Do you remember your first day at school? Did you ever think of the many things you would have to get used to on that first day? Think of your preschooler and the equally numerous details she has to come to terms with: new teacher, big room - think that you are on your knees looking up at a big space - crying children, some of whom are clinging to their moms and dads. And then there’s the daunting strange room called the “toilet” or “washroom.”
Your preschooler will be faced with many unfamiliar things and the questions in her mind will be endless. “Where is the potty room?” “What is my teacher’s name?” “When will my mommy come back?” “When will I eat?” “Why is this child next to me crying?” And many, many more.
So how do you appease your child and help make her first few days in school less intimidating? A few simple strategies may help:
1. Walk with her to the classroom. Schools usually allow this on the first two weeks of the schoolyear. Children need concrete experiences to make sense of their world, and a quick visit will make the concept of “school” more tangible. You can talk to her about the color of the building, the drawings on the classroom door, the many books on the shelves. And, as a fun activity that will take her mind off her fears, together you can count the number of steps from the school gate to her classroom door.
Petty as it may seem to us adults, the short (or long) trip to the washroom commonly called “potty” or “washroom” may be a challenging experience for a preschooler. She may wonder if she will be allowed to go to the bathroom, or if she will have to do it alone. Sometimes she will “hold it in” just because she does not want to say anything to a new person.
A quick trip to the washroom may help solve all her queries. Along with the teacher, walk with her to the washroom from the classroom. Show her where the cubicles and sinks are. Reassure her that she can ask for help from any adult in school.
Similarly, making the ride from your house to the school fun lessens the fear of uncertainty. You can also point out pertinent landmarks or familiar buildings you pass by on the way to the school: “the gas station,” “the McDonald’s restaurant,” “the three stoplights…” You are not only calming her nerves, you are also giving her a lesson in space orientation or location.
2. Talk, talk, talk. Non-verbal children need to hear a lot of words to “fill their vocabulary banks.” Talk about what you’ve seen together, ask about the other children in her class, the toys and new books. And, when speaking to the children, keep in mind that the tone of your voice is very important. Sounding too excited may unnecessarily get your child nervous. “Tomorrow we will both drive to school.” Using a “matter-of fact” tone tells the child that going to preschool is non-negotiable.