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4 min read

Starting preschool is a big milestone in your little one's life. It is the beginning of structured learning that will continue for the next fifteen years or so. Preschool is a lot different than spending a carefree day at home or at daycare.


A few ways that parents can help their toddlers get ready for preschool to include things like establishing routines, practicing transitions, and spending time away from mom and dad. Be careful not to over-prepare. It doesn’t take months to get ready to start preschool.


Establish a Schedule

Simply getting ready and attending preschool is a regular activity that your toddler will need to get used to. But even at school, structured learning follows a defined schedule with specific times for learning and others for playing. Help your toddler get used to having a schedule by creating one at home in the weeks leading up to the first day of preschool.


If you already run on a strict schedule, you will be ahead of the game here. For those who have a more relaxed routine, understand that your little one may have a hard time with the transition simply because they are not accustomed to being on a strict schedule.


Create a Morning Routine

How do you spend your mornings? Is your toddler used to watching cartoons? Do they eat breakfast right away? Do they naturally wake up early enough to get ready for school without being rushed? If you need to make changes to bedtimes and wake up times, it is best to do so 2 or 3 weeks before school starts.


Incorporate as much independence in their morning routine as possible. Once they are at school, mom or dad will not be there to hold their hand all day long. Attending preschool will force them to be independent. For some kids, this transition might be more difficult than for others. Build their confidence by encouraging independent activities at home as well.


Toddlers approaching the start of preschool can handle many tasks with supervision. Try creating a chore chart with graphics and stickers that they can check off as they get ready to go to preschool. They can assist or complete activities like:


  • Make their bed
  • Brush their teeth
  • Put breakfast dishes in the sink
  • Get dressed
  • Assemble personal items like their backpack and shoes.


Work on Fine Motor Skills

The transition to preschool will be a little easier if your child has had some experience with the things they will encounter at preschool. Help them practice fine motor skills while simultaneously introducing them to common preschool items like safety scissors and markers.


Hide small objects like beads or gems inside playdough.

As your toddler works to retrieve the items that you have hidden, they will get to practice dexterity. This will help your toddler manipulate small items like buttons and zippers independently.


Practice cutting with safety scissors.

Preschoolers spend a lot of time cutting shapes out of construction paper. There is a little bit of a learning curve to figure out how to hold and manipulate a pair of scissors. Help your toddler get prepared by working with a pair of safety scissors before they start preschool.


Read with your Toddler

It is never too early to begin working on reading skills with your toddler. In preschool, they will focus on reading books by pictures or identifying objects in a seek and find book. As teachers and parents read more complex stories to them, they will develop vocabulary skills and grow their imagination. Both are the first steps to learning how to read.


Do a Few Practice Runs of Saying Goodbye for a Little While

If your toddler usually spends their entire day at home with mom or dad, a short time away at preschool will be a big change. Many little ones will experience some degree of separation anxiety. Parents can help make the transition a little easier by doing a couple of dry runs.


Make arrangements to leave your little one for a play date. If possible, choose somewhere new and a little unfamiliar to really get your toddler out of his or her comfort zone. Establish a goodbye routine where you make it clear that you are leaving and you will be back.


What you are teaching your toddler with this little exercise is that new places are not scary and mom or dad will always come back. A few of these little excursions before the first day can make leaving them at preschool for the first time a little bit easier.


Social-emotional Preparation

Parents of little ones about to start preschool should also prepare themselves for how the transition might affect other areas of family life. How will the preschool schedule change up everyone's daily routine? While it might mean a few hours of freedom for the usual caregiver, it will also mean that someone has to be available for pick-ups and drop-offs.


In addition to obvious changes to scheduling, starting preschool can have a big emotional impact on your toddler as well. As they go through this transition, parents can expect that their toddler might experience a few more tantrums or be extra whiny.


Rest assured that your toddler will adjust to this big change in their little life. Some may need a little extra one-on-one from mom and dad to help them through. Others may just need a little bit more patience and understanding.


As your child faces this transition, be mindful that they are dealing with something pretty big. Although they may have mild to moderate behavior changes during this period of adjustment, you cannot punish the frustration out of them. Kindness and patience will go a lot further in helping them transition than more time outs and harsh words.


The Takeaway…

Starting preschool is a big transition for a toddler. In addition to preparing them for time away from mom and dad, they will have to get used to socializing and independent activities. If you can plan a few activities before preschool starts that will prepare them for things they can expect at preschools like an arts and crafts day or a group library activity, your child will be able to transition a little easier.