Before children start preschool
Your child is probably feeling excited as well as a bit nervous about starting preschool. If you start getting your child ready in the weeks and months before the first day, it can help with any mixed feelings. Here are some tips.
Visit the preschool
Many preschools offer orientation visits. During these visits, children can see and experience what they’ll do at preschool, who they’ll meet, and what happens during the preschool day.
With permission, you could take some photos of the preschool to show your child before they start. Some preschools have a preparation or orientation book that you can take home with you.
Talk about preschool
You can talk about the things your child will do at preschool. For example, ‘Stella, do you remember we saw blocks at preschool? You can build with them like you do at home’. You could look at photos of the preschool together and talk about some of the things that are different from home, like the toilets and playground.
If your child doesn’t seem interested when you talk about preschool, don’t push the conversation.
Keeping things low key can be a good idea too. If you say things like ‘Isn’t it exciting that you’re starting preschool?’, your child might start to feel more anxious because it sounds like a big deal.
Read books about preschool
Here are some good books for children about starting preschool:
- First day by Margaret Wild
- I love you all day long by Francesca Rusackas
- Maisy goes to preschool by Lucy Cousins
- Tom goes to kindergarten by Margaret Wild
- What to expect at preschool by Heidi Murkoff
- Victoria Bubbles and the great preschool adventure by Lizzie Dingle.
Visit the local library
Visiting the local library for story times can help your child get used to listening to books as part of a group.
When children start preschool
Here are some tips and strategies to help you and your child in the early days and weeks of starting preschool.
Many preschools invite parents to stay for a while during the day in the early days. Speak with the preschool teacher and work out a plan that works for you, your child and the preschool.
It’s a good idea to tell your child how long you’re staying, so they don’t get a surprise when you leave.
Have a routine for preschool mornings
Routines can help your child feel safe and secure, particularly when new things are happening. You could set up a routine for preschool mornings – for example, get up, have breakfast, clean teeth, get dressed, put on sunscreen, pack lunchbox and go. You could even make a chart with pictures showing the different steps in your routine.
Have a goodbye routine
Say goodbye to your child so that they know you’re going, and tell them that you’ll pick them up at the end of the day. You could choose a special place to say goodbye, or an activity to do before you go. For example, ‘If you wave to me from that window, I’ll be able to see you’, or ‘Which book will we read before I go?’
Make sure your child is paying attention when you say goodbye, then say goodbye once and leave. A lot of goodbyes can be stressful for both you and your child.
Communicate with the preschool teachers
Children get confidence from seeing warm, positive and friendly interactions between important people in their lives, like their parents and teachers.
Good communication with your child’s teacher also helps you share relevant information so the teacher knows how best to respond to your child. For example, you might let the teacher know about things like grandparents visiting from overseas, your child’s favourite songs or books, or simple words in the language your family speaks at home.
Celebrate your child’s achievements
Joining a new group, meeting new people, being in a new environment and learning new ways of doing things are big achievements for your child. You can build your child’s confidence by celebrating them.
For example, praise your child when they meet new people or try something new. Or you could encourage your child to call a family member to share what they’ve achieved at preschool.
Have back-up collection plans
Many preschool sessions finish at a specific time. If you tell your child you’ll be there at a specific time, it’s important that you’re there. It’s a good idea to have a back-up plan, so that if you’re delayed or there’s a problem, someone you and your child know and trust can be there to pick them up.
If the person who normally picks up your child from preschool can’t make it, make sure the preschool teachers know who’s coming instead. The teachers will let your child know and ensure your child’s safety.
When children are worried about preschool
Starting preschool can be exciting for your child. But anxiety and tiredness are common too – there’s so much for your child to get used to. You might notice that your child isn’t eating as much, or wants to sleep more. Your child might even seem less happy than usual.
Your child might be worried about finding friends, knowing what to do or being separated from family. Your child might get upset when you leave.
Your child might also worry about what you’ll be doing while they’re at preschool. Will you be doing something special, and will your child be missing out?
Tips to handle worries about starting preschool
- Let your child know what you’ll be doing while they’re at preschool. This can help reassure your child that they’re not missing out, especially if you can save their favourite activities for when they’re with you.
- Talk with your child about preschool routines. Toby Forward’s book The first day of school is a good discussion starter.
- Ask the preschool teacher whether your child can bring something they love from home, like a teddy bear, pillow or blanket. If the preschool allows this, these objects can help your child feel safer. You can gradually phase them out as your child feels more settled.
- Talk to the teacher if your child gets upset when you leave. Preschool teachers are experienced at helping children through separation and will have ideas to help you and your child.
- Ask the teacher about what might be worrying your child. The teacher can tell you what happens during the preschool day. For example, your child might be worried about using the toilets, eating the food the preschool provides, or finding their things.
- Talk with the teacher about strategies to handle specific worries. For example, if your child is worried about food, you might be able to pack some familiar food. If using the toilets seems to be the problem, the teacher can help your child get used to them. Labelling your child’s things can help your child keep track of them.
It can take time for your child to get used to the routine of going to preschool. If you feel your child isn’t settling in, and advice from the teacher isn’t working, you could also try talking to your GP or your child and family health nurse.
When children don’t want to go to preschool anymore
Sometimes children’s excitement carries them through the first few days of preschool. But after a few days or weeks, you might notice that your child seems less keen to go.
In this situation you can keep reacting positively to what your child does at preschool. This can help to spark your child’s enthusiasm again. For example, you might say ‘I love that finger painting you did at preschool. It makes our fridge look so colourful!’
Getting to know other children and families can help your child build friendships that will help them settle into preschool over the longer term.
A predictable routine can also help your child realise that preschool is a regular part of their life now. But if your child still doesn’t want to go to preschool, talk to the preschool teacher, your GP or your child and family health nurse.
The stepladder approach is a step-by-step way of helping with anxiety in children. It’s based on the principle of ‘graded exposure’. This means starting off small, tackling the little things before you face the really scary things.
Your feelings about your child starting preschool
Your child takes cues from you, so if you’re worried about preschool, they’ll pick up on this. But if you show your child that you think they can manage at preschool, they’ll start to believe it too.
If you do have worries, it can help to talk with the preschool teachers. They can tell you how your child is going. It often helps to talk with other parents too.