Transitioning to preschool is a big thing for toddlers. Whether a toddler is going to school for the first time, moving to a different school or even a different classroom. The transition means change – change from the known into the unknown. Something we adults can struggle with ourselves, so imagine how much bigger it feels to a toddler.
Toddlers get used to the things they know and are familiar with. The rules and routines at home or their previous school and having to get used to the same things in a new environment can feel scary and daunting.
How your toddler responds to the transition will depend on their personality. Are they normally gungho – embracing things with big smiles? Do they walk into a crowded room or party and immediately join in? If so they may more easily transition into the new school environment. Alternatively, if your toddler is shy and normally takes a step back, taking time to warm up to new or busy environments, then the transition might be a little nit harder.
How to help with the transition.
As parents, there are things we can do to help with the transition so that our toddlers can be as prepared as possible on their first day.
Discuss the new school.
Your toddler needs to be aware that they will be going to a new school or classroom. This doesn’t mean preparing them months in advance though. Toddlers don’t have a great sense of time, so preparing them too far in advance can just be too much. Let them know a week or two before their scheduled move. You can also show them the school or classroom and if the school offers it, take them in to meet the teacher. If you can’t meet the teacher though you can still prepare them by discussing who their teacher will be.
Read books about school.
Reading some books about starting school and what school will be like will help your toddler learn about what this new adventure will be like.
Let them know what the first day of school will be like.
Letting them know what to expect on their first day is very useful. Will they go in there for just a small amount of time to meet the teacher and a few students or will they be staying the whole day? If you will be allowed to stay there with them for the whole time or a portion of it, let them know. Knowing you’ll be taking them and supporting them will make them feel more comfortable.
Let them know you’ll be coming back.
When you drop them off the first time they will likely feel a bit worried or unsure. To help with the anxiety involved in the separation let them know that you’ll be coming back to pick them up and what you’ll do afterward. I’ll come back after storytime and give you a big hug and kiss. We’ll go home and play together.”
Be confident as you say goodbye.
The transition to school can be just as big a deal for you as it is for them, especially if this is their first time in care outside your home. Though you may be feeling overwhelmed with emotion it is important to say goodbye with confidence. Toddlers look to us to know how to react, so if you are projecting an air of confidence that will help them too.
Understand though that your toddler may feel a little shy and cling to you for a bit. This is okay. Some toddlers need some time to observe their environment before warming up and heading on in. It is important to give toddlers this time.
The transition to preschool is a big transition and being away from parents can be tough, both for you and for your toddler. Each toddler will adjust at their very own pace and this can be dependent on their personality. Being there for your toddler, picking up on their feelings about the transition and letting them express it in a way that works for them will help them get through the transition and grow and thrive in their new environment.