Mommy Minute
Preparing For Preschool
By Rachel Greene
Feb 1, 2002 - 11:31:00 AM

A Montessori preschool. Jenna Skarzenski / Canyon News
LOS ANGELES There comes a time in a stay-at-home mom's life when she realizes that her kids won't be with her all day forever. That time came for me last winter (2001). Ryan was going to be three in March and we were working on potty training, both of which made him "ripe" for starting preschool in the fall of 2001. I generally loved being with him all day, every day, but some things were changing. I was expecting our second child in April, and frankly, the thought of two kids all the time was a bit overwhelming. But, more importantly, Ryan needed some change. He is a very creative, bright boy and I thought some new things in his life was important. He also needed to become more independent from Mom as well as to learn to socialize with other kids. Although I struggled with the idea of "letting go", it was an important step for both of us. Below, you will find my thoughts on preschool that may help you from your search to the transition into "letting go".

The Search

~ Start looking NOW if not yesterday! Many preschools have their fall enrollments booked up by the spring so the longer you wait the less likely it will be that you will find a spot.

~ Call preschools and have them send you their brochures. This way you can weed out any that don't match your criteria, whether it be tuition, hours, class-size, methods, etc...
~ Listen to word-of-mouth. Ask neighbors, friends, family, church members, etc. for their preschool choices. Luckily, I had a niece as well as a friend's children that went to Ryan's preschool so I knew quite a bit about it.

The Criteria

~ Think through ahead of time what you want your child to get out of preschool. I personally wasn't so concerned about any academic exposure. For me, it was the socialization and breaking free from Mommy.

~ Try to look for places that are exclusively preschools; ones that aren't attached to day cares. From last month's article, you'll know that I'm not too keen on day care centers. Those that encompass a large age-span often have preschool programs. I just personally think that the program will be better if preschool is the only focus of the staff.
~ You'll want a small teacher-student ratio. Ryan has two teachers and 16 kids, and it works out really well.
~ How often do you want your child to go? For me, two mornings a week for 2 hours was plenty for both Ryan and me. If this is your child's first "outside" experience, please try not to overwhelm them with an every day, even all day program. Children are in school long enough throughout their lives, so keep in mind that they are kids first, especially at the young age of three.

The Visit

~ Visit the schools. Most schools welcome 'drop-in' visits and I'd be concerned if they didn't. However, if you want to have time to ask the teacher questions, you will also want to schedule a visit.

~ During the visit, watch the kids. Do they seem happy? How do the teachers interact with them? Is the room/environment friendly? What's the overall 'vibe'?
~ Take your child with you. Schools often let visitors jump into the activities or at least play with some of the toys. This may come in handy for the transition part later.
~ Ask questions about policies with discipline. Do they use time-outs? What do they do if a child is physical with another child? What do they do if a child is habitually 'naughty'?
~ Do they require that your child be potty-trained? Most do, but sometimes they allow Pull-ups.
~ Ask what the children's typical day consists of? I personally like that Ryan's preschool has some structure; kids need to know what to expect. However, some parents might want more of a 'free' environment.

The Transition

~ Once you've chosen the preschool, I think it's very important to prepare your child in advance of that first day.

~ Talk about the school but don't be overly exuberant. Instead of saying "you'll have the best time there!", say things like "I think it will be fun to paint pictures at school".
~ Mention things that your child may have seen or done on your visit.
~ Listen to your child if he or she talks about not wanting to go, or is scared and say that it's okay to feel that way. Tell your child that new things take time to get used to.
~ Tell your child that the teachers are friendly and are there to help. If this is your child's first experience with teachers, don't assume that they know how to interact with them. Tell them that they can ask the teacher questions, etc...
~ Ryan's school had a "sneak-a-peek" day. The week before the first day of school, a time was scheduled for kids in his class to come and see the room. I made a point of introducing him to some of the kids. I also talked to the teachers so that he could see that I was comfortable with them. If your school does not have such a thing, suggest it or at least ask to visit the school again with your child.
~ Find books about going to school, being away from Mommy, etc. One great book is called "The Kissing Hand". It's a wonderful lesson about how a parent's love is always with the child even if they aren't there. Sniff.
~ On the first day of school, be prepared to be as nervous and/or upset as your child; just don't show it! I confidently walked Ryan into his classroom, said hello to the teachers and sat him down next to one of the kids to whom I'd introduced him and they started playing. If your child is okay, which was the case with Ryan, don't linger. Say good-bye (DON'T sneak out!!!!) and tell him you'll be back to pick him up at whatever the specific time is (in our case, 11:30). It's reassuring for the child to ask the teacher when mommy will be back and have them hear the teacher say the same time that mommy did.
~ Go to your car and cry. It's okay. I did.

That first experience away from home is a big one both for the parent and child. If you put a lot of thought and preparation into where and what that experience will be, it can be very positive in the end. Ryan loves preschool and has grown in many ways because of it. Good luck when it's your turn and I hope my information will help!

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