Beginning preschool is an important milestone that will likely bring feelings of excitement, anxiety, and curiosity for both parents and kids. The challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic may make the transition even more daunting. One Hope United Early Learning Centers are ready to welcome preschoolers back to the classroom, and want to make sure your little one is ready for a fun year of learning! Here are 5 simple steps our teachers recommend to prepare your child for preschool, so they are ready for all the fun, exploring, and learning they will experience in the years ahead.
1. Talk with your child about their feelings around school.
Your child may need some time to find the right words to convey how they feel about going to school. They will likely encounter a mix of excitement and nervousness, especially because many children are wary around strangers when they first meet them.
If your preschool offers a virtual or in-person back-to-school or meet-the-teacher event prior to the first day, this can go a long way toward helping your child feel comfortable in their new surroundings. Remember to point out things like the classroom library, blocks, or fire trucks, as your child will likely remember and hold onto memories of favorite classroom items as they prepare for their first day of school. Marybeth Mlikotic, Director of Programs at One Hope United’s Bridgeport Early Learning Center, shared, “Seeing toys, games, and play areas ahead of time helps children connect with the concept of school, and focus on specific activities they’ll be doing at school. It can be tough for children to connect with the concept of making friends, but things like having their own locker, playing restaurant, or bringing their blanket or lovie for naptime is easier for a child to visualize.”
As a parent, you can help your child get used to the idea of school by asking them some open-ended questions, like what they are most looking forward to, or what they may feel nervous about. It is also important to validate children’s feelings and discuss any changes to their day-to-day routines ahead of time, so they are ready for and used to their new schedule when it is time to start school.
2. Prepare them for the social-emotional aspects of preschool.
Children in a preschool classroom may range in age from 2 to 5 years old, and may be at various stages of social, emotional, and intellectual development. Your child’s preschool teacher will likely focus on many aspects of social and emotional growth in the first few months of the school year, so children become more comfortable with concepts like sharing, getting to know their classmates, dealing with disagreements, and helping themselves when they are experiencing tough emotions. After developing this social-emotional foundation, children will have the tools they need to build on other aspects of their development, like language, literacy, and math.
One of the best things parents can do to prepare their children for the social and emotional components of their school life is to practice interacting with family members and friends in a group setting, and even role-playing certain scenarios, like what their child should do if they are feeling sad, or how to show kindness to classmates.
Marybeth said that an important piece of helping children feel comfortable socially in their new preschool environment is becoming acclimated with teachers and staff members at school. That’s why teachers at OHU’s Bridgeport Center take steps like hanging photos of team members in each classroom, so that when a teacher, staff member, or maintenance team member enters the classroom, children are already familiar with their face. Children also practice expressing their emotions through activities like journaling or drawing pictures. Additionally, students answer a question of the day that may address topics like what it felt like to say goodbye to their parent or guardian that morning, or how to help a friend feel better if they are sad.
“It’s about more than learning ABC’s and 1-2-3’s,” Marybeth shared. “One Hope United’s Early Learning Centers care for the whole child, and help them develop equally important skills, like negotiating space, conflict, and relationships.”
3. Stick to routines and schedules at home.
Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, many families have faced challenges creating a steady day-to-day routine for children. In the weeks leading up to a child’s first day of school, it can be beneficial for parents to start their back-to-school schedule ahead of time. A predictable weekday is a helpful way to support a child’s emotions and prepare them for success in the classroom environment.
Each day in the classroom at OHU Early Learning Centers follows a predictable pattern, and this is a key part of acclimating children to the school environment. Kids get used to lining up for lunch, playing at recess, and prepared lessons. An at-home schedule which includes things like a standard bedtime, a space for your child to hang their coat and backpack, and daily playtime at home after school can help your child adjust to the school year.
4. Encourage curiosity.
Parents can also play a significant role in supporting children’s interests and academic development at home. Through daily activities like those on this list from the Mayo Clinic, parents can set their children up for success in preschool and beyond.
OHU administrators take a unique approach to learning by tailoring each curriculum to their student’s areas of interest. Marybeth Mlikotic shared, “our teachers ask students what students would like to learn about. If children in their classroom love trains, their teacher may create a week’s lesson plan around transportation or arrange for a truck driver or fire marshal to visit the classroom. We take this approach to all learning opportunities. It’s all about encouraging a child’s natural curiosity to foster a love of learning.”
5. Take care of yourself!
OHU programs focus on important self-care items like healthy eating, exercise, and mental health. The busy back-to-school season presents both challenges and growth opportunities for children and parents. Family activities that center around things like being active, drawing, and free play can go a long way in supporting children’s mental and emotional health. And of course, self-care is important for parents too! When parents take time to take care of their health, their children are more likely to develop healthy day-to-day habits.
While the preschool transition may be challenging, OHU is here to help parents and children with the transition, so students have the tools they need to be happy, healthy, and successful as they return to in-person learning. Marybeth concluded, “One of the most important things parents can do to feel comfortable and set their child up for success in preschool is to be really intentional about their goals. Parents should visit the preschool or early learning center and feel that they understand the center’s policies and procedures, as well as its culture and philosophy. Parents should make sure these approaches match with what they want for their child.”
Social-emotional skills are the foundation of preschool learning, and are key to ensuring students’ future academic success. Parents can support their children’s transition to preschool by establishing and practicing a daily school routine, and by encouraging their curiosity and interests. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has presented significant challenges in preparing children for in-person learning, communities can come together to support our youth, and ensure their future academic growth and success.
Interested in enrolling at a One Hope United Early Learning Center? Learn more here.
Impacts of Early Childhood Education study in Educational Researcher
The Long-Term Effects of Universal Preschool study published by National Bureau of Economic Research
Early Childhood Education Benefits study by Virginia Tech
*This blog was updated on November 2, 2022 to include additional information.