It’s shocking how fast those sweet babies grow up to be little humans, ready to begin their educational journey with preschool. Parents have helped their children with everything up until this point. And now, their three- and four-year-olds are about to venture out and start learning all on their own.
The transition of sending a child to preschool for the first time can feel anxiety-ridden and strange for both parents and kids. So how can you help create a smooth segue for your petite pupils and their apprehensive parents?
We enrolled some expert educators to help us craft this survival guide to help you assist children and parents on the first day of preschool and beyond.
Tips to help students survive the first day of preschool
As a preschool teacher, you want to make sure your students have an easy transition into your classroom. These tips will help you squash those first-day jitters for the little learners in your care!
Use bright colors, provide vibrant toys and set up your classroom in a way that draws children in—plush beanbags, a mini trampoline or cozy stuffed animals. A shy four-year-old who’s worried about separating from mom or dad will feel far more at ease when he or she sees the enjoyable environment you’ve prepared.
“[When] parents and preschoolers drop in, they see the fully decorated classroom, their student cubby, can high five their teacher and explore the playground,” says Syd Hoffman, a retired principal. All of this excitement is enough to any kid’s frown upside down in a hurry.
One helpful tip to ease the anxieties of little ones is to assign a project where students have to laminate family photos or bring in a show-and-tell object. This fun activity allows students to keep a piece of home close to them and enjoy showing their new friends about the people who are special to them.
Dr. Steve Gruber, professor of education and assistant dean of Cedarville’s Graduate School of Education, suggests having students bring in a favorite book, talk about their family—including pets—and share about a special vacation or birthday party.
Most preschoolers don’t have a concrete understanding of time, so it’s important to explain to them that the school day is only so long and mom or dad can be reached at any moment. By easing their separation anxiety, kids will feel more comfortable adjusting to the new environment where parents aren’t present.
“The main goal is to make the children feel comfortable at all times, and part of this is making it clear that they can be reunited with their parents at any time,” says Greg Stahl, vice president of marketing at Varsity Tutors. “This is helpful for the parents as well, knowing that the school is just a phone call away if they have any concerns about their child.”
Tips to help parents survive the first day of preschool
As strange as it may seem, parents are often more nervous than their children are for the first day of preschool. Pay attention to these tips to help parents make the most out of this transition as well.
Giving kids a heads up about what’s coming at school will help relieve unease and tension caused by fear of the unknown. While children may struggle to grasp certain concepts, chatting about what they might experience in a classroom will turn the transition from something to fear into something to be excited about.
Parents should reassure their child that school is a fun, positive and safe place to be, according to Samantha C. Sweeney, licensed psychologist at Family Psychological Services at Capitol Hill, parent of a preschooler and former preschool teacher.
“Telling your child that they can come home or making it seem as if you don't want them to be at school either only undermines the process and makes the transition that much harder,” Sweeney explains. It’s important to validate their feelings of sadness, but try not to let them sense your anxiety.
Inform your parents that maintaining a consistent routine is a great way to build trust with their little ones as school begins.
“Try to do the same drop-off with the same ritual at the same time each day, avoiding unexpected factors whenever you can,” says Abbey Lombardo-Kumar, an early childhood education expert at Learn’ique. “A routine can diminish the anxiety and will allow your child to simultaneously build trust in their independence.”
Parents can also build consistency in other ways, such as including a note in their child’s lunch each day, keeping with the same morning “get-ready” routine or serving a similar breakfast to begin each day.
Speaking of consistency, encourage parents to come up with a goodbye routine with their little one. Megan Resident, parenting expert at Custody X Change, says a goodbye routine can be anything that works for you and your child. “It can be as simple as a hug and a kiss on the forehead. It can be a silly handshake or silly saying … a special wave or silly dance.”
Much like having a consistent morning routine, having a goodbye ritual can helps reestablish that sense of stability. Suggest that parents start practicing their goodbye ritual a few weeks in advance, so when the first day of preschool comes, their little ones are ready.
This is another good reminder to offer parents of before the first day of school. Practicing having time apart will help both parents and children, especially if they haven’t been exposed to much separation prior to entering a classroom.
“Send your child off to playdates and allow friends and family to provide child care for you,” Lombardo-Kumar recommends. “Give your child a chance to prepare, experience and thrive in your absence!” By practicing separation, both parent and child will hopefully feel less heartache when it comes time to detach from one another in the classroom doorway.
As always, it’s important for teachers to practice open communication with parents about what their kids are doing at school. Hold a parent meeting prior to the first day of preschool so parents can ask questions, explain specifics about their son or daughter—such as allergies or sensory aversions—and have a chance to get to know you.
“Success is all about managing the parents’ expectations: being clear that the first day might be hard, having a policy around how long they can stay and how often you are willing to call them to check in throughout the day,” says Laurel Hollnbaugh, a camp director at Steve and Kate’s Camp in Boston.
Each school has its own way of managing communication with parents, but don’t lose sight of the importance of giving updates on what their child is learning and how he or she is adjusting.
Letting go is hard but it’s a normal part of the process—and a healthy one at that! Now that you have these tried-and-true tips, you’ll be prepared to help your students and their parents through the transition that is the first day of preschool.
Curious how to manage what comes after the first day? Check out our article: 10 Proven Classroom Management Tips for Preschool Teachers.