Daycare and preschool present enormous benefits for your child. “Both offer kids experiences they might not get at home, such as exposure to a larger social environment that can help them learn how to get along well with others,” says Cathy Keller, the director of a preschool and infant care centre. Who knew that 18 month olds could have friends? When kids go to daycare and preschool, their schedule tends to fill up with play-dates and birthday parties. Developmentally, kids who’ve done at least a year of preschool are more ready to jump into the learning environment of Kindergarten too.
“Preschool is an environment in which kids have the opportunity to use language in many different ways with others who are at the same developmental age,” says Jennifer Kurumada Chuang, the owner of a multi-grade childcare centre and preschool. But, overall, preschool helps young, naturally-egocentric kids learn how to exist with others in a classroom. “Preschoolers learn how to take turns, follow directions, pick up after themselves, stand in line, sit in a circle, raise their hand, use their words to express themselves instead of physically acting out and talk when it’s appropriate,” says Kurumada Chuang. “If they master those social skills in preschool, they’re ready to learn in Kindergarten.”
All told, your child’s early learning experiences can set the tone for years to come. To help your child prepare for daycare and preschool and reinforce the lessons they learn there, here’s the homework you can do that can make all the difference:
Ace the drop-off
Pick the right daycare or preschool. “Separating from mom and dad can be tough for infants, toddlers and preschoolers, though some kids display it more aggressively than others,” says Keller. To make drop-off easier, choose a daycare or preschool you feel good about. “Parents telegraph their comfort and confidence about the school in so many ways to their kids,” says Keller. If you’re happy with your choice of school and know that your child is in a good learning situation, your child will pick up on your confidence and be okay with it, too, even if they initially don’t seem to like going there. And keep in mind that separation anxiety is often more painful for you than your child. “Children are amazingly adaptable,” says Keller.
Manage morning madness. To help make drop-off at daycare or preschool smoother, take the hassle out of your morning. Try doing what you can the night before when you have more time to think the next day through. For example, fill out permission slips, write any notes to the teacher and cheques for daycare or preschool field trips and put them in your child’s backpack or lunchbox. Have your child take their bath or shower. If you want to, you can even set the table for breakfast and take out the breakfast cereal. You could also check the weather forecast and let your preschooler set out the next day’s outfit. Give your child choices: “Do you want to wear the striped shirt or the orange one?” “Do you want to wear your blue jeans or sweatpants?”
As soon as you can, “get your kids invested in the process with age-appropriate tasks,” says Mary Robbins, a licensed clinical social worker. To encourage your preschooler to begin to do these things on their own, praise them for a job well done, such as: “Wow! You picked out your outfit all by yourself? You’re getting to be such a big girl!” As your child masters one task, add another task. Eventually, your preschooler can help you pack their snack and their lunch the night before.
Stick to a routine. Whether your child is in daycare or preschool, establish a morning routine and stick to it. It might be: Wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, have some playtime together, double check the backpack or lunchbox and then leave the house. Structured routines give children a sense of control. “When they know what’s coming next, they’re less likely to procrastinate or become anxious about going to daycare or preschool,” says Keller.
Make a morning-routine poster for your family and put it in a common area, such as on the side of your fridge. The poster should outline the order of tasks such as dressing, eating breakfast, putting on shoes and socks, and brushing hair and teeth. Use pictures to convey the message.
If your child dawdles even with a set routine, move up their bedtime and their wake-up time by 15 minutes earlier instead of trying to get them to conform to your schedule. Also, make sure they get to bed early enough so they’re more apt to be up-and-at-‘em in the morning. Keep in mind, infants 3 to 11 months old need 9 to 12 hours of sleep at night and a 30-minute to 4-hour nap one to three times a day. Toddlers need 12 to 14 hours of sleep in 24 hours, and preschoolers need 11 to 13 hours of shut-eye at night.
Don’t dawdle. At daycare or preschool, say good-bye to your child calmly, give your child a kiss and a hug, and tell them when you’ll be back to pick them up (such as after lunch or after their nap). Then walk out the door and let the teacher give your child some lovies so you can make a quick exit. At the end of the day, make sure you’re there to collect your child when you say you will be. “Kids that young can’t tell time, but they will know that if you always pick them up after their nap and you’re not there until 5pm, that’s a big difference,” says Keller. If possible, try to pick them up at the same time every day.
School success Rx
Read, read, read to your child. “Being read to is the single most consistent and reliable predictor of academic success later in life,” says Kurumada Chuang. She recommends reading to your preschooler for 20 minutes every night at bedtime. While you’re at it, stop every so often and ask your child a question about the story before turning the page, such as: “Gosh, why do you think she was sad?” Or, “What do you think is going to happen next?” Making reading more interactive makes it more fun and helps build your child’s comprehension skills.
Help your child learn to follow directions. To help your preschooler get the hang of following directions, practice at home by giving simple commands, such as: “Please help me pick up your toys and put them in the toy box.” Then, encourage your child to follow through by offering an incentive to do whatever it is you’re asking. Tell your child they can play outside, for example, once they’ve finished putting away their toys. An incentive helps your child understand that following directions makes other fun activities possible. If they don’t follow your directions and, for example, don’t put their toys away, calmly explain that they won’t be able to play with those toys for the rest of the day or go, for example, to the park. Keep it positive by focusing on how clean the playroom will look when you’re done. Then praise your child when they’re successful. “You followed my directions so well. Thank you for helping me put your toys in the toy box like I asked you to! That was so helpful.”
Help your child master sharing and turn-taking. From age 3 to 5, children tend to hoard coveted toys and objects. They’re not really ready to grasp the concept of sharing yet. But you can help your youngster practice by having them ‘take turns’ with toys and catching your child when they share on their own. To help them develop the empathy that true sharing requires, state what they did and how it makes others feel, such as: “Thank you for sharing. It makes your sister feel good when you share the ball.” Your child should be able to ‘own’ special or new toys, though, so keep them out of sight on playdates or
in their room, away from siblings.
By Kindergarten, children are capable of sharing well and taking turns. If your child isn’t there yet, help them get the hang of it by inviting a friend over for a cooperative task such as baking cookies. If things aren’t going well, calmly ask your child to sit out. Pretty soon, they’ll get the idea and want to join in on the fun again. You can also read your child books about sharing and discuss them. In the classic tale, Stone Soup, retold by Heather Forest, two hungry travelers make soup from ingredients everyone in the town contributes. What makes the soup extra delicious is the sharing it took to make it.
Help your child make friends. If you get the sense your toddler or preschooler needs a little help in the social department, try hosting playdates with others your child likes or with whom they have common interests. Playdates offer an opportunity to break away from the group and foster individual friendships. You might begin by asking your preschooler: “How about a playdate with Grace? I notice that she likes to draw too.” If you’re not sure whom to invite over first, ask your child’s preschool teacher if there’s anyone in the classroom who might be a good match for your child. Then feel free to go from there and make the rounds so your child gets the chance to know several children better.
To help your child play hostess(e), let them pick the snack and ask them beforehand what games and activities s/he and their friend might like to do. On the playdate, feel free to play along and stay close by to make sure everyone stays safe. But give your child and their friend the chance to play on their own too. To help things go smoothly, keep playdates to two hours; children start to get tired after that. And keep it simple by inviting just one child over at a time.
Practice sharing. From age 3 to 5, kids aren’t yet capable of grasping the concept of sharing, but you can help your preschooler get the hang of it by having them ‘take turns’ with toys and catching them when they share on their own. “Stating what she did and how it makes others feel, such as: ‘Thank you for sharing. It makes your sister feel good when you share your toast,’ helps her develop the empathy that true sharing requires,” says Marcy Guddemi, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Gesell Institute of Human Development. You can also read your child books about sharing and discuss them together.
Hone your child’s listening skills. At the dinner table and during car rides, help your preschooler hone their listening skills by asking them to wait to speak until their brother (or vice versa) has finished his sentence. When it’s her turn, remind her, “Now it’s your turn to talk. Thank you for being patient and for being such a good listener while your brother was talking.” Explain that being a good listener shows respect for the speaker, whether it’s her brother or her teacher and the other students at school who are trying to hear what the teacher has to say. Mention that it’s a two-way street: When she’s a good listener, she’s showing the same kind of respect that she gets when others listen to her. If she continues to interrupt, keep reminding her that she’ll get the chance to talk. Becoming a good listener, like many things, can take lots of practice.
Be there at pick-up
Focus on your child. When it’s time to pick up your child, be really glad to see them. Make sure you’re not on your cellphone or otherwise distracted. “Pick-up should be all about your child,” advises Keller. “Your child wants to know you’re super glad to see her and you’ve been looking forward to it all day.”
Sandra is an award-winning freelance writer who delivers expert advice and the latest developments in health, nutrition, parenting and consumer issues.
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