14 Tips to Get Your Child Ready for Nursery School
By Katie Beltramo
It doesn't seem possible, but your baby is growing up and about to start school. Here are some steps to ensure that you're both ready.
1. Get familiar with the territory. If possible, visit your child's new school and meet the teacher. If the school isn't accessible, you can still point out the building or wander around the grounds and the playground.
2. Organize playdates. Get together with parents you already know, or ask the school to connect you with future classmates. You and your child will both enjoy school more if you make some new friends.
3. Brush up on dressing skills. When shopping for school, choose clothes based on what your child can put on and take off independently. Find opportunities to practice with buttons and zippers.
4. Go for comfort over style. Sandboxes, water tables, paints, clay, snacktime. . . at nursery school, play is your child's work. Choose comfortable clothes that can be stained without anyone crying about it (or, at least, not you).
5. Double check required supplies. Even if you don't have a shopping list of spiral notebooks and #2 pencils yet, the teacher will likely request incidentals, like a spare set of clothes.
6. Plan a system and space for stuff. You'll be surprised when your child stows items in cubbies and hangs up her jacket. Put that new initiative to work at home by setting aside a spot with low-hanging hook
7. Adjust your morning routine. If your child is a late riser, you might need to shift bedtime and wake-up time earlier. If your child spends mornings watching tv or playing with a device, don't allow acess until he's dressed and fed.
8. Check the policy on comfort items. Does your child have a blanket or stuffed animal that goes everywhere with him? Double check with your child's teacher to find out if this comfort item is welcome, too, or if the "special friend" can wait in your child's cubby or someplace else nearby. Make this plan clear to your child ahead of time.
9. Explain your child's day. Let her know the morning schedule before the first day of school, and explain what will happen at school and when you'll be back. (For example, "First you'll play, then it's snacktime, then circle time, and then you'll go to the playground, and I'll come get you there.")
10. Plan your first-days exit strategy. If you're concerned that your child might cling onto your thigh with a death grip on the first day, ask the teachers how they'd like to handle the situation. Ask well ahead of time, preferably when you're choosing nursery schools. Some schools have a strict "no parents" policy, while others welcome parent visitors and volunteers throughout the year. Find a school with a policy that feels comfortable for you, and then plan to stick to it, or clarify the policy and make adjustments prior to Day One.
11. Expect the unexpected. Children who've always been clingy will sometimes walk away without looking back, while a bold, confident child might suddenly dissolve into a puddle of tears. Try not to overthink what such outlandish behavior might mean. Don't take it personally, and don't worry about what the other parents think. Instead, remain calm, and if you're not sure how to proceed, make eye contact with the teacher.
12. Once you've separated, don't linger. The advice is the same, whether your child is joyful and appears to have forgotten that you exist or your child's face is streaming with snot and tears from sobbing for you: once you've left, stay gone (or at least out of your child's sight) until pick-up time.
13. Support your fellow parents. If you're fortunate enough to have an easy transition with your particular child on this particular day, look around you. Is another parent weathering a tantrum? Can you distract a toddler so that his mom can focus her attention on a good-bye hug to the older brother? Step in today and begin banking your nursery school good karma.
14. Make your own plans for the first day. Arrange to have coffee or a morning walk with a friend. If you have a baby at home, plan time to do something together that's easier to do without your big kid, whether it's a baby playgroup or a run with the jogging stroller. Whether you're weepy over the separation or reveling in your new free hours, you deserve to treat yourself.
© 2021, Katie Beltramo
Katie Beltramo, a mother of two, is Communication Director of Kids Out and About and blogs at Capital District Fun. She sobbed to the teacher in despair over her clingy child at her first nursery school board meeting, and went on to co-chair the nursery school board for two years. The clingy child recently took a gap year across the country when her college went online due to COVID.