What Your Child Needs to Know Before Starting Preschool

Preschool is a major transition for small children. Even if you're confident that your child is ready, and even if you have all the logistics worked out for getting him or her into the right classroom at the right time, there are still some areas which you may need to prepare for. Here are the most important things for you and your child to work on before that first day of preschool:

Self-Care: Potty Training and Personal Hygiene

Some preschools don't accept students unless they're potty trained (or at least well on their way). Some preschools are more lenient on the issue. Make sure you find out where your school stands ahead of time. Regardless, bathroom skills can cause significant stress and anxiety for preschoolers who haven't had much practice on their own.

You can make a big difference in your little one's school experience by making sure he gets practice in a few key skills. These include using the toilet by himself, washing and drying his hands when he's done, zipping up and buttoning his own pants, and so on. Before school starts, establish a bathroom routine at home. Be there in case he needs help, but encourage him towards independence as much as possible.

Accidents happen at preschool, of course. For a 3-year-old child, using the bathroom for the first time in an unfamiliar environment can be a very scary experience, especially if they haven't had many experiences using public restrooms before. Preschool-aged children, even those who don't typically struggle with toileting issues, don't have total control over their bladders. It's up to you, as their parent, to teach them how to recognize the sensations of needing to use the bathroom. Preschool teachers give their students regular potty breaks, and often ask if the kids need to use the restroom, but make sure your child knows how to ask to go to the bathroom, and that it's okay to do so.

If your child struggles with having accidents, or is worried about having one at school, do your best to ease his anxiety. Let him know that the teacher is there to help him, and that accidents happen to everyone.

Being Apart from You

Some students have a hard time being separated from Mom and Dad, and struggle significantly when dropped off for preschool. Other students have spent a lot of time at daycares or other such activities, and don't struggle at all. Getting your child used to being apart from you before school starts will make his experience a much happier one. Ease into the idea: start with an hour with Grandma, for example, or a close family friend, and gradually increase the amount of time spent apart until your child is comfortable being left with someone other than you.

Even if your child is comfortable being apart from you, preschool will still be a big transition for him, and it may take him some time to fully adjust. Don't stress too much; preschool teachers have had a lot of practice helping children through this transition period. If you do have any worries or concerns that you feel should be addressed immediately, though, communicate them at once to the teacher or administration.

Eating By Himself

Most preschools serve a snack or a meal at some point during the day, so you'll want to make sure that your child practices some table-time skills before the school year begins. He may need some extra help with getting the straw into his juice box, using utensils, or opening bags or plastic wrappers. Make sure he knows basic table manners: using a napkin, saying please and thank you, and so on. As he is practicing these skills, make sure you pay attention. This way, you can pack him snacks and lunches which he can enjoy independently.

If your child has any food allergies, clearly communicate them to your preschool. Also make sure that your child know which foods he can and can't have.

Getting Along with Others

For some children, preschool is the first time they'll spend significant periods of time in a group of other kids. Make sure you teach them some basic social skills beforehand, so they can walk into the classroom as confident and prepared as possible.

If your child is shy or anxious about meeting other children, try to ease his concerns as best as you can. You could tell him a story about your own time at school, and how you were nervous to make new friends too. Get him some practice before the big day arrives. You could go to the park, or to a class at the local library--anywhere that he can get a chance to play with some other children. Teach him about sharing, being kind, and cleaning up, and provide lots of positive reinforcement for good social behavior.

The School Bus

The school bus can be quite frightening for children, which is why some preschools offer practice rides before the school year starts. Check to see if your school is among these, and take advantage of the opportunity if you can. This will ease your child's anxiety a great deal when the first day arrives. If your school doesn't offer practice bus rides, take a little trip on a public bus together. It's not exactly the same as a school bus, of course, but it should make the whole idea of riding a bus much less alien to your child.

You'll want to double-check that your child knows about bus safety. Does your preschool's bus have seat belts? Does your child know how to put a seat belt on by himself? Your preschool will likely hold an orientation meeting which will go over these details. The more you can prepare your child in advance, the smoother the transition will be.

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