When Julie Ramski, a former teacher, took a kindergartner to the school bathroom, she couldn't figure out why it was taking him so long.
It turned out that in the boy's bathroom there were three urinals and one stall, and the boys were waiting in line to use the toilet. They had no experience using urinals.
Ramski, now director of early childhood programs in the Archdiocese of Chicago's Office of Catholic Schools, says the bathroom is something you need to put on the list of things to do to prepare your child for preschool.
Plus, teach them how to zip up their pants.
It is important that children have a good experience in preschool since it sets the tone for the rest of their early education, even through eighth grade.
Here are some teacher tips on how parents can get children ready.
1 Learn as much as you can about the preschool.
The most important thing is to know the preschool's philosophy,
background and staff, says DeeDee Farmer, a preschool teacher with
Longfellow Elementary School in Oak Park. "Get a feeling about what
the day is like and have a list of questions to ask to determine if
the preschool program fits the philosophy of your family," she
2 Visit the building.
A couple of weeks before preschool starts, visit the school
playground or the building itself, if the school allows. If not,
drive or walk to preschool a few times before class starts.
Children need to know what's going to happen: "When I leave home, I
am going to this place, and when I leave this place, I am going
home," says Farmer.
3 Establish a routine long before preschool starts, teachers advise.
At night, a child should go to bed at a reasonable hour to get enough sleep. Set up a comforting bedtime ritual such as reading a story or singing a song.
"The kids really thrive on structure," says Farmer. "Have a bedtime ritual that is predictable, that the child can depend on, so that the next day when it is time to go to school, he'll be ready."
Establishing a routine in the morning is equally important.
Instead of waiting to pick out clothes that morning, choose them
the night before. Let your child be involved to eliminate arguments
about what to wear. Make sure they eat a healthy breakfast every
morning to make that a routine, too.
4 Establish a partnership with the preschool teacher.
When your child sees that you trust the teacher, they will feel
the same way.
5 Read books about preschool and separation anxiety.
"Parents need to think about what phrases they are going to use so that their children understand that they are going to go to school or preschool," says Farmer.
6 Deal with separation anxiety.
Some kids adjust well, some don't. Farmer suggests parents not
say "goodbye.""It's hard for kids to say goodbye," Farmer says. "If
you use an abstract word, 'see you later,' it works better."
She also makes what she calls a mommy or daddy necklace. It's a laminated picture of parents or other family members on a necklace.
7 Let them experience disappointment.
Jennifer Hanna, principal of Chicago Montessori, suggests
coaching kids on how to dress and undress. Give your child the
opportunity to do it.
"If you see a child really struggling and focusing on something like putting on his shoes, you don't interrupt them," she says. "The adult needs to back away from the child as much as he can. When they have difficulty and they feel disappointment, parents can encourage children by saying 'I understand that's disappointing… but tomorrow we'll have another chance.'" It will let them develop concentration and independence.
Also allow children to play without too much interference (20 to 30 minutes for a 3-year-old).
8 Talk to your kids and ask questions.
Being read to and learning new words is crucial for child development. Ramski suggests a simple, inexpensive method for expanding a child's vocabulary: going to a grocery store and talking about foods and going to museums or downtown and talking about the buildings, the lake and everything else you see.
9 Make sure they are physically ready.
Have medical and dental checkups and immunizations. They need to have experience playing using their gross motor skills-running, jumping, skipping, climbing, throwing balls. They need fine motor skills as well, such as cutting, coloring, drawing and pasting.
10 Role play.
Erica Holman, preschool teacher with The Chicago Grammar School, says it is helpful for a child to play classroom with stuffed animals.
11 Acknowledge your emotions.
Parents have a lot of emotions around the transition and
sometimes the separation anxiety is harder on them than the child.
"It is important to acknowledge, 'You know, I am a little nervous,
too. I am going to miss you, too,' but it should be as positive as
possible," Holman says.
12 Help cognitive development.
Phillip Jackson, executive director of The Chicago Grammar School, says that while screening kids for his school he noticed an interesting phenomenon: almost all the 3- or 4-year-olds have strong verbal processing skills, but the majority have weaker processing abilities in visual motor work. Ask your children to look at a pattern and replicate it, using either blocks or sticks, or by drawing it.
Nonna Working is a Chicago mom, freelance writer and former member of the Chicago Parent staff.