Starting Pre-School by Bev Bos

Starting pre-school is a marker in your life. For at least 12 more years your child, your precious child for whom you have great hopes and dreams will be going to school. Most likely you have visited many schools looking for one that is "right" for your child. A place where your child will grow to his or her optimum. Beginnings are important -- how to do it best? Here is my list of things to pay attention to when starting pre-school. Some suggestions are for the child, others are for you:

1. Starting pre-school should have a natural feeling. Please do not talk 24 hours a day about going to school. What is important to the young child is today. They are interested in the now. Certainly you can mention going to pre-school, but when you talk daily about going to school it does not make sense to the young child. It is hard to explain time to young children. You can, as an adult, have a vision of when and what is going to happen, but the young child often has difficulty understanding what you are talking about until they are "in" the experience.

2. As adults we are excited about our children's first school but when we rant and rave too much about this great place and how much fun its going to be, it might make it difficult for the child to share feelings of fear and anxiety. The key word is "listen." Talk about the new experience but "listen" to the child's response. Do not discount their fears - they are real to them.

3. DO NOT buy new clothes. Let your child wear comfortable clothes that feel like they belong to them. Clothes that smell of home. New shoes are often difficult for young children -- make sure their shoes are made for running and jumping and that they feel good. In our school, no child wears a cover-up when they paint. Cover-ups feel very foreign to children and rarely do they protect clothing completely. The paint is washable but does not always come out. The last thing a child should have to be concerned about is clothes. A child's entire focus needs to be on growing to their optimum.

4. When you bring your child to school on the very first day, do not push them from behind, i.e. "say hello to the teacher." "Tell her your name." "Tell her how old you are."  "Go play." "Have fun." Children have a radar built in and know when their parents are anxious. Pushing from behind happens when parents become anxious about an experience for the child.

5. Walk and talk at your child's pace. I just hate to see parents holding their child's hand dragging them along at a frantic pace. Allow more than ample time to get ready, drive slowly and stroll into school. Try this: in a safe place with no traffic, walk behind your child. You will start to understand their pace.

6. Do make sure you have a basic understanding of how children develop before taking them to school so you will know what is appropriate for the young child. One of the most important developmental things to remember is that "if it has not been in the hand, it cannot be in the brain." They need experiences to attach words to. 

7. When my children were young, I always watched the teacher when I walked in. Did the teacher pay more attention to me or to my child? Certainly the adult deserves a greeting but the initial focus should be a gentle hello to the child.

8. Expect your child to act differently the first few days of school. I cannot tell you how often I have had parents say "He never acts like that at home." Most of the time, it takes time for children to settle into the routine. On the other hand, sometimes a child can run right in and get into the routine and them 2 or 3 weeks after will resist going to school. Do not take your child out of a good pre-school the minute they don't want to go one day. I think the most important attributes a human being can have is to be socially competent. To be able to make friends, fight with friends, go back to friends, to say how you feel, and to speak for yourself should be what you want for your child. You really need to hang in there.

9. Young parents are energetic and enthusiastic especially sometimes in the beginning of the school year when volunteers are asked for. Do know your strengths, your energy level and how many other activities you are committed to. Don't overcommit yourself. The child will suffer when the parent gets tired and cranky. This seems like a peculiar rule from a teacher who always needs more help, but a burned out parent doesn't help, and it certainly doesn't help the child.

10. Separation. Of course you will want to stay, at least, the first few days of school. When you are going to leave, be sure to tell your child when you will return. And it's better to say " I will be back right after story time or after snack time rather than a vague "in a little while" or at 2:00 p.m.. Be sure you have made arrangements to leave the "blankie" or "softie" - your child's special thing in a backpack or cubby. It can be wonderful comfort to the child. 

     And when you leave do not hesitate and peek around the door or act wishy-wahsy about leaving. If you know this is a good place, and your child is at a good age to start school, trust the situation. I always tell parents, if their child cries for longer than a couple of minutes, I will call them. You might ask the teacher or director to do that or you might want to call and ask how things are going. Don't be afraid of acting like a nervous parent, you are your child's most important advocate.

     This is an important time in your child's life and in yours - cherish the time!