Initial preschool experience requires kid gloves

Children who transition from a daycare center or home to preschool may encounter difficult emotions as they face a new schedule and responsibility.

Stephanie Daetwyler, director of Primrose Schools in Solon, and Barbara Streeter, director of Hanna Perkins School in Shaker Heights, shared insight on what the most difficult part of the transition is for children and what parents can do to help prepare them.

Daetwyler said the most emotional part is the separation from parents at drop-off, followed by having around them more children in the classroom.

“In preschool, there’s a lot more independence. There’s a lot more places the kids are making throughout the day and their schedule is jam-packed full of different activities,” said Daetwyler, referring to the children moving around to more stations in the room.

To help ease emotions children may encounter at drop-off each morning, Daetwyler said a consistent routine of hanging up backpacks and signing in on the attendance card when they arrive makes the transition easier.

“The first thing they do is they say bye to mom and dad and our teacher greets them, and kind of makes it fun to say bye,” Daetwyler said.

Primrose also makes the transition easier for children by scheduling different times for parents and children to visit the classroom to meet the teacher. They assign “Primrose pals” or buddies in the classroom so someone can show the child around.

“Individualizing the process helps make the situation easier for children,” Daetwyler said.

To help prepare children for preschool, Streeter said parents should be more concerned with their child’s developmentally readiness than their cognitive skills, even if preschool is more education-based than daycare.

“Parents need to be thinking about how do they help their child be developmentally ready as well as how to manage the feelings that come with starting preschool, and that means walking into a completely new experience,” Streeter said.

Streeter also said children shouldn’t start preschool worried about how to take care of themselves by going to the bathroom or keeping track of their coat. They need to be ready to relate to a teacher, which is different than a caregiver.

“A child needs to be able to feel confident in communicating his needs and feelings, so that if he’s on his own in the classroom, he can find an adult and get the help he needs,” Streeter said.

Streeter said both parents and children worry about how they will manage and if the teacher will like them. It is helpful to practice skills before starting preschool, like practicing pouring a cup of water at home, so they can feel confident in themselves.

Getting as much information as possible in advance about what to expect also will help a child prepare.

Streeter suggests the parents visit the school with their child ahead of time to take photos of the classroom, the schedule and the teacher if possible to make into a book.

“The child can go home and talk about all this with mom or dad and be prepared gradually and be able to talk about his or her feelings about what’s coming and his worries about what’s coming,” Streeter said.

Whether a child has been in daycare, a child will still be dependent on whoever takes care of them at home and should know where they are during school hours to make them feel comfortable. If some preschool teachers don’t allow a child to call home whenever they want, keeping pictures of their parent during the day or finding a note from their parents in their lunch box lets them know they are thinking about them even when they are apart.

Streeter said it is important to recognize “there are going to be feelings no matter what, so the worry is natural for both the parent as well as the child.”