I once attended a workshop in which the speaker shared with us how she begins every school year. She sits the parents down and tells them what the children will get from a year in preschool. They wait on tender hooks, with their pens and papers at hand, and she informs them, “lice.”
The children will in fact get love and care, opportunities to learn how to share and take turns, and an understanding of how to be part of a larger group. Yes, they may also get lice and strep throat, and are sure to pick up some bumps and scrapes along the way. The ending will be wonderful; only sad because this part of childhood comes to a close. The children will get so much from their preschool experiences, but how about that “very happy start?”
The commercials are on television and all of the stores are full of Back to School advertising. To a child entering preschool for the first time, the biggest question is what is school? This unknown can cause anxiety in young children. A three-year-old lives on the border of real and imaginary. The ability to straddle both worlds allows for amazing play, also can result in a child’s deeper feelings of anxiety.
What can you do as a parent? Play it down, treat going to school the same as serving Tuesday’s pot roast. Tell Grandma, Grandpa, and Aunt Susie to stay away from the excited about school topic. Joshua Sparrow, child psychologist and coauthor of Touchpoints 3 to 6, suggests visiting the classroom and teacher before school starts. If this is not a possibility take your child to the school playground. Also, do not hesitate to send your child’s favorite lovey (Teddy, blankie, etc.) to school in the backpack, something that can be visited and hugged during the day when your child is missing home. Finally, assure your child that you will be coming back, you always come back.
You may also choose to read some books about going to school. The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn is one of my favorites. Check with your local library or bookstore for their recommendations. If your child is not showing signs of trepidation, steer clear of books addressing the nervousness of going to school and read something fun like Pirates Go to School, by Corinne Demas.
The first day of school arrives; your child has you in a death grip and is finally separated in a fit of tears. It is ok. Your child will be ok. Stick to your regular goodbye routine the best you can and leave. Your child may be in tears, you may be in tears, but take a breath and remember that the experience that your child is about to embark on, preschool, is going to be part of a “very happy start” in life.
Written by Monica Acker, who teaches the 3 year old program at PCC.