Back-to-School Tips for Parents of Preschoolers

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If your child is starting preschool for the first time, or even if she or he is a "seasoned" returnee, we could all use a few tips and tricks to ease into the new schedule that back-to-school time brings. Whether you use all of these or just a few, one of the best ways to ease the transition into preschool is to make sure your little one is prepared ahead of time. 

Ways to Prepare for Preschool

  1. Keep having fun! Keep playing! Keep enjoying your little one! While it is always good to be prepared, summer won't last forever, so make sure you and your preschoolers have a good time making plenty of memories together.
  1. Ask the preschool teacher for a class list ahead of time. Maybe you could organize a class playdate before school starts so the kids can get to know each other in a relaxed, less formal setting. It's a great way for parents to get to know one another as well.
  2. If that isn't possible, see if you can arrange a one-on-one playdate with a friend or two that you know will be in the class. Not sure if you know anyone at your child's school yet? Community parent groups on Facebook are a great way to figure out which kids will be attending which schools. Just use common-sense caution and don't give out too much information to someone you don't know. Meet at a community park or at the library the first time.
  3. If you know that your child's preschool teacher is generally around in the summer, have your child write him or her a letter. It can be about anything—it can even be a picture that he or she drew. But it's a good way to help your preschooler understand that their teacher is a real person who they will be meeting very soon.
  1. While preschool generally isn't a place where a huge focus is placed on academics, you can review some basics with your child—their first and last name, their teacher's name, the room number of their classroom, the name of their school, their bus route letter or number if they have one, etc.
  2. Play school! Take turns with your little one being the teacher and the student. Practice skills like sitting still, raising their hand when asking a question, asking to go to the bathroom, or answering a question, eating a snack (let your preschooler work on opening up everything that they need), and moving from activity to activity, such as going outside to play and working on a craft.
  1. Brainstorm food ideas. If you'll have to provide a lunch or snack for your child at preschool, talk to your child about what types of things they'll like to eat. Better to have a plan in hand ahead of time, rather than have to scramble at the last minute when school starts.
  2. If you think separation anxiety might be an issue, give your child something of yours to keep in his or her backpack, such as a special keychain or photograph. In addition, have your child give you something special of theirs to hold on to while they are at school. This way your child will know that you are always thinking of them while they are away.
  3. Go back-to-school shopping. Buy a special first-day-of-school outfit and backpack. Let your child have a say in what you are purchasing. Check with the school to see if they require anything, such as a nap mat, reusable water bottle or lunchbox. Even if your child doesn't need supplies for the preschool classroom, if you are able, consider taking advantage of deep back-to-school sales that retailers usually offer and keep some supplies at home for your child to color, draw, and have fun with.
  4. Become a labeler. Spend some time together carefully writing your child's first and last name on all of your new purchases. Include jackets and sweatshirts too.
  1. A few days before school starts, pack your child's backpack with whatever the school has asked for. Generally, a change of clothing (in case of a potty accident), a water bottle, and a folder is all they will need.
  2. What will your day be like when the school day is over? Figure out after-care, after-school activities, and any other details ahead of time, that way when school starts, you are prepared. 
  3. Sit down and come up with a plan of action in case of emergency. Who will your emergency contacts be? What will happen if you can't get your child from school? It's better to be prepared ahead of time, so in case an emergency does arise, you aren't fretting over the details. And while you never want to make your child nervous, you can let them know that it is possible that sometimes Grandma (or whoever) will pick them up if you cannot.
  1. Prepare your child for the transitions that occur in the preschool classroom (play time to circle time, music time to lunch time) by starting to give warnings when the time you are spending doing whatever you are doing is about to end. For example, "Sweetie, in five minutes we will need to leave the playground so we can go to the store." "Honey, ten minutes from now we are going to start to get ready for bed." If you find that your child has trouble making transitions smoothly, you'll have time during the summer to work on making it a bit easier for him or her. 
  2. If your child is newly potty trained, make sure they are comfortable with how going to the bathroom will work at their school. Will they need to raise their hand and ask? Can they just go without telling anyone? Is there a lock on the door? These are questions to find out from your child's teacher.
  3. See if your library offers a story time where your preschooler can practice listening to someone other than you read out loud. This is also good practice for sitting in a circle with other children and learning how to sit quietly and follow directions. Libraries also often offer workshops and classes were parents sit another part of the library while the kids work on an activity with the teacher. This is a great way to practice being separated for short periods of time.
  4. Will your child's preschool be hosting an orientation? Definitely attend! This is a great way for your child to see the school in action, with kids in place. Plus, they'll get to make some new friends and interact with the teacher. If you can't go, see if you can visit the school on an alternate date.
  5. See if you can get a general idea of what will be going on in the classroom all day, so you can relay that information to your preschooler. Will a snack be served? Will the children play outside every day (weather permitting)? What are the daily routines going to be like?
  6. When someone learns that a child is starting preschool, they generally react with enthusiasm and ask a lot of questions. This is good if your preschooler themselves are excited. But if your preschooler starts to respond with trepidation, don't be afraid to ask well-meaning friends and relatives to tone down the back-to-school talk. Talk to your preschooler about what they are thinking about and if they have any questions that you can help them answer.
  7. Think about tasks that you regularly do for your preschooler, such as picking out clothes, helping them get dressed, or setting and cleaning up the snack. Let your preschooler start to take on some of these responsibilities themselves. Maybe the tasks won't exactly mimic what they do in school, but you are encouraging independence, which is important.
  8. About three to four weeks before school starts, start setting some routines so they'll be familiar. When your child is used to going to bed at a certain time, it will make it much easier to continue doing that when it really matters. Following a morning routine will be helpful as well.
  9. If your child is not used to being away from you, see if you can leave him or her with a family member or friend for periods of time so they get accustomed to what it will feel like.
  10. Talk to your preschooler about your own preschool experiences. Pull out old pictures and papers and have fun walking down memory lane together.
  11. Understand that your child starting school will be a transition for you too! If all of your children will be occupied during the day, schedule some activities for yourself to keep you busy, from taking an exercise class, to meeting up with friends for a late breakfast.
  12. Read books about starting school. Books are a great way to help kids anticipate what will happen once school starts. Talk to your librarian about appropriate titles to read with your little one. Some popular titles include:
  • The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
  • Will I Have a Friend? by Miriam Cohen
  • David Goes to School by David Shannon
  • First Day of School by Anne Rockwell
  • It’s Time for Preschool by Esme Raj Codell