Practice these skills to prepare your toddler for a successful start to preschool

Starting preschool is a big transition for children and families alike. For a child, it’s often their first baby step into becoming more independent and an important opportunity to learn new skills that will impact their growth and development. They will explore new activities, form social connections with peers and caregivers, and become more comfortable and confident in their own individuality and identity.

Preschool represents a new chapter of growing up, where your child will have new experiences and struggles that they will face without your guidance, and for many families, this is the first phase of spending time apart.

As with anything new, being prepared can help reduce stress and increase the odds of success for all parties. Prepare your toddler (and yourself) for starting preschool with the following suggestions to empower your little person to do well in their new environment.

Read stories about starting school

Hearing stories is a powerful teaching tool for children that allows them to try new situations and views through the lens of a character. Check your local library for children’s books about starting school and share these stories with excitement and enthusiasm about their upcoming preschool adventure.

Engage in pretend play about school

Children learn through play and may feel more comfortable expressing their emotions through imaginative play. Spend time playing school with your child and exploring different roles such as the teacher, child, or parent. Sing songs, do art projects, read stories, play outside, practice nap time and act out daily routines like saying goodbye.

Visit the preschool

Build a sense of familiarity by visiting the preschool and introducing your child to their teacher. Discuss the daily schedule, point out where your child will keep her backpack and coat, talk about the fun activities your child may enjoy like art activities, and help generate excitement over the playground or making new friends.

Work on self-help skills

An essential part of independence involves the ability to perform small tasks without assistance. Spend time before school starts by slowly giving your toddler more responsibilities with self-care tasks so that they can practice these skills. Work on teaching them how to wash their hands put on their coat and shoes, unpack their lunch, zipping up their backpack, and other useful activities to make the day easier.

Get on a schedule

Keeping a regular schedule is important for young children, but particularly so when they have big days ahead. Establish a regular bedtime, nap schedule, and wake-up times before school starts and try to plan lunch and snacks for a time similar to what your child will experience in preschool.

Make it fun

Add some extra excitement to the thought of starting preschool by allowing your child to choose items that they will be using at school. Go shopping for a new lunchbox, water bottle, backpack, shoes, or clothes and let them begin to cultivate their sense of style by picking out colors or patterns that they like.

Prepare yourself

Chances are, you need to prepare yourself as well. Set things up to run smoothly at home by catching up on laundry, setting out clothes the night before, creating a meal plan, and being ready for calm mornings. Also, get ready to establish a drop-off routine that is familiar, loving, and unemotional each day.

Getting emotional is understandable and acceptable, but don’t show any signs of sadness, stress, or uncertainty in front of your child – put on a confident and happy face, and cry in the car afterward if you must.

Toddlers are incredibly resilient and adaptable, and preschool is full of fun and exciting opportunities. Although starting preschool is a big change for your child, it’s one that will be good for their intellectual curiosity, academic ability, and social and emotional development.

Give your child and your family the best school start possible by being prepared and get ready to celebrate the small successes that new adventures bring.

The Virginia Infant & Toddler Specialist Network helps improve the quality of care for infants and toddlers through extensive resources, services, and education for caregivers. Learn more about how we can help you improve the standard of care.