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.
We’ve done a variety of things: The Kissing Hand book; an
inexpensive photo flip book with photos of the family to look at;
favorite stuffed friend; telling a story about what is going to
happen; showing a story of what is going to happen with pictures; a
goodbye ritual: 1 kiss, 1 hug, 1 “I love you” from each and then
time to go.
Holly Olmsted-Hickey, Downers Grove
Transitions are hard for children. We try to discuss with them
ahead of time what is on the family calendar and keep it posted on
the refrigerator. Arriving early to the planned activity/event
helps so they have time to acclimate. It helps our kids when we let
them know we will hang around for a little while as they get
settled. Then we are able to leave once they have become distracted
and involved in what is going on without their noticing or
Joy Slates, Aurora
Our daughter has a transition disorder so in order to prepare her
for change, we have to discuss it with her in advance and depending
on the nature of it, sometimes repeatedly until it is time. We
explain reasoning if necessary. Changes are never easy for her but
helping her to understand it truly helps us help her through
Laura Miller, Villa Park
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 says.
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.