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Toddlers Prepare for First Classroom Experience

Preschool directors share tips for smoothing the transition into preschool.

The alphabet and numbers are posted above a craft table where 3-year-old Delilah Covatta enjoys playing. She works on tracing letters and connect-the-dots, and she calls the workbooks she uses her “homework.”

The activities are all fun for Delilah and aren’t done on any set schedule, but they’re helping her prepare for a new adventure she’ll start this fall — preschool.

Her mom, Sara Covatta of Royal Oak, said she’s been talking with Delilah about starting school for months and has been reading her books on the topic. She’s confident her daughter is ready for preschool.

"She doesn't seem worried about school, so I really think she is ready," Covatta said.

But that doesn’t mean the first day of school coming up next month won’t be emotional.

“I think I will be totally sad on the first day,” she said.

A brief, positive drop-off

Starting preschool can be a daunting idea for parents of young children, but according to Julie Matthews, preschool teacher at in Royal Oak, most children transition into their first classroom experience well.

“The day goes quickly, and it is fun,” she said. “There are lots of choices and lots of things to do and people that they can be friends with.

"Sometimes it’s the parents who are more apprehensive than the children,” Matthews said.

Joanne Bierwirth, preschool director at , said it helps to keep classroom drop-offs brief and positive, reinforcing when Mom or Dad will be back.

“It’s very important for the child to realize Mommy has left, Mommy will return, but it’s now time that I look at the teacher — and they start bonding with me at that time,” Bierwirth said. “The longer the parent will stay in the room, sometimes the harder that goodbye is.”

Preschool prerequisites

Preschools often require students to be 3 or 4 years old by a certain date in order to register, and many ask that children be potty-trained before attending.

Bierwirth said preschoolers should be able to take care of their bathroom needs independently, including washing their hands, and should be able to feed themselves if they’re staying for lunch. They should be interested in joining group situations and understand that the attention will be divided among multiple students.

“It’s not a one-on-one situation,” she said.

Smoothing the transition

The most challenging thing for some children is being away from their mom or dad for the first time.

“The transition to break away from Mom is sometimes a very difficult one,” she said, adding that a “mommy call” home can be helpful. "It’s not a frequent type of thing, but for those special times, they need to hear mommy’s voice, and then they’re fine.”

Showing children photos of their preschool and talking to them about the upcoming school year can help ease the transition.

“Just get them talking about the room and interested in the room,” Bierwirth said.

Parents also might consider getting children used to the new wake-up time or morning routine a few weeks before school starts, she said. They should also schedule a doctor's appointment if the school requires an updated health and immunization record.

The in Royal Oak offers a co-op preschool program that utilizes parent helpers on a rotating basis during each class.

“For those families where it works, I find it’s a beautiful transition from home to school because Mom or Dad is there some of the time,” said preschool director Katherine Howell.

Jobs for Mom and Dad

Besides dressing their children appropriately (play clothes!) and getting their little ones mentally prepped for preschool, parents must also get their children to and from school on time, Howell said.

“Nothing’s more disconcerting to a child than having everybody else be picked up and they’re still standing there,” Howell said. “Parents need to be extremely responsible about arriving on time and picking up on time, and that gives the children comfort.”

Parents should also keep children at home from preschool if they’re sick, she said.

“It doesn’t serve the other children very well to be exposed, and if the child is not feeling well, it’s miserable for them," Howell said. "They just need to be home.”

For many schools, that means not attending if the child has had a fever in the past 24 hours, if he or she has thrown up in the past 24 hours, or if he or she has a nasal discharge that’s other than clear, Howell said.

Click here for more back-to-school stories.

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