Starting kindergarten or preschool is an important milestone in the life of a young child.
For some children it could be the first time they’ve been separated from their parents, while children already in an early learning environment have to adjust to a new room, new teachers and new routines.
Knowing how to prepare for that first day can make life a lot easier for children and parents, and taking just a few simple steps can ease anxiety and fears and help children get their kindergarten or preschool year off to a great start.
Each child will respond differently and nobody knows your child better than you. Below are our top six tips for getting children prepared and excited for this important step in their education – but before we get started, let’s clarify one thing: while different states use different terminology, when we talk about kindergarten and preschool at Goodstart we’re referring to the year before primary school
Organise a play date at the centre
If your child is already at the centre and just needs to transition into the kindergarten or preschool room, your centre director will organise play dates as part of an orientation process.
For children who are new to the centre, or new to early learning altogether, attending a few play dates at the centre is a great idea. Centre directors will often organise several times for all new families and children, and you can also arrange more individual play dates too.
You’ll know how many your child needs, but at least two or three are usually a good idea. It gives you a chance to feel confident about the centre and meet other parents, while your child will be engaged in activities with other children and getting to know their teacher and the environment.
Bring it into conversation
Without overplaying it, start introducing the reality of going to kindergarten or preschool to your child. Talk to the teacher or centre director about what to expect on the first day and in the first few weeks and use this information to ask leading questions to your child about their expectations.
Get them excited about it – play-based learning is fun after all – but be careful not to go overboard. In spite of reassurances, some children will still be feeling anxious about this new adventure and talking about it too much risks adding to the anxiety by making it seem bigger than it is.
Something new and special
It doesn’t have to brand new, in fact recycled or hand-me-down is just fine, but a new item that signifies their progression into kindergarten or preschool can help children feel excited and give them a feeling of ownership of the process. It could be as simple as a new or hand-me-down bag, a lunchbox, new shoes or item of clothing.
Role play with your child
Your amateur acting skills are probably well rehearsed by this stage of parenthood, so put them to good use with some role playing of their new daily routine. Getting some inside knowledge from the teacher or centre director may help but common things like getting dressed, packing a lunchbox, packing their bag with a hat and change of clothes, even pretending to make the trip to the centre and putting their personal items in their place.
Get yourself organised for the first day
You don’t want the morning of the first day to be rushed or stressful, so make sure you’re organised and ready to go. Children don’t like being rushed at the best of times, let alone when they’re feeling nervous or anxious, so give yourself plenty of time to get ready and arrive on time. The centre director and teacher will be expecting you and will know how to get your child engaged and settled.
Plan your exit strategy
If you’ve got yourself to the centre on time and your child is settling, don’t make the mistake of lingering. Give a warm but short goodbye, tell your child the time you’ll be coming back and the make your way out. It’s tempting to give them that extra hug for encouragement but doing so risks causing some more nervousness as the child wonders why they’re getting such a big hug.
If you have any concerns about starting kindergarten or preschool, don’t hesitate to ask questions of the centre director or teacher. They’re there to help ensure your child has a great experience and starts to develop a lifelong love of learning.
Learn more about our approach to early learning here, and find a centre near you.