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How to Have a Successful First Day of Preschool – A Parent’s Primer

I’ve always loved everything about the first day of school. The freshly sharpened pencils, spiffy new backpacks, and happy anticipation. But as a mom of a preschooler, I’ve recently learned that the first day of school isn’t all about shiny school supplies and big smiles – it can be a huge challenge for our littlest students.

Everything is new, separation can be difficult, and no one is quite sure what to expect. As parents, we have the opportunity to help prepare our preschoolers emotionally and physically for a successful start. With a little extra thought, strategy, and creativity, we can give our children the confidence and preparation they need for a smooth transition.

Autumn Chavez, the Director of Frisco’s beloved St. Philip’s Episcopal Preschool, shares with us tips and tools for a great start to the school year. Ms. Chavez believes that a positive start to the school year is extremely important as it can set the tone for the whole year. She acknowledges that the first day can be tough for kids and parents, noting,

Sometimes the parents have a harder time than the kiddos! My teachers do a great job of loving on the child while helping them realize they’re in a safe and fun place and that their parents will be back.

Her job, she adds, is to reassure parents with hugs, encouraging words, and often a text later in the day of a happy and tear-free kid. Ms. Chavez and her team at St. Philips are experts at leading positive and loving transitions.

We’re delighted to share a few words of wisdom from their team – and we’ve added a few fun Lifestyle Frisco ideas to help put these tips into action!

You Write the Headline

St. Philips Preschool: Begin talking to your child about school in positive ways. Mrs. Chavez encourages parents to start talking about school a few weeks before their child starts. This gives them time to become excited about starting school.

Tell them about their new teachers and how they will get to make new friends. Make sure they also know that you believe in them! Let them know you love how smart they are and that you’re excited about the amazing things they will be learning about the world and about themselves.

Lifestyle Frisco: Show your headlines in action! Consider a “ride-along” to drop off an older friend or relative at their own school. Your preschooler will benefit from seeing a role model friend who is excited about their new teacher and new friends!  Nothing speaks louder to little ones than watching an older child they admire bouncing into school with a big smile!

Get into the Routine

St. P: Before school starts, begin having your children go to bed at the time they will when school begins. Get your child up early and go through your morning routine at least five days before school starts. It can be difficult for some children (and parents) to adjust to going to bed and waking up earlier after the summer months. A little practice can make a big difference!

LsF: Make getting up more fun with special breakfasts on those first early days. A smiley face on a pancake can go a long way! Get creative and think of fun ways to make getting ready more like a game – “racing” with siblings, dancing to funny music or earning small rewards (like stickers) for getting up and ready on time.

Let’s be real – no one is going to pull off personalized pancakes and dance music every day of the year, but keeping things fun, lively, and positive can make a big difference, especially in the beginning!

Get Comfortable

St. P: If your preschool offers Teacher and Me appointments, make every effort to attend. These meetings are the perfect time for your child to become familiar with the school, their classroom and their teachers. St. Philips believes these short meetings go a long way towards helping children be comfortable on the first day of school.

LsF: Encourage your child to make a special homemade card for their teacher, drawing a picture of themselves and telling their teacher about their favorite things. This will help your child feel known by his or her new teacher and more emotionally invested in the process.

Get Excited

St. P: Shop for school supplies (backpacks, lunchboxes and nap mats) together. Allowing your child to pick out new school supplies will help them feel excited about the new school year.

LsF: Splurge on a few special outfits or articles of clothing that your child finds exciting. Be it sparkly sneakers or superhero underwear, have something special and “just for fun” to wear on that very first day.

Get Ready on the Inside

St. P: Plan and shop for healthy breakfasts and lunches. Remind your child that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and let sugary foods and drinks be for special occasions.

LsF: Go grocery shopping together and let your child pick out special snacks or favorite foods for lunches. Engaging your child in preparing lunch (and making that a fun activity to share) will help to build excitement and ownership, and possibly make things easier for you!

Great Expectations

St. P: Help your child know what to expect when school starts. Let them know that you’ll bring them to their classroom with everything they need and that their teachers will be very excited to see them.

Help them understand that the teachers will love them and take great care of them. Make sure your child knows that you’ll give them a great big hug and kiss before you go and that you will pick them up ready to hear all about their great day!

LsF: Discuss the class schedule and routine with your preschooler. Put yourself in their (tiny) shoes and anticipate anything that might cause anxiety (for example, what to do right when they walk in the door, how to introduce themselves to a new friend, how to tell the teacher they need to go to the restroom, how to open a bag of chips at lunch). Working through these small routines can make a big difference in creating comfort.

If there are tears…

St. P: You can help your child learn confidence in themselves when you show and model confidence in them. Ms. Chavez, herself a mom, notes,

I understand what it does to the heart of a mom to see her baby upset, but if they see that you’re upset or you linger too long, it usually makes it harder to separate.

If your child is tearful and clingy in the classroom, remind them that you love them and know they will have a great day once they get settled. Then, let the teacher bring them into the classroom. Getting sucked into the “one more hug” or “a few more minutes” or staying in the classroom with them almost never makes things better.

What does make things better is finding out that school really is fun that they really are okay. Ms. Chavez shares that the separation difficulty, while tough to watch, is usually very short lived.

What I’ve noticed is after five minutes or so the child stops crying and engages with the rest of the class.

She reassures parents that their child is in a safe and loving place and encourages parents to let them go with love and confidence.

LsF:  Many children just need to get over the idea of separation and establish a trust that it’s temporary and Mommy and Daddy are coming back. Work with your child on the sometimes tricky concept of time by giving specific and understandable benchmarks.

Instead of saying, “I’ll see you at 2:00,” try saying, “I’ll be here to give a big hug after you go to the playground, eat your special sandwich, and take a nice nap on your new mat!”.

Also, if your child isn’t accustomed to separation, consider practicing in another environment, like at a friend’s house or a place of worship. Once your child understandings the concept, it will be easier to replicate (plus any negative feelings about separating won’t be focused exclusively at school).

Hang in There

Cheer up, preschool parents! Your little ones are starting off on a huge adventure and you can give them the special gift of a happy and confident start! Here’s to a great first first day of preschool, Frisco parents!

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