Preparing your child for pre-school:
Your child’s first day at the daycare or playgroup can be a daunting prospect for both you and him. But our advice will help to ensure that his experience of the daycare or playgroup is a happy one from the start.
Boost his social confidence
Socialising with other children is a skill that has to be learnt gradually, and some children will find it easier than others. If you can introduce him to the idea of sharing and taking turns before he starts at pre-school he’ll find the whole experience less daunting. Don’t expect great things at first -: children usually play alongside each other rather than together until they’re around three years old. And while you don’t need to stand over young children while they play, you need to be close by to step in if they start to squabble over toys. If you don’t have a network of other mums with children the same age as yours, joining a mother and toddler group is a great way to introduce your child to socialising while you keep a watchful eye.
Time away from parents
It will be easier for your child to settle at pre-school if you’ve gradually got him used to being left with other carers, such as grandparents, relatives, maids and friends. Start off by leaving him for short periods:- an hour while you go shopping, for example -: and then gradually build it up until your child is happy to be left for a whole morning or an afternoon without you. Most children won’t like being left with pre-school workers they don’t know at first, but it shouldn’t be long before he comes home chatting about what “Mrs X said” and “Miss Y did”.
Visit the pre-school
“When you’re choosing a pre-school, it’s usually best to visit it without your child the first time,” says Diane Rich at Early Education, an organisation which promotes quality in early years education. “The next time take your child with you and see how he responds to the environment and watch how the carers teachers and the support staff interact with him.”
You should be allowed as many familiarisation visits as you feel your child needs. Some pre-schools will allow you to leave your child for short visits without you to see how they get on. When you get home, talk positively about the school, the activities that go on, the other children and the staff. Talk to your child about all the fun activities they might be doing at pre-school such as playing outside in the park, painting pictures, playing with sand and water, singing songs, and building with blocks. Chat through any worries your child has before they start for real.
Some pre-schools will expect children to be out of diapers before they start, so find out what the policy is if you don’t think your child will be ready. However, all pre-school staff should be prepared for occasional accidents and won’t expect children to ask every time they need the toilet – they’ll get plenty of gentle reminders. Pack spare pants and a change of clothes in your child’s bag just in case and tell him that no-one will be cross if they do have an accident.
If your child is to have any meals at pre-school other than drink and biscuits, find out if he will be expected to have it by himself. If he needs to; help him practise eating at home on his own. Also find out if they’ll be expected to use a spoon or fork or whether hands are acceptable. This will help him enjoy his meals at the school. Make sure you tell the pre-school staff about any strong dislikes your child has, and any food allergies or intolerances.
On the first day
- Allow plenty of time. The chances are, your child won’t be prepared for you to just drop him off and leave on the first day, so be prepared to hang around until he’s settled.
- You’ll probably be feeling just as anxious and emotional as they are, but try to stay cheery and confident – children pick up on your feelings of apprehension.
- Explain to your child when you’ll be back – don’t fob him off with fibs such as “Mummy’s just going to move the car” when you make your exit. Tell him you’ll be back after lunch/drink and biscuit time/story time.
- Leave your contact number with staff in case they need to call you.
- If your child cries and won’t let you leave, ask staff for advice. In most cases they’ll ask you to stay for a while with your child in the early days.
- When you’ve said your goodbyes, try not to worry. If there is a problem, you’ll be contacted, but in most cases your child will be enjoying their exciting new experience.
Problems settling in?
- Some children find the experience of starting pre-school stressful and still won’t settle after a few weeks. Don’t worry and don’t blame yourself – just accept that children are all individuals and your child will get there in the end.
- Find out from your child’s key worker or carer what happens once you’ve left. Do they continue crying inconsolably throughout the session or do they perk up 10 minutes later once they’re distracted by an activity?
- Try building up sessions gradually. Start with just 30 minutes and build up the time gradually each week until they’re able to stay a whole session without you.
- Try staying with your child for the session, moving away once he becomes engaged with an activity, but not leaving the room.
- Invite children from the group back to play to encourage friendships.
- Some children will settle better if you keep your goodbyes brief – lingering may only make the whole process more painful for your both.
Don’t fret about letters and numbers
We all want our children to do well, but no pre-school will expect your child to have a good grasp of letters and numbers when they start. “It’s easy to confuse what you want from early years education with what you will later want from a school,” says childcare expert Penelope Leach. “Young children learn by playing and therefore optimal learning means being encouraged to play.” This doesn’t mean your child will have free, undirected play throughout the session – a good pre-school should provide a balanced agenda of directed activities that are suitable for your child’s level of development and will help them to learn through playing.
If you want to encourage his learning at home it helps to make it fun: play games of I-Spy to associate sounds and letters; encourage number recognition by counting everyday objects like red cars in the street; bake cakes to find out about weighing and measuring; give him dressing up clothes to encourage role-play games; let him paint, scribble and draw so he learns pencil control to help with writing later on.