By Angela Copperwheat
Director, Carmel Presbyterian Weekday School
“How can you prepare a child for preschool?” This question was posed to me so I have spent some time thinking about this. Thinking about the skills a child needs, and how you, as a parent, can help your child to be successful in preschool. Well, the reality is you can’t. Preschool should meet the needs of children, not the other way around. Your child already has a desire to learn, explore and play. That is what preschool should be about.
I answered that question pretty quickly. So now what? Well, the first day of school is right around the corner, and I thought now would be a great time to talk about how to prepare your little one for the first day of preschool. What can you do as a Mom to prepare your child for that first day when you walk him into the classroom and say, “OK, have fun. Mommy will be back in a little while.” Many children have no problem at all. From the very first day of school they give you a kiss and a hug and run off to play. For others it is a different story. You might have to pry him off you as you jet out the door.
I am sitting at the computer, my mind racing, trying to come up with the best advice for all you Moms out there who will be sending your child to preschool next week. I have worked in childcare for 13 years and I have two boys of my own, ages 13 and 9. One of them absolutely loved school, the other not so much. Surely, I know all the tricks by now. Well, the truth is, I am at a loss. I cannot tell you how to prepare your child for the first day of school. I do not know your child. Each child is different and you, as the Mom, know how he will react on that first day. If only he were a bit older, you could talk to him about school and how much fun he will have. He will tell you why he is nervous and you can find a way to make it all go away. Well, that doesn’t work with a preschooler.
So, now you are reading this and saying to yourself “Well, this is helpful advice. Some experienced preschool director we have here.” Please keep reading because I do have advice for you, and it is really, really good advice. I am ready to share with you the secret. The best advice I have to give on how to prepare your child for the first day of preschool. Are you ready? Here it comes…
You have to prepare yourself!
OK, say it with me now, “I have to prepare myself.”
You are your child’s entire world. He looks at you to know if he is happy, sad, angry, or scared. You are the key to your child’s level of comfort. So, when you walk in to the school feeling conflicted and nervous and just really don’t want to leave, how do you think he will feel? You got it ~ conflicted and nervous. If you get upset saying goodbye, he will too! Even worse, is when you try to sneak out of the room so he won’t cry. Guess what, he will cry. You won’t hear it, but he will. To top it off, every time you walk into another room, out of sight, he will freak out and think you left him.
What if you have a child like the first child I described, that runs right in happy as a clam from the very first day? You also need to be prepared for the fact that he might not cry. I know that sounds silly, but I have seen many Moms who are saddened by the fact that her child is happy at school and doesn’t mind that she is leaving.
You have to make sure that you are ready to take your child to preschool. You have to know that he might cry when you leave, but he is safe and well taken care of. You have to know that if he doesn’t cry when you leave he still loves to be with you more than anyone else (until he is a teenager anyway). You have to know for yourself the benefits of preschool (and there are so many, but that is an article for another day). You have to know that this is only going to help him grow. You have to be sure that you are comfortable with the school you selected. Actually, you should be more than comfortable. You should love the school you selected. Talk to the director and the teachers. Pop in for an unexpected visit to the school (don’t tell anyone I said that, some directors don’t like unscheduled tours, but the unannounced pop in is a good way for you to know for yourself what goes on at any given moment). Talk to your friends and family about their schools. Once you have done this and you are truly ready for your child to go to preschool, everything will be just fine! He may still cry for a couple of weeks or he may not, but believe me, he will have a great time and learn so much from the experience. I am also willing to bet you will too!
Thanks, Angela for your Smarty insight! You can find Angela Copperwheat and her team at:
Carmel Presbyterian Weekday School
2048 Carmel Rd., Charlotte, NC 28226
Any recommendations on the best age to start? I’ve heard of some kids starting at 2; in your experience, is this too young?
I think that 2 is a fabulous age to start for most children. It is absolutely not too young. 2 is the perfect age to begin teaching very important peer interaction skills. Play groups where Mommy is present offer social interaction as well, but preschool will offer both social interaction and separation from Mommy or Daddy. This is very important.
We went through the process last year with our first child. He was 2 1/2 and we felt he was definitley ready. Our problem was determining how to choose a school. Selfishly, we said it needed to be near by and convenient but we also wanted the “best” for our child. Our friends (without children) thought we were crazy at how much time and energy we spent on our decision. How different can preschools possible be, the kids are only 2-3 years old, was their mindset. We did visited four schools and ultimately selected the one that “felt” right. We just knew. Unfortunately, we had no idea that it would be full within days of registration. Lesson learned. The other thing we struggled with was knowing what questions to ask the directors. The last thing you want to do is ask a dumb question but again never having gone through the process how do you know? Did anyone else have a similar experience? Can someone please share advice/suggestions on what types of questions to ask? I think it will be helpful for anyone but especially for parents going through the process for the first time.
We are interviewing new schools due to a move, and here are some things I am asking:- education philosophy and the advantages of their approach- licensing/credentials- teacher/student ratio- daily schedule and curriculum, as well as if they offer foreign language, music and art- how much writing and reading is done (especially important for age 4)- status of the Director and teachers, as well as his/her background- Room cleanliness, building maint.- Discipline policy- The process for communicating with parents, and parent expectations
Those are great questions and cover just about everything. To me, a very important question to ask is about teacher turnover. You want to know that the majority of the teachers have been there for a while.
I see above someone asked about a 2 year old starting preschool. Friends of mine suggest I start my son at 18 months due to separation anxiety issues. Thoughts? I wasn’t aware that preschools even accepted kids before the age of 2.
Carmel Presbyterian Weekday School and many other preschools offer a Toddler class starting at 16 to 18 months old. It is two days a week and those Toddlers have a great time! Separation is a difficult thing for some children and I think the earlier you start the better!
If you can stay at home with your child I recommend that three years is a good time to start preschool. My pediatrician told me that the only thing a child will pick up at preschool before the age of three is a cold. Remember that you are your child’s first teacher and that is where it starts. My three and a half year old starts next week and we are both ready for the experience.
I agree that 3 is the ideal age to start preschool. My daughter is almost 3 1/2 and and she just started. She LOVES preschool and her first day was a breeze.When they are ready it will go smoothly.
Hey Angela, Thanks for your article. I have a question. I have a friend who is looking for a preschool, NOW> She is late, but she is also not aware of how things work around here (i.e., it seems programs book up before they ever catch their breath.) Her family is Brazilian, new to the area, and her son is NOT bi-lingual (yet.) Having said all that, I want to point her in the right direction as far as options for goo, loving programs. I have come up empty handed so far. Any advice on programs that could suit her needs?
Lori, You did not mention the age of your friend’s child, but I still have a few openings at Carmel Presbyterian Weekday School. It is not uncommon for children to come into the program without speaking English. We have several children enrolled who speak a different language at home. Children pick up language very quickly. It is a very easy transition. Tell your friend to give me a call 704-364-5713. Thanks!