For many toddlers, preschool will just be the next step in their daycare experience. But for some kids it’s the first time they’ve been thrust into a structured, group environment. This can be a huge change to their little lives, but there are ways you can help your child be socially and emotionally ready. Here’s how…
1. Get used to new kidsToddlers often feel secure playing with the same select group, but at preschool your child will be mixing with lots of different kids. To help him adjust to encountering and getting along with new people, take your child to a new park or to a different play centre – somewhere where you’ll be able to meet and mingle with people you don’t know. Try to let him find his way and deal with new kids himself.
2.Practise saying goodbyeGoodbyes can be hard on you and on your toddler. It’s worth practising saying goodbye as preparation for those first few big days at preschool, so no more sneaking out when you leave him at Grandma’s or with Dad! Start with clear, smiley, positive goodbyes and don’t give in to tears. Also, practise saying goodbye in new situations, such as leaving him with a trusted friend.
3.Get little fingers movingYour toddler will face lots of fine-motor-skill challenges at preschool in activities like drawing, cutting, pasting and threading. Good preparation is to turn off the TV and instead set up craft, art, construction and similar activities.
4. Encourage independence
Toddlers like to be independent and cope far better emotionally if they can do things themselves, like open drink bottles, do up coats, manage basic toileting and wipe their nose. Your toddler doesn’t need to be self-sufficient, but he can begin to try things himself. It’s a good idea to begin dressing him and then let him try to finish the job, or to introduce little exercises, like putting his plate and cup in the dishwasher. Similarly, guide him in toileting and good hygiene, so he can succeed on his own.
5. Practise sharingWhen in a big group, your toddler needs to be able to share, take turns and wait. In the lead-up to preschool, spend more time on fun games and activities that require structure and sharing and give him loads of praise and cuddles for waiting patiently when you are busy. Try not to give in to tantrums.
6.Build resilienceIt’s natural to be protective of your little one, but he’ll need to be resilient to cope with life’s little set backs and deal with new situations, such as aggressive kids. Now is the time to resist fixing everything and always engineering success. Let him venture into play on his own and don’t step in as soon as challenges arise, but encourage him to bounce back and have another go. Building blocks do fall sometimes, but can always be rebuilt.
7. Don’t be pushyYou don’t need to teach your toddler every colour, shape and letter before he starts preschool! Most toddlers just aren’t ready for such formal learning. The best preparation is to immerse him in natural, diverse learning, such as reading to him, showing him pictures, communicating lots and helping him experience all of his environment.
8. Practise listeningNow is a good time to practise tuning in, listening carefully and completing a job, like putting folded clothes away. Give lots of praise and cuddles for good listening. As well as listening, toddlers need to learn how to speak up, such as being able to calmly tell an adult if they are upset or telling an aggressive child, “Stop, don’t push, I don’t like that!”
9. Have fun visitsVisit the preschool a few times before he starts. Many will hold open days or transition days, or you can even just wander past when the kids are out playing. Don’t big it up too much, just be relaxed and confident, mentioning that some of the fun activities he loves at home are the same ones he’ll do at preschool.
10. Prepare yourselfKeep positive, as toddlers will pick up on your tears and anxiety, and be well informed about how the preschool works, as well as pick-up time. Label everything and pack an extra set of clothes, just in case. Also, inform the staff of any special needs.
Most well-prepared, resilient toddlers love preschool and adjust more readily than expected. If not, have a chat with the teachers.
* Why drawing is great for toddlers
* Building resilience in your child
* Separation anxiety
* Teaching your toddler to share