Ready, set, preschool

As summer moves along, your young child may be gearing up to start preschool. The start of school is a big step for kids and parents alike, so here are some ways to make that transition smooth.

Quell first day jitters
Visit beforehand: Take advantage of an open door policy or orientation and let your new student get a good look at the place. Make sure to point out the stuff he’ll need to know, like where the potty is and where toys should be stowed once he’s finished playing. 
Prepare yourself: Grab a cup of coffee and settle in with whatever literature the school has provided, and really read through it. Make notes and lists, and refer to them while you’re getting ready for the big day.
Dress for success: Make sure your child is completely comfortable—not only in her clothes, but with manipulating them in the bathroom and during outdoor play. Give her some time to practice putting on sweaters or jackets by herself, and beware of anything that has a difficult fastening mechanism.
Do lunch: Let her grocery shop for favorite foods to add to her lunchbox, so she can look forward to that part of her day. 
Stage a dress rehearsal: Give yourself an education by going through the motions of the big day, starting with waking up at the new time, getting yourself and your kids ready, packing lunches, loading the car and gauging traffic to the school. If you have other drop-offs to maneuver, like family members to work, sitters or other schools, be sure to practice the whole routine. And remember that especially those first days, the drop-off probably won’t be a quick thing. Allow a flux of 15-30 minutes for your child’s first day in a new program.
Lunchbox tip
When you’re shopping, be considerate of the teachers who will have to open prepackaged foods and clean up spills and crumbs. While squeeze yogurt and juice packets are cool, they’re also very messy even in the most skilled hands. When packing a lunch, just imagine what the food would look like on the carpet, then stepped on. Apples and carrots? Not too difficult clean up. Cream-filled pastries or spaghetti? Not a teacher’s best friend. Also, note that some preschools don’t allow peanuts or peanut butter on the premises in consideration of kids with severe allergies. If in doubt of what’s allowed, be sure to ask!
Really ready?
Any parent of multiple children will attest to the fact that every child is created differently. Even though your neighbors, friends and family members have kids who started preschool at a certain age and did well, it doesn’t necessarily mean your child will be ready at the same age. If that’s the case, it doesn’t mean there’s a developmental problem. Assess your child’s social and physical readiness, and then talk through the problems with an administrator or teacher.
Social preparedness
If your child shows interest in other children while on the playground, in the supermarket or in other settings, and especially if he’s happy to initiate interaction with other kids and adults, he’ll likely have an easy time adjusting to the social environment of preschool. Since school isn’t just about play and friends, your child should also be able to work—and play—on his own for a short period of time, without being closely monitored. If he hasn’t been in a daycare program before starting preschool, chances are he hasn’t had a chance to learn how to sit quietly with other children yet, so don’t worry if things don’t go perfectly that first week or so. Do remember that preschool is exactly what it means—preparation for school.
Physical capacity
Perhaps the most important thing to consider before starting a school routine is your child’s ability to make it through a day that will probably be structured differently than what she’s used to. From new rules about using the bathroom, new mealtimes and the possibility of losing a naptime, the adjustment is potentially hard for everyone involved.
Give your child a few days of advance notice to learn what’s expected of her in the safe environment of your home. Do ask your teacher for a general daily schedule for the kids and review the rules so your child knows what to expect. And if you think the school’s guidelines might be too difficult for your child, it’s okay to talk to the people in charge of the program for advice.
Take the summer to make learning fun and build a desire to learn cool things. With even an hour a day spent doing fun, quiet things like puzzles, coloring and reading together aloud, your child will come to love learning. Your excitement and positive attitude toward their educational development will help pave the way to success well past preschool.
Elizabeth Osborn is a freelance writer from Youngstown, OH.