By Melodie Veldhuizen
Will your child be going to nursery school for the first time next year? This new phase in a child’s life comes with many challenges for the child and her parents, but with proper preparation it can be a wonderful experience for all of you.
This is the ideal way to prepare a toddler for an unknown situation. Take turns with your toddler to be child, mother and teacher. Make dolls and toys part of the fun. Imitate daily nursery school routines, such as dropping off, saying goodbye, story time, singing, playing outside, eating and sleeping, and the happy reunion after school. Let her practise sitting cross-legged and to sit still and concentrate for longer periods. Also practise good manners such as always saying “please” and “thanks” and to share. In this way she will be assured that nursery school is a nice place where she learns and plays.
There are many cute little books on the nursery school theme available in the library and bookshops. Read it to her, look at the pictures with her and discuss every character – what they’re doing and how they feel. This creates an opportunity for talking, including about your emotions.
Skills learned before she goes to the nursery school will give her self-image a boost and make fitting in easier. Let her practise to loosen, take off and hang up her jacket herself, put on and take off her backpack, put on and take off her shoes, wash her hands before mealtime, and to say when she wants to go to the bathroom – with all the excitement and uncertainty of all the new things at the school she may forget.
Visit the new school and make new friends
Arrange a “visit” to the school before its official opening (perhaps even this year) so that she can get to know the new environment and meet her teacher. Make arrangements to meet some of the friends in your vicinity who will be going to the same nursery school beforehand so that there are a few familiar faces on the first day.
Make her used to be away fron you
This is very important, especially if you have so far raised her on your own. Gradually relax the ties by, for instance, taking her to play with a cousin or friend without you also visiting there so that she can become used to being separated from you for a few hours.
Pay attention to her verbal and non-verbal messages
Anxiety, fear and insecurity, however slight, can have a big impact on her experience. Answer all her questions as fully and honestly as possible. Be calm about regressive behaviour such as wetting her panty or not wanting to eat or dress by herself.
On the first day
– Start early with the going-to-shool routine. Mark all her stuff. Pack her schoolbag the night before with everything she has to take along (lunch box, medication, a set of clean clothes). If it is allowed, pack a favourite toy or blanket. Lay out the clothes she wants to wear. Put her to bed early so that she can rest well. Get up in time so that you can prepare without having to rush. Eat breakfast together as a family even if she gets food at school. In the beginning she could perhaps refuse to eat at school because of anxiety and insecurity.
– Create a greeting routine. Leave enough time for saying goodbye. Make sure that she feels at home and cared-for before you say goodbye. Ensure her that you will be coming to fetch her later. Because a three-year-old has no sense of time, link the pick-up time to a specific activity, such as after lunch, afternoon nap or story time. Don’t draw out the parting for too long, but do not just simply disappear. Do something that your child can cherish all day long, like a kiss on the cheek or a special word that only you two understand. Stay positive and cheerful and swallow your own tears until you’re out of sight. Even if she cries when you turn around, resist the temptation to go back. The staff will console her and she will be happily playing before you get back to your car.
Contact and follow-up
Stay in contact with your child’s teacher to stay informed of her adjustment. Remember, adjustment takes time. Stay calm if there are relapses after the initial adjustment. It’s normal.
Bright Horizons. https://www.brighthorizons.com/family-resources/how-to-prepare-your-child-for-preschool
Zero to three. https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/78-preschool-prep-how-to-prepare-your-toddler-for-preschool