Best Practices for Supporting Your New Preschooler
With increased academics, more desk-sitting and more testing in elementary school, traditional schooling has changed dramatically in recent years. That change has trickled down to the preschool age, too, in order to prepare children for what’s to come.
In many schools, there is less unstructured time, like free play and recess, and more focus on early learning. But for some young students, the preschool years, which were once filled with finger-painting and nap times, can feel rigorous. And while you might assume it was all fun and games, it sure doesn't feel like it when your three- or four-year-old comes home spent, pent up or totally overstimulated at the end of the day.
Preschool can be a tough adjustment for many kids and their parents, too. But there are plenty of things parents can do to help support the transition and ease kids into their new environment. Here are a few tips to best support your new preschooler.
Give Them Plenty of Rest
At the start of the school year, your preschooler is likely to be tired for a few reasons. Not only are they getting up and out the door early, they are also being stimulated nonstop throughout the day. Aside from just physical activity, simply being in a room with a bunch of other children all day is more stimulating (and exhausting) than being at home.
While many preschoolers no longer take a nap, they still need about 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night to be alert and ready for the school day.
Have a Morning Routine
Trying to get kids moving in the morning is no joke. But the last thing you want is to start the day off on the wrong foot. While the stress of getting kids dressed, fed, up and out the door (on time) is tough, having a solid routine in place helps.
Getting up a few minutes early to get lunches ready or breakfast on the table before everyone comes downstairs can make the morning routine go way easier. Also, making sure book bags are packed the night before, outfits are laid out and shoes are waiting by the door can shave valuable minutes off your schedule.
Yes, the beginning of preschool is stressful for so many reasons. You aren’t sure if your kid will like it, if they’ll be clingy or sad, or miss you all day. But it’s important to try and project a sense of calm (even if you’re freaking out inside).
Kids pick up on your attitude and your body language, so if you’re overly stressed, it’s likely they will notice and feel more stressed, too.
Encourage Unstructured Time at Home
These days, most preschools have more instruction time, as opposed to free play. Many early education experts believe this is not ideal and doesn’t really serve the youngest learners. But parents can help combat all the structure time at school with more relaxed time at home.
Picking up your exhausted kid and taking them to more structured activities each day might be too much. So, play it by ear, and make sure your child can handle extracurriculars before signing them up for everything under the sun. Chances are, they need downtime more than anything.
Let Them Skip Homework
Shockingly, many kids as young as three are expected to complete homework. Usually, the tasks are not overly rigorous, like practicing counting, ABCs or reading together. But studies have shown that homework doesn’t really serve students all that well — so much that even schools with older students are ditching homework.
If your child is given tasks to complete after school and they seem to be struggling with it, remember, you don’t have to comply. While your child’s school undoubtedly means well, you’re still the parent and you get the final call. If you think it’s too much, don’t do the homework. I promise, they won’t flunk out.
Discuss the Curriculum With the Teacher
It’s important to understand what your child’s daily rhythm is. Most preschools will send home information about what will be going on inside the classroom.
If not, ask. Early learning curriculums vary greatly from school to school. So, make sure the preschool you choose for your child, whether it’s play-based or more academic, is something with which you feel comfortable.
Give Positive Reinforcement
The start of preschool can feel jarring to some kids. With a new teacher and tons of new kids and personalities, it’s not unlikely there will be a few moments of unease or discomfort for your child.
You can’t remove all of the discomfort from their life (especially when you aren’t around), but you can make sure to give plenty of kind words and positive reinforcement at home. Telling your child you think they are smart, brave and capable on the regular goes a long way, especially during the early days of preschool.
Get Them Outside
Many preschools still have lots of outdoor time. But at some schools, recess has been cut in order to make time for more academics. If your child only has a short block of recess, like 20 to 30 minutes a day, make sure they get more time to move and exercise when they arrive home.
Helping walk the dog, taking a family stroll after dinner, playing at a park or just in the backyard can help them get the daily movement they need to stay healthy and happy.
Pack Healthy Lunches
When you aren’t used to packing lunch each day, it can be easy to fall into the trap of throwing a bunch of prepackaged snacks in your child’s lunch (I know I do it plenty). But lots of carbs and salty snacks will only give your child a quick burst of energy.
Make sure you add some protein, fruits and veggies, or other foods that will be more substantial and provide more lasting energy for a full day. Preschools also tend to give out unhealthy snacks because they are cheap to buy in bulk. So, in order to avoid crashes later in the day, pack some healthy options, as well.
Read With Them
Not only is reading to your child a great way to support whatever they are doing in the classroom, it’s also a great time to connect after a long day. You don’t have to reserve reading for bedtime, either, even though it’s a great way to wind down.
Introducing your child to some new books each week can get them interested in a wide variety of topics, and supports their early learning.
Advocate for Your Child
Hopefully, your child’s preschool has relatively open lines of communication. But if you aren’t immediately provided with a way to contact your child’s teacher, or if you aren’t made aware of certain school policies, make sure you speak up.
Having tons of communication to make sure you are on board with school procedures and policies is crucial in the early years because your child is too young to advocate for themself.
Go to School Events
Another great way to keep up with the happenings at your child’s school is to go to the events. Yes, it can feel overwhelming to spend your evenings at back-to-school night and various fundraisers. But it can also make your child feel more at ease to see you in their new environment.
Likewise, you can meet fellow parents, chat to the teacher and otherwise keep up with all of the goings-on.
It’s important for parents to respect school procedures for so many reasons. But if something is clearly wrong, or doesn’t serve the students, parents need to be vocal about their concerns.
It can be easy to believe you don’t have to because someone else will surely do it. But if something is adversely affecting your child, it needs to be brought up.
Put Your Child’s Needs First
Every child is unique, and children at the preschool age have all very different needs. It’s important to recognize what your child’s needs are and be comfortable with the fact that they might not be the same exact needs other kids have.
Don’t shame your child for being clingy, needy or overall having difficulty with the transition. Instead, let your child be your guide in showing you how you can best support them. It might mean being extra gentle, taking extra time with them in the morning or leaving quickly when you arrive to school. Find out what helps make your unique child comfortable and feel fully supported in their new experience.