Sending your toddler off to preschool is an enormous milestone for both of you, and you want to make sure you’re both ready and have done your homework before the big first day arrives. It can be a wonderful experience for your toddler, as he practices independence for the first time, becomes adept at managing social situations, and learns all the wonderful things his special teachers teach him. Or it can be a nightmare that he can’t find a way out of. Which it is depends partly on you.
If you find yourself in a situation that is untenable, you get up and leave. Your toddler doesn’t have that option. That’s why you need to do some sleuthing and make sure the chool you send your child to is as wonderful as it looks on the brochures.
Schedule a look-around visit, preferably with your child, and bring a list of questions you want answers to. Here are some good ones:
• Are all the legal certificates in order? When is the last time they passed inspection? Can you see those papers?
• What is the teacher/child ratio?
• How many of their teachers/care-takers have early childhood education degrees?
• Are parents allowed to drop-in?
• Do they have closed circuit television so parents can watch what is going on inside?
• Is there any curriculum, or is it focused on ‘babysitting’?
• What can you expect your child to learn?
• Is there always someone CPR-certified on the premises?
• What is the discipline philosophy?
• What is the learning philosophy?
• Are there ground rules, and can you see them?
• What is the sick-child policy?
• How much flexibility is there with drop off/pick up times, and days off?
Pay attention to the faces of the children you see there; are they happy, or just surviving? Is the play area and classroom moderately peaceful, or crazily chaotic? If, at any point during your visit, your intuition tells you ‘no, this is not the place,’ just back out of it. There are other kindergarten and daycares, and even if there aren’t, you’ll be better off with a makeshift babysitting arrangement than sending your child to a place when your gut says no.
If there’s nothing that sets off alarms, though, and you are satisfied with the answers to your questions, there’s one more avenue it would be good to research. See if you can connect with other parents who send children to the school, and quiz them with another list of more personal questions. Ask the parents for general feelings as well as specifics of what the child does in class and whether she looks forward to going to school every morning. Ask the child herself if she likes her prepschool, and what her favorite and least favorite things are.
You’ve found the perfect preschool, they have an empty place, and you can send your child starting tomorrow. But should you? Probably not. Toddlers often have a hard time with novel experiences, and your little one will do much better if you do some prepping first.
Over the course of several days, talk about going to school continually. Be completely positive, but keep your information completely accurate as well. Talk about all the fun things your child will be able to do, all the new friends he will make, and all the new toys he will be able to play with. Get some books on ‘first day at school’ from the library, and enjoy them with your child.
Get a daily schedule from the school and share that with your child. If naptime or snack time are at different times than you’ve usually done them, change your schedule to match the preschool’s . You don’t want your little one to be hungry, waiting for a snack, when it’s hours to snack time, and you want him to be able to sleep when everyone else does.
Ask the nursery school what accommodations they’re willing to make to help your child get settled. If your child isn’t used to being away from you for long periods of time a few half days might be helpful before you start full-day; or maybe an arrangement where, for the first few days, mom stays in the classroom for an hour or two in the morning. Not all nursery schools will allow this, though, so don’t be surprised if you are told no.
If you’ve done all your sleuthing and your child is well-prepped the two of you should be all ready to begin a preschool adventure. Have fun!