’ to begin the conversation without being too intense,” said Robyn Isman, a licensed independent clinical social worker who specializes in anxiety and runs the account @permission.to.human. Think about the fun things that will be happening at school and discuss these things with your child.
Watch TV shows to get them ready
In addition to talking about and visiting your LO’s preschool before their first day, it can also be fun (and educational) to watch a TV show about school to help them know what to expect and get excited. Two of our favorite TV programs that do a masterful job of addressing all of the feelings associated with back-to-school for kids at the preschool age include this Daniel Tiger episode titled “Daniel Is a First-Day Friend” and this “Get Ready for School with Bubble Guppies” episode.
It’s perfectly normal for children to experience separation anxiety, especially if it’s their first time away from their parents. “Talking to your child about what they are feeling and experiencing can greatly soothe their discomfort. Remember to use developmentally-appropriate language,” Moise said. Don’t ignore your children’s feelings of anxiety. While you can reassure them that everything will be OK, let them talk through their feelings.
While it might seem easier to avoid the topic of preschool, Isman recommended you increase the amount you talk about the upcoming transition about a week or two before school starts. “It is important to really sit with the discomfort and anxiety that come up when anticipating a change,” Isman said. You can do this by modeling and saying things like, “I’m so looking forward to you starting preschool, but I’m also going to miss you so much.” Remind your child (and yourself) that change can be both exciting and sad at the same time.
Make a schedule
Many children thrive on a predictable schedule. If you’ve been following a consistent schedule at home that will suddenly be changing, it can be helpful to go through what a school routine might look like. Isman suggested creating a schedule with pictures attached that can include clothing, cereal, shoes, and anything else that might occur while getting ready for school. Some schools use these types of charts, so it’ll be something familiar that they’ll also see in school.
Create a “goodbye routine”
Saying goodbye can be a sad moment as your little one leaves you for a few hours. Make it fun by creating a special handshake, hug, or something you say to each other before school starts. Isman shared that she gives her kids a hug-kiss-squeeze-hug-squeeze-kiss, always in that order, before saying goodbye. You can make up a high-five, do a dance, read a poem, or do whatever feels right for you and your kid. You can start practicing this the week before school so you’re all set for the first day.
Yes, you as a parent will have what feels like an endless to-do list for your LO’s first day at school, but try to put that aside to plan one fun activity to do with them the day (or night) before school. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or cost a lot of money, but the goal is to increase the excitement—and reduce the nerves—the day before the “big” day. You can also use the opportunity to talk all about what to expect the next day and remind them how fun it will be.
Keep the first goodbye quick
Some children hop out of the car and walk right into the classroom without looking back. Others may struggle to leave their parents. Either way, try not to linger and extend the goodbye. It can be really hard to leave, but know that your child is in good hands and they will eventually calm down and be OK.
Have a first-day cry if you need to
This goes for both children and parents. It’s OK to cry! Let you child cry if they need to let out their emotions, and once you get back into your car and start driving home, it’s fine for you to cry as well. Remember that you aren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last to tearfully leave their baby at preschool.