How Parents Can Prepare Their Preschoolers for School

Girl washing hands in the morning
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After careful consideration, you've decided your child is ready to start preschool. You've done your research and chosen a school that you think is best suited for your child. Now all you have to do is sit back and wait until back-to-school time rolls around, right? Not quite.

Before starting school, now is the time to prepare your child for preschool and make sure that they are skilled in some basic lessons that will help ensure they get the most from their first school experience.

Personal Hygiene

When checking out prospective preschools, you need to ask where they stand on kids in diapers. Most prefer that children are potty trained, but some don't mind if the children are, at the very least, on their way to being trained.

If your child is already potty trained, it's important that they feel confident in their bathroom skills. Can they go to the toilet by themselves? Do they know how to wash and dry their hands when finished? Can they pull up and button their own pants?

To foster a sense of independence and confidence, encourage your child to complete a bathroom routine on their own with you close by in case they need help.

Going to the bathroom while at school can cause anxiety for many young children, especially if they haven't been away from home a lot or used a public bathroom frequently.

Children between the ages of 3 and 5 still don't have complete control over their bladder and are still prone to having an accident, often because they get so caught up in whatever it is they are doing that they ignore the signals.

Although the teacher likely will ask students if they need to go to the bathroom at fairly regular intervals, you'll need to teach your child to recognize when they feel they have to go. Also let them know that it is OK to ask the teacher to use the restroom, either by approaching the teacher or raising their hand.

If your child does have an accident at school or is concerned about having one, reassure them that it happens to everyone and the teacher is there to help.

How to Get Along Without You

This isn't really an issue for kids who have been in day care or another organized activity where parents aren't too involved, but for kids who are at home all day, this can definitely be a concern.

It will be much easier for your child to adjust to preschool if they are used to being left with others. Start off easy. Leave them for an hour with someone they are familiar with—a grandparent, favorite relative, or friend—building up until they have spent the whole morning or afternoon with someone other than you.

No matter how OK your child is with spending time away from you, it's important to note that many kids do go through an adjustment period at preschool when they are being left with someone they don't know.

Trust your child's teacher to help them get through this time. This is a situation they handle every year and are quite skilled in it. If you have concerns before or after the school year begins, address them right away with the teacher or administrator.

Eating On Their Own

Even if your child won't be eating breakfast or lunch at preschool, chances are they will be served some kind of snack.

Make sure the preschool teachers and staff are aware of any food allergies your little one has, know about all the foods and drinks that must be avoided, and know what to do if exposure occurs.

Whether you send the snack in yourself or if it is provided by the school, you may want to practice with your child some table-time skills such as putting a straw into a juice box, opening a plastic container or zippered bag, and wiping their mouth and hands with a napkin while they eat.

These practice sessions will also let you see your child in action so you can pack their snacks or lunches appropriately with items that they can open on their own.

If your child is eating a meal at school, find out if they need to know how to use a fork and knife. You might want to review some basic table manners as well.

Basic Social Skills

Aside from preschool itself, it's likely your child has lots of questions about who will be there with them. And although saying "You are going to make so many new friends!" sounds reassuring, a young child may not know exactly what that means or how they are going to do it.

Talk to them about how everyone might be a little uncertain the first day. Relay an instance from your own life about how you were nervous about meeting new people and even try a role-playing game in which they can practice approaching a new face.

Improve your child's social skills by inviting their friends over for playdates or hitting the local playground. Both activities give your child the chance to interact with kids their own age (and let you observe their behavior).

Talk about what good friends do, like sharing and cleaning up. Heap on the praise when your child engages in good behavior, such as taking turns or staying calm when things don't always go their way. Explain how this makes you happy and how it will make their new friends and teacher happy when they behave well at school.

How to Ride the Bus

It's big and yellow and noisy, and it is going to take your child away from home. It's easy to see why kids might not be so fond of the school bus, but if your child needs to ride one to and from school, you'll want to get them used to it now.

Check in with the preschool to see if they offer practice rides, and be sure to take full advantage of them. If you have public transportation in your area, try taking a quick trip on one of those buses. It might not be exactly the same as what your child will ride on, but it will certainly offer a close experience.

Make sure to visit the bus stop before school starts and do a rundown of bus safety. Find out if they'll need to wear a seatbelt, and talk about what will happen once they get on the bus and what they need to do once they get off.

It's likely that your child's teacher will review all of this on the first day or at an orientation program, but to ease any fears your child may be having, it's a good idea to go over it before they start.

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  1. Cleveland Clinic. What to Do When Your Potty-Trained Child Suddenly Isn’t. 2014.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. How to Ease Your Child’s Separation Anxiety. Updated November 21, 2015.