Once you have determined that your preschooler is ready to start school, you begin to think about getting them ready for their first day of school. School, like any big milestone, comes with some challenges for you and your little one — but with some planning, time, and patience, you’ll be waving them goodbye from the school gate before you know it.
So you know just what you’re getting yourself into… Here are 6 challenges preschoolers may face while getting ready for school and some tips to help you get through it!
Yes, in the next few months, you and your little one will officially be graduating from preschool nerves to pre-school nerves! That is to say, the nerves you both get at the idea of starting big-school. Depending on your little one, they may be super excited to start school, really nervous, or even somewhat oblivious or apathetic about the whole thing. You may even be feeling pretty nervous yourself. Starting school is a big deal after all.
Have some conversations about school
To help with the nerves that come with the idea of starting big-kid school, sit them down and have a conversation about what school is. If they have any siblings who are in school already, it can be great to get them involved in the conversation too. If they are going to be positive, that is. We definitely don’t need any “school is so boring” rhetoric flying around.
Get them involved in the process
As you get closer to the big day, it’s a good idea to get them to try on their school uniform and shoes just so they’re familiar with them. You can also get them involved in picking out their lunchbox or pencil case to try to get them excited for school — because starting school can be a bit scary for our kids, but a paw patrol lunch box and a Bluey pencil case can go a long way.
Visit the school if you can
If you can, it’s a great idea to visit the school with your little one before their first day. Many schools have open days or transition days for kindergartens, so they can see the school, where their classroom is, and where they will eat lunch. Just having seen how a day at school runs can really reassure your little one.
If your child currently experiences separation anxiety at preschool, chances are they could experience it at school too, or may show some apprehension about school at first. Sometimes, children who have never experienced separation anxiety before may suddenly start experiencing it when they start school.
School is a completely new environment for your little one to acclimatise to, so it is not uncommon for them to be experiencing separation anxiety at the beginning. As they spend more time at school and get used to it, you should notice the separation anxiety begin to decrease.
If they are expressing separation anxiety about starting school or experiencing it in those first few weeks, here are some helpful tips.
Tell their teacher
Separation anxiety is very common amongst young schoolers, so it is highly likely that their teacher has dealt with separation anxiety in the past. By letting them know in advance, their teacher is going to be able to keep an eye out for them and will most likely go out of their way to make your little one feel especially welcome. Ideally, over time, their teacher will become someone your child trusts, which will help them feel secure while away from you during school days.
Find them a friend
It’s a huge help when your little one has a friend from preschool, or someone they have playdates with, starting at the same school. But if they are starting by themselves: in those early weeks, listen out for any names of kids they like playing with or sit next to. By helping your child find their friend on the playground before school starts, you can make the leaving process much easier for the both of you. Hopefully, in a few weeks’ time, you’ll notice them excitedly running off to find their bestie before they can even begin to start worrying.
Talk it out, but hold your ground
If your child is worried about starting school because they don’t want to leave you, it is a good idea to talk it out, but hold your ground. By providing reasonable reassurance, you’ll help your child build up resilience and the confidence to go to school without excessive worry.
For example, if they say they have a swirly tummy before school, you can say something like, “It sounds like you could be a bit nervous. It is very normal to be nervous on your first day. What are you nervous about, do you think?” By understanding what they’re worried about, you can help provide reasonable reassurance and support.
Or if they say they don’t want you to leave them, you can say something like, “I understand you don’t want Mummy to leave, but you have to go to school and I’ll be here to pick you up this afternoon.”
While it can be hard to deal with separation anxiety, the longer they are at school, the more confidence they will foster.
Making friends at any age can be a bit nerve-racking and awkward, especially if you’re not a natural social butterfly. When your preschooler learns they will be starting big-kid school, they may feel nervous about making new friends or they may feel sad or hesitant learning they won’t get to see their bestie from preschool all the time.
Make sure to reassure them that they can still see their preschool friends, and maybe try to get their parent’s contact information if you haven’t yet, so you can set up a playdate in those first few weeks after starting school.
Find them a friend… (If you can!)
It’s amazing if your child is starting at the same school as a friend from preschool or someone that they know from play dates. But if not, it’s not a bad idea to reach out to your parenting network and find if anyone knows of someone who is about to start school with your child and then tee up a playdate with them. It can be a big help for your child just to know one person before their first day, so they can find a familiar face in the classroom or on the playground.
If their siblings are already at the school, this can be a big relief too. You can ask their older sibling to show them around the school or to check up on them at lunch time, so they have some comfort before they make their first friend.
Working in a group
While they will already be developing their cooperation skills at preschool, school is a whole new ballgame. School requires a lot of cooperation from our little ones as they will often be working in groups, doing activities as a table, or playing as a group on the playground.
It’s a good idea to check in with their preschool teachers about how well they are currently handling working with other children, so you will have a better idea of how they will handle school. If they tell you that your child is still struggling with teamwork or with taking turns, you’ll know it’s something you can work on with them. Practice makes perfect when it comes to cooperation and compromise, so try to get in some positive experiences before school starts by involving them in a team sport or setting up group activities at play dates.
Focus and concentration
Focus and concentration are two very important skills for when your child starts school. Whilst they have had some practice at home or at preschool focusing on tasks, school can present a big hurdle as it involves longer periods of sitting down at their desk and maintaining focus.
Once again, check in with their preschool teacher about how they have been doing during activities to get a baseline for how they focus when you’re not around. They don’t need to be able to concentrate for very long periods; they just need to be able to sit still when asked and focus on tasks for short bursts of time.
There are ways you can improve your child’s concentration, which you can read about here.
Many parents worry about their child’s ability to follow instructions when thinking about starting school — mainly since they don’t really seem to listen to us half the time! That’s why it can be good to get a second opinion from their preschool teachers or even another parent about how well your child follows instructions at preschool or on playdates. Often, our kids tend to behave a bit better when they aren’t around us as we are their safe person that they feel comfortable to be their full self around, which often means we get both the good and the bad.
If you are still concerned about their ability to follow instructions, try to work with them over the next few weeks by doing instruction-based activities. Whether it’s following a recipe together in the kitchen, building a LEGO set, or breaking out some science experiments.
Hopefully, by going through these 6 challenges your preschooler may face while getting ready for school, you are feeling more confident and prepared about that first day of school. If not, that’s okay — this is a good time to check back in on whether they are ready for school, or chat through your concerns with the school and ask how they can help your child through these challenges.