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Starting Preschool

It’s never too soon to look. Don’t wait until your child turns 3 to begin investigating preschools. The ideal time to start thinking about a preschool option is when your child is between 12 to 24 months old. It is hard to picture your diaper–wagging tyke sitting in a circle singing finger–play songs? Starting to make preschool plans early is for your benefit. It can take a long time to sort through the various options in your community. You’ll want to talk to other parents, make calls to get basic information from the prospective preschool and spend time visiting them. Even if you’re not inclined to be so thorough and have your choice narrowed down to one or two possibilities, some schools may have long waiting lists. You may need to apply early to reserve a space. Having a good head start will spare you later panic.

How to pick a program

At first glance, preschool programs may appear fairly similar. They all seem to have pint-size furniture, and in all of them, kids sing songs and create art. All are committed to the care and growth of young children; all want children to be safe, happy, and enriched. The differences lie in how a given school goes about achieving those aims. No two preschool programs are identical. Which setting is right for your child? Practical considerations, such as the convenience of the location and cost, are usually paramount. You may want a school whose hours mesh with your work schedule, for example. But don’t let the nuts and bolts be your only concerns.

  • Start with an open mind.

  • Consider your child’s temperament and learning style. If your child is high–energy, always on the go, look for a program that provides an opportunity for free movement. If your child is reserved, a program that has smaller groups or a smaller child-adult ratio would work better for your child. If your child is slow to warm up to new situations, they would benefit from the program that encourages a gradual introductory period and parental involvement. If your child is quiet, easily overstimulated you should look for a program that provides a lesser number of activity choices and private areas to read or be alone.

  • Take your parenting philosophy into account. Some questions to consider: Do you plan to play an active role in your child’s school day? Are religious and cultural influences especially important to you? Do you lean toward a very structured day or prefer to take things as they happen? (While program philosophies vary, all parents should look for evidence that a school has some degree of structure built into their program, although the extent will vary).

  • Spend some time at prospective schools.

  • Trust your intuition. The bottom line is that you’ve got to feel comfortable with your choice.

Taken from the book: Parenting; Guide to your toddler, by Paula Spencer

The way to successful separation and transition

The first days/weeks at school are a time of adjustment. We all should recognize that each child’s adjustment period will vary depending on his/her age, temperament, and prior experiences. Even children who usually say goodbye cheerfully can sometimes feel anxious.

In my experience as a preschool teacher and through the educational press I’ve found what helps children and parents adjust and make the transition easier.

  • Make the transition a gradual process that acknowledges and supports children’s feelings. Talk about the upcoming event. Ask your child what are his/her feelings about the preschool.

  • Parents should visit the preschool and be able to ask questions and get answers from teachers. Make sure that the first official day of attendance is not the first time your child has seen the school. It is great to have a play date at preschool with your child (we highly support the playdate idea and you are welcome to come with your child and have a play date before the official day).

  • Take your child to your work to visit and talk to him/her about where mommy/daddy will be working whiles he or she will be at school. ü On the first day of preschool let your child “call the shots”. Help build your child’s confidence and excitement by letting him/her decide what she/he will wear and what he/she would like in their lunch box.

  • At BunnyBears we ask parents to stay with their children for the first couple of days. This will greatly ease the separation for both the child and the parent. During those days we ask an adult to observe their child and verbally assure the child that they can feel secure and explore the environment. It also would depend on each child’s personality and maybe some of them will be ready to stay at the preschool the very first day (I’ve had children in my experience where they were ready to play and stay at school the very first day! After the morning meeting they were telling their mom/dad to go home!)

  • Don’t sneak off. If a parent disappears, the child then learns not to trust the parent, and it only makes the situation worse.

  • Don’t just drop your child at the door. Help him/her get settled in.

  • Establish a goodbye ritual. It could be your child drawing a picture for you to take to work or you reading a book before you leave. You could have your very own special goodbye chant with kisses and hugs. We have a sand clock at BunnyBears, that parents can use to show to children, when the sand will go down they will have to leave. Children also can wave at our goodbye window…

  • Be matter-of-fact about leaving. Even if you are hesitant yourself, put on a brave face and tell your child you must leave – and then leave. If your child seems extremely upset, acknowledge his/her feelings by saying, “I know you are sad that I am leaving. I must go to work now, but we will see each other after you play, nap, and play again…” If your child cries when you leave him/her, you can always call us and ask how your child is doing. Most of the time they will be fine by then; and if not, we will be calling you.

  • Don’t criticize yourself if your child cries. Distress is simply one sign of your child’s attachment to you. On the other hand, don’t be concerned if your youngster runs off happily.

  • Provide extra TLC. Big transitions can be as unnerving as they are exhilarating. Be sensitive to the hugeness of this change in your child’s life. Even big preschoolers need to be hugged and cuddled sometimes – especially at a time like this. Minor regressions are expected, such as thumb sucking or the rediscovery of an abandoned blankie. Remember that your child isn’t quite as big as he looks yet.

  • Reassure yourself. Parents are often just as distressed as their child about their first days at school – sometimes more. It can be tough to put on a happy face when you feel guilt, sadness, and grief. Try to focus on the good things that a preschool program will do for your child: the opportunities for learning and friendships and personal growth.

  • At BunnyBears we support the separation feelings through art, storytelling (where children often talk about a girl or a boy who is feeling sad, because the mommy left), puppetry (where children are also able to act out their feelings through puppet characters). We read Family books, listen to soft music. Soothing sensory play such as pouring water and bird seeds, as well as rubbing lotion on children’s hands helps children to relax.

  • The other very important part of a successful transition is transitional objects from home. It could be your child’s favorite sleeping toy, blankie, dad’s T-shirt, picture, book… Anything that goes from home to school and at the end of the day from school to home is a transitional object. I knew a boy, whose mother would have to come back to school for his very special pillow if they would forget to take it at the pickup time. We do not serve lunch at BunnyBears, because we believe in the power of lunch brought from home. It is a great transitional object that is very soothing to children. We also let children take a book home from school and bring it back the next day.

  • After transition time is over we like to reflect on how far children have come. Separation is not always a straight line. Children from ages two to five will show distress seemingly out of the blue. Possible causes include breaks in the family routine and other difficulties at home or school. Often when the reason surfaces, the parents, teacher, and child can work together to try to solve it.

Take some time to do research and find resources to help you learn and become better prepared for your child's early years. The National Association for the Education of Young Children is a great resource to help you find some answers to common questions parents have regarding their child's development and successful transition.

Starting Preschool
Pick a Program
Successful Transitions
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