So, you’re all enrolled, you’ve been practicing some independence skills with your little one, and you feel like he’s going to do a great job. Now it’s only a matter of ensuring that you have everything he needs for a successful first day at preschool. Here are a few items to check off your list before the big day actually arrives:
Here are some helpful items you’ll want to send along with your child:
A Backpack Tag: This will help your child’s teacher immensely as she tries to learn whose backpack is whose. Don’t hang the tag on the outside of the pack! Fasten it on the inside, so it’s visible when you open the zipper. Make sure your child’s name and phone number are written clearly on the tag, as well as your child’s teacher, room number, and school phone number.
A Picture or Lovey from Home: It’s pretty common for preschool-aged children to get anxious and homesick when they first begin school. Send a photo or a small item from home in your child’s backpack, so that he can look at it if he starts feeling scared or sad. It’s a good idea to check with your teacher before you do this. Generally, it’s not encouraged for children to bring toys from home, but for the first days of transitioning to preschool, teachers will usually be pretty accommodating.
Supplies Requested by the Teacher: You’ll probably receive a list of these things before school starts. The list will likely include (washable!) art supplies, pencils, etc. A folder is a good idea, even if your teacher didn’t specifically request it; your child will likely be coming home with notes, art projects, and other papers on a daily basis, and you’ll want a place to put them.
Extra Clothes: Preschool is a pretty messy place, by nature. Children fingerpaint, play with clay, eat snacks, and so on. Not only that, accidents are pretty common for preschool kids, even if they’ve been potty-trained for a long time. A change of clothes can be a lifesaver for the teacher, and will save your child a lot of embarrassment.
Wet Wipes or Tissues: These are in constant demand in a preschool classroom. Your teacher will be most appreciative if you send some in!
What NOT to Bring
Homemade Snacks, Particularly Those with Nuts: Food allergies are becoming more prevalent in children across the nation, and it’s hard to overstate the potential health risks some foods may pose. This is why many schools have banned any snacks or treats that aren’t store-bought and individually wrapped. This goes double for anything with nuts! In general, let the school handle snack-time.
Hand Sanitizer: Although it may seem counter-intuitive, hand sanitizers can cause big problems in preschool classrooms. Once again, allergies play a part in this. What’s more, many children have tried to drink it and have gotten sick, and teachers have a particularly hard time monitoring its proper use. It’s best just to leave it at home. Rather, teach your child good hand-washing skills, so he can use the warm water and soap provided by the school.
Toys: Above, we recommended you send in a picture or lovey from home to ward off homesickness. That’s probably okay, but you don’t want to send in your child’s favorite action figure or toy car. Toys such as these can cause problems in the classroom: your child may become too fixated on it to follow directions, for instance, or it may cause jealousy and fighting with other children. Also, it’s easy to lose a toy in a preschool classroom, because there are so many toys there to begin with. Unless your teacher specifically requests it, it’s better to leave the toys at home.
Backpacks with Wheels: While these seem like a great idea, they usually don’t work so well in a preschool setting. Your child generally shouldn’t need to carry too much home from preschool, and rolling backpacks are often too big to fit in preschool cubbies. They also present a tripping hazard for other kids, when the class is walking in a line. When choosing a backpack, avoid rolling backpacks.
Any Shoes Other Than Sneakers: Your child’s shoes should fit well, and should allow him to run and play on the playground and in the gym. Tiny sandals, Crocs, or high-heels may look great, but they’re not so functional in a preschool. In fact, many schools have made wearing sneakers a matter of policy, and have banned any other type of shoe.
Read Children’s Books About Starting Preschool
Books are a great way to teach children what to expect from their first day at preschool. There are a number of titles available on the subject. Some of the most popular titles include Preschool Day Hooray! by Linda Leopold Strauss, Froggy Goes to School by Jonathan London, Maisy Goes to Preschool by Lucy Cousins, and Going to School by Anne Civardi. With a quick online search, you’ll be able to order these and many more titles, or you can take a trip to the library with your child and find a number of great options there.
The Evening Before
Every child reacts differently to the idea of going to school for the first time. Some are giddy and excited, others are anxious and afraid. Talk to your child to get a sense of how he’s feeling about the big day ahead. Make the conversation light-hearted and carefree–you certainly don’t want to add any stress or tension. You may also want to tell a story or two about your own experience of going to school for the first time. Help your little one feel as comfortable and excited as possible.
Also, ask your child what he expects will happen at school. Does he know you aren’t going to stay there with him? Who does he want to drop him off at school? If you discuss these things ahead of time, you can avoid a lot of uncomfortable surprises, which could result in problems, resistance, and even full-blown meltdowns.
Make sure his backpack is put together with all the things he’ll need for the day. If you do this the evening before, you’ll save yourself and your child a lot of stress and hurry the next morning.
Plan your morning routine, and make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to accomplish all the things you need to do. Discuss this routine with your child the evening before, so he feels comfortable and isn’t caught off guard by too much to do in too little time.
Of course, many children put up quite a fuss when it’s time to go to bed, especially when the next day holds the promise of a big, exciting change. Hopefully, you’ve established a bedtime routine before the night before preschool. It’s important that both you and your child get a good night’s rest before the big day.
Give your child some advance warning before bedtime; usually, a 10-minute warning works great. The whole bedtime process typically lasts an hour, so plan accordingly. During this hour, your child can choose what bedtime activities he wants to do: read a story, for example, or play a quiet game. Letting him choose will help bedtime become a harmonious, happy time together, rather than a power struggle. Of course, some things–such as brushing his teeth–are not optional. If you’d like, and if your child responds well to rewards, you can create a bedtime chart with all the important items listed, and you can place stickers next to each item once they’re completed.
Once he’s tucked in and you’ve said your goodnights, promise that you’ll be back shortly to see if he’s asleep. You want him to be able to fall asleep without your constantly being present, but he also needs to know that he’s safe and you’re nearby. Keep your promise, and come back a few minutes later.
Establishing a bedtime routine will help you and your child get the rest you need, and it will take away the stress and conflict of going to sleep.
The Big Day
When the big day finally arrives, you’ll probably encounter an obstacle that most parents encounter: the crying game. Your child may be just fine until the moment you try to leave, and then, panic! The sobbing starts, and before you know it your child is clinging to your leg in total terror. This is perfectly normal and understandable. Preschool is a big, new, unfamiliar place for them, and they may not be used to the idea of being apart from you. Even children who have spent lots of time at daycares and other such activities may experience this sudden anxiety when dropped off at school for the first time.
Your own attitude is crucial here. Children are finely tuned antennas which pick up on your emotions with surprising accuracy. If you’re anxious or sad or scared, your child probably will be too. Do your best to keep an upbeat, positive attitude about the day. Help your child feel optimistic and excited, and you’ll have much less to worry about.
It’s also very important to trust your preschool teacher. Children crying on the first day is nothing new to them. They’ve surely had lots of practice helping children work through this difficult transition, and at some point you’ll need to make your exit and trust in the teacher’s experience, knowing they’ll work to make your child’s experience a positive one.
Whatever you do, don’t remove the child from the classroom. This reinforces the behavior in exactly the wrong way, basically teaching them that if they cry, they don’t have to go to school. If you take them out of the room, it can be incredibly difficult to get them back in.
Also, don’t sneak out if your child becomes momentarily distracted. This can make your little one feel abandoned and alone, and exacerbate the problems. It may be difficult, but it will be much better in the long run to confidently say goodbye to your child’s face. You’d be surprised: teachers are often so skilled at handling this situation that children stop crying moments later. You may return a few hours later to find your child happy and content, and excited to see you.
Unfortunately, the crying game may not fully end after the first day. In fact, it can sometimes take weeks for children to become comfortable with being dropped off at school. Don’t give up, though. Be kind and firm, explaining that this is all part of getting bigger and smarter. With time, your child will be happy and thriving in his new school.