By Dana Sullivan
Adjusting to preschool can be tough for any child, even one who's been in daycare for a while. You can help ease your child's transition to preschool with these ideas and activities. The important thing is to keep any preparation time fun. At this age, learning should not be a chore. You don't want your child to feel like every activity is a lesson or every outing an educational field trip. These ideas, from preschool teachers and the U.S. Department of Education's Learning Partners program, will help prepare your child to listen, follow directions, and get along in a group — three of the top goals of any preschool program.
All preschool children have to get along with other kids. If your child hasn't spent much time in a group with other children, then activities such as sharing, taking turns, and playing cooperatively can be very difficult. Help your child get used to being part of a group by arranging playdates with one or two peers or enrolling him in a music or tumbling class.
It's the rare child who isn't at least a little anxious about starting preschool. Resist the temptation to say things like "It'll be the most fun you've ever had," or "There's nothing to be afraid of," and never belittle your child's fears or concerns. Instead, help calm his fears with information. Talk to him about what to expect when he gets to school — where he'll be going, what he'll be doing, and who will be in class with him. Before school begins, visit the classroom together at least once, preferably when other children and his future teacher(s) are there. You can also read stories about starting school. Some good ones to try are Franklin Goes to School, by Paulette Bourgeois; Starting School, by Anne Civardi and Stephen Cartwright, and Starting School, by Janet Ahlberg.
If this is the first time your child will be away from you, he may worry that you're not coming back, or that you'll get lost and won't be able to find your way back to the school to pick him up at the end of the day. Invent a special parting ritual — such as a high-five, or saying something like, "I'll be back to get you soon, long before we see the moon" — that you do each time you drop him off. During the first few days, allow extra time to get him ready and out the door in the morning, too. The more calm things are at home, the easier the separation will be.
And though you might be tempted to sneak out without so much as a wave when you drop him off, don't do it. He will only be more distressed when he realizes you're gone. Instead, make a point of saying good-bye. Don't drag it out or let on that you might be upset, too. Just do it matter-of-factly and confidently and he'll learn to do the same.
Most preschool classes have at least one reading period each day. Setting aside at least 15 minutes a day for reading time will make this a familiar ritual when school begins. Children who don't have early experiences with books often have difficulty learning to read later.
Since preschoolers don't read independently, they need to learn to listen. Reading aloud to your child is a great way to help him develop listening skills. Stories with rhythm are particularly engaging, so look for books that repeat phrases. When he starts remembering the phrases, ask him to "read" with you. For instance, if you read The Three Little Pigs, after the wolf says, "Little pig, let me come in," let your child fill in the next line, "Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin."
Your child will also learn to predict the outcome of a story in preschool. To help him prepare for this, you can stop midway through a reading and question him about what he thinks will happen next, or how he thinks the story will end.
Preschool teachers often encourage their busy young pupils to sit still and listen. You can help your child prepare for this request by occasionally asking him to sit quietly and close his eyes. Then ask him to tell you all the different sounds he hears. Talk about what's making the sounds and where the sounds are coming from.
In preschool, children also learn to listen and follow directions that involve more than one step. Start asking your child to do a series of things, such as take his shoes to his room and put them in the closet. Or go to the bathroom and wash his hands and then come and help you set the dinner table. You can also play games that require your child to listen to directions, solve problems, and take turns. For instance, play I Spy in the car or on walks around your neighborhood. Give hints about something you see, "I spy with my little eye something that is...tall." Your child has to ask you questions about the object until he guesses what it is. Simon Says is another good listening-and-direction-following game.
Creating art — whether it's finger-painting or molding clay — helps preschoolers develop the visual and fine motor skills they need to write. Keep paper, paints, crayons, and other art supplies on hand and encourage your child to create whenever he wants. Doing simple mazes and connect-the-dot pictures will also help your child develop beginning writing skills.
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