16 Strategies for a Successful First Day of Preschool

If it’s time for your child to start preschool or elementary school, then it’s likely you’re worried about how the moment of separation will go. You want your child to be excited and eager and have a successful start, but you’re realistic about the possibility of a difficult separation. Will your child cry or fuss, or hang on to your leg, not wanting to let go? What about you? Will you be enthusiastic about this next step or close to tears? What’s the best way to handle all these conflicting emotions?

First, be aware that it’s normal for many young children to cry when they have to separate from you and experience something new and unfamiliar. Most preschools are prepared for this and have a process to help make things easier. But expect that it may take some time. Some days your child may be fine until other children start crying. Crying usually ends after a few weeks.

Is there something you can do to make this transition easier for you and your child? While there are no guarantees that everything will go smoothly, or that you and your child won’t cry, there are many things you can do together to prepare for these first days of school, no matter what your child’s age.

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Arrange for your child to visit with his or her new teacher before the first day of school. At Encompass, you can either arrange for your teacher to come visit you at home or you can come to our Early Learning Center to meet them here.
  2. Visit the classroom with your child before the first day. Contact us to arrange a time when you and your child can come see his or her classroom at our Early Learning Center and become familiar with the environment. Then talk together at home about what you saw. This is helpful to all children no matter what their age.
  3. Talk with your child about whether there is a special object (blanket, toy) he or she would like to bring to school for comfort. Make sure you find out about school rules, too. The object may have to stay with personal belongings. At Encompass, students may bring special items from home, but if they must keep them in their backpacks/cubbies if they don’t want to share their items with other children.
  4. Talk with the teacher about whether you can send in a family picture to post in a special place for your child to look at during the day. We welcome this at Encompass.
  5. Get the names of some other children in the class. Arrange a play date before school starts so your child will have a friend on the first day.
  6. Find out if you can visit the playground at the school so that your child may become familiar with the equipment and feel comfortable. Contact Encompass to find out when you can come by to visit our playground and backyard area.
  7. Do some pretend play with your child about how you will go to school and how you will say goodbye. Imagine waking up, having breakfast, getting in the car or bus, walking in the door at preschool, and kissing goodbye.
  8. Agree on a goodbye ritual: how many kisses, hugs, etc.
  9. Make sure your child is clear on who will pick him or her up and when.
  10. Find out something about the schedule for the day so you can talk it over.
  11. If you are sending lunch or a snack, involve your child in preparing it. Include a special note, picture, or poem as a surprise.
  12. Allow enough time! Make sure you awaken early enough to have a relaxing morning, with time to dress and eat a good breakfast.
  13. Find out if your child’s school staggers opening days with only part of the class attending so that teachers have more time to spend with a smaller group.
  14. Find out in advance if you can stay with your preschooler for a little while before saying goodbye if you think it will be needed. We allow this at Encompass.
  15. Don’t hang around peering through windows after you have said goodbye. Once your child sees that you are reluctant to leave, it is all over for the teacher.
  16. Bring tissues! This may be harder for you than your child.

For more preschool tips check out Preschool for Parents by Diane Trister Dodge and Toni S. Bickart. This is a great resource for parents with preschool-bound children or for educators looking to help their parents understand their classrooms better.

Adapted from Teaching Strategies, Inc., © 2001.

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