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How to Prepare Your Child for Preschool

How to Prepare Your Child for Preschool
February 16, 2023

Is your child getting ready to start school for the first time? Congratulations! This is an exciting phase, but it can be a stressful one too. Your child is about to embark on an entirely new routine, the start of their academic journey, and you’ll be entering a new routine too. As always, we recommend preparation: thinking ahead to the start of school is the best way to reduce stress as the school year gets closer. Here are a few tips for how to prepare your child for preschool, from our education experts: 

How to Prepare Your Child for Preschool, Emotionally

You may assume that hard skills like dexterity and alphabet familiarity are your most important preparation steps, but the emotional side of getting ready for preschool should really be your top priority. It’s understandably daunting for your child to leave home and spend time away from their primary caregivers for the first time. Children always grow to love preschool (don’t worry!), but the first days might well cause tantrums and tears. This phase can be very draining for both children and parents. Thankfully, some emotional preparation can soften the blow. 

Getting ready for separation is a key step for emotional preparedness. There are several fantastic books that can show children that separation is normal, and that their parents and guardians still love them even while apart. We recommend the classic, The Kissing Hand, and I Love You, All Day Long. If possible, start preparing your child for separation a little bit at a time by sending them to short activities, dropping them off at a friend or family member’s house for a short time, or other ways to improve their separation resilience.

As you’re considering how to prepare your child for preschool, ensure that you speak about going to school in a positive, exciting way. Many parents frame the transition as time for a child to go to “big kid school,” particularly if a child is motivated by growing up (often driven by watching an older sibling). Starting a countdown calendar, planning a first day of school outfit, packing a backpack, and other steps can make your child look forward to the first day. Of course, you should always make room to acknowledge that your child might be nervous, and be gentle if their excitement is slow at first. 

How to Prepare Your Child for Preschool, Academically

While emotional preparation is very important, there are a few steps you can take in the months leading up to your child’s first day of preschool to help them hit the ground running in the classroom. Key skills like fine motor dexterity, familiarity with transitions and routines, and social cooperation can help them adapt with ease. We recommend activities like: 

  • Building with blocks, especially building towers that require careful placement of blocks
  • Practicing puzzles of increasing difficulty
  • Playing with Play-Doh 
  • Identifying shapes, colors, and animals; letters and numbers are less important at this age, but can add a challenge if your child is ready
  • Practicing clean-up time as a post-play ritual - we recommend incorporating a simple clean-up song or other habit to build excitement
  • Helping with basic cooking or baking (with supervision)
  • Exploring simple science experiments, like testing whether objects float in a bathtub or watching a plant grow

Throughout the course of these activities, it’s helpful to begin replicating a more structured academic environment. For example, try giving your child a set of multiple instructions (first do this, then do that), introducing a basic schedule for different activities, and taking turns when playing. All of these small steps can make your child much more familiar with the classroom. 

Practical Steps to Prepare Your Child for Preschool

Beyond specific activities and goals to prepare your child emotionally and academically, there are a few practical necessities to consider as you embark on how to prepare your child for preschool. Many of these skills help your child’s future teachers keep classrooms safe and stress-free. Keep in mind that it’s very normal for children to achieve these abilities at different times; don’t stress if your child can’t do each of these things by the first day (though note any specific requirements that your preschool may have about what they must be able to do). These are the practical skills that can help your child enter preschool confidently: 

  • Can say/remember their full name and their parents’ full names
  • Can say/remember the name of their school
  • Can describe their allergies, if applicable
  • Can navigate stairs
  • Can put on and take off shoes, at least for simple shoes
  • Can go potty by themselves, and can advocate for themselves when they need to use the restroom, if potty trained
  • Can try new foods comfortably 
  • Can wash hands independently
  • Can pour liquids (water, juice, etc.) into cups

In addition, take a few minutes to ensure that your child’s backpack is ready for the first day of school with an extra set of clothes, a toy/stuffed animal (if allowed), and a snack if not offered by the school. 

Preparing Yourself for Your Child’s First Day

When your child’s first day of preschool comes around, you’ll likely be very emotional. This is totally normal! Try to create space for yourself to feel all the feelings you may have, but in ways that don’t convey to your child that they should be nervous or upset to start school. For example, many schools will host a breakfast or coffee for parents after drop-off on the first day, which can be a great chance to meet other parents who are going through the same emotions. 

In terms of the actual drop-off, try to make a simple plan in advance and then stick to it. For example, plan to walk your child to school, bend down and give a hug, remind them that you love them and that they are safe, and that you’ll pick them up after school (refer to any books you’ve read together, if applicable), and then walk away. Quick transitions are always better! 

Remember, preschool teachers have a lot of experience handling transitions, and have a plan to calm down your child once they separate from you. And of course, schools always put the health and safety of their students above all else, so your child is in great hands. 

If you’re wondering how to prepare your child for preschool, remember: there are many steps you can take to get ready, emotionally, academically, and practically, but at the end of the day your child will get through this transition with resilience and, most likely, joy. Within a few days or weeks, they’ll be attending preschool like it’s the easiest thing in the world. 

Figuring out which preschool to send your child to? Look no further - Admit NY offers personalized guidance for the New York City school system, both public and private. Reach out today to start a conversation.