Walk into any store or turn on the TV right now, and there are the ads in all their glory telling us it's back-to-school time. But for many of us, we're nervously awaiting our child's honest-to-goodness "first day of school" when they head off to preschool for the very first time.
How do you know your little one is ready for that step? And how can you help them get ready before the big day? I asked Karen King, a Montessori teacher with 20-plus years of experience (and directress of the school both my kids have attended), for her thoughts. You might be surprised ... I was.
Although I sweated over potty training and "use your words," King says what she looks for before anything else is a child that can leave her parent's side and explore. Although school helps children gain what she terms "emotional independence," some degree of curiosity and emotional security is necessary. Most kids are going to be weepy at drop-off for awhile, but if they can begin to enjoy themselves once they adjust and their parent leaves, they'll be just fine no matter how sad they might seem, she says. Other parents advised me to pay more attention to how they felt at pickup time; if they were happy and calm, things were going fine once you walked out the door.
Overall, it's social skills like empathy, taking turns, behaving in a group, and listening to an adult that's not the child's parent that are most important. "They can pick up the academic skills quickly in the preschool environment," she says. She told me about one boy who started the year having never been with an unrelated caregiver. "He told me, 'I know I have to sit when you talk' and that was the only thing he knew, but he knew it and he did it."
Visiting the school beforehand with your child is never a bad idea, King says, but some kids will respond to it and be excited to return and others will be pretty blase about the whole thing. My outgoing daughter was just fine the first day even though we'd been there once, months prior. Interestingly, though, my much more reserved son was ecstatic about being allowed to stay on his first day, after coming along when we picked up and dropped off his sister for his whole life. In other words, familiarity can be a really good thing.
How did you decide your toddler was ready for preschool?
Image via Amy Kuras