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3 Tips For a Happy Preschool Experience

Somehow every year I forget just how challenging the first few weeks of school really are. Not just for the children, but teachers and parents too.

Separation anxiety, stressful mornings, limit testing, and sads…oh so many sads.

Change can be scary all by itself. And when we have no idea what to expect, it can be nerve wrecking.

As a preschool teacher, I am often the first person caring for a child beyond parents and family. It is a role I do not take lightly. I love each child like they are my own. But during those first days, they could care less how much I adore and respect them.

We are coming to the end of the fourth week today. We had a tear free drop off, adventurous outdoor play, great transitions, all children eating the same meal, all nappers sleeping, and friendships clearly developing.

So how did we make it here?

1. Rhythm/Routine

I have created a daily and weekly routine that gives the children rhythm. The daily routine is a “breathing rhythm”, offering an alternation between concentration and expansion. Just as we need to inhale and exhale deeply to feel relaxed, this type of schedule helps the child to feel grounded.

An ” inhale” could be eating, painting, drawing, nap… During this time the child needs the support of an adult. Not because they are not capable of doing it on their own, but because they need to feel your presence and know that you
are there for them as they begin to relate to themselves.

The exhale happens during free play, outdoor adventures, running…here they develop their relationship with the outside world. This is a great time to do the “real” work of the home like cleaning, cooking, folding laundry etc. Children play best next to an adult doing work they can imitate. I often have children asking me to help. They take great pride in their sweeping, dusting, and dish washing.

For parents who are saving all of the house work for nap time, Stop!

That is time for you to rest as well.

You too need the balanced breath of the day.

Many parents resist the idea of a routine because they are already experiencing a loss of personal freedom. But, I promise you that so much freedom and peace comes in for everyone when you are not making decisions moment by moment.

You know where you are headed, so when things go off track you have the ability to improvise.

For example, lunch happens at 11:45 every day. You have been running errands all morning, look down at the clock and see 11:23. Oops! Your child is in the back already expressing their frustration. But you know why. There is no time to drive all the way home and cook. So you assure your child you are on the way to have lunch and pop into a cafe.

All is well. Melt down avoided.

Mornings can be the toughest.

Do what you can the night before. Choose the clothing and lay them out. Prepare and pack lunch. Make sure water bottles are filled and backpacks are ready.

Here are a few things you can do to set your family up for success:
  1. Create a bedtime and morning ritual. I will share my daughter’s as an example.
    • 4:30 bath time, pjs, free play or help make dinner
    • 5:30 dinner
    • 6:00 potty, wash up, brush and floss teeth
    • 6:15 stories and snuggles
    • 6:30 lights out
  2. Connecting first thing in the morning when she wakes is HUGE. It sets the tone for the day.
    • 6:30 am wake up and have 10 minutes of connection/ snuggle time.
    • 6:45 get dressed, brush hair, wash face
    • 7:00 breakfast together. Even if though I just have coffee, I sit with her and be present.
    • 7:20 free play time for her while I prepare some things for the day.
    • 8:00 get ready to meet our friends outside in the park for school.

Honor the meal and rest times through the weekend

2. Boundaries.
Firm, calm, loving boundaries.

I hold the boundaries for the children very consciously. I know why they are there and that helps them to feel loved and protected.

Setting limits for children is not mean, it is loving.

Conscious parenting is about teamwork and cooperation, not about control. There will be times where you find yourself in a place of wanting or trying to control your child, it is ok. The first step is bringing awareness to when it is happening so you are able to make a different choice.

As you enter into setting limits, notice when you get triggered. Make note of the feelings and thoughts that you have in those moments.

Also be aware of your default pattern. This could be anything. It could be you want to threaten punishment if they don’t listen, you want to walk away, it could be you want to offer a bribe, or that you go to logical explanations. Just notice what it is for you.

So much depends on where our energy and minds are at in the moment. And we want to help our child to understand why they need to stop. We want them to feel the actual boundary that you want to put in place-without feeling shamed or dismissed.

Your child is learning from you how to be in relationship and will use your model for every future relationship they engage in. If you find yourself setting a boundary on something one day and letting it slide the next, the child will not be able to respect it. Exhaustion can set in when we are making decisions moment by moment each day. Another reason to build a daily and weekly rhythm.

The most challenging boundary I have to set in the preschool during those first weeks is nap time. Especially if the parents have not done it home. For days nap time can be a cacophony of tired protests. Whines, tears, requests for strollers, and claims that they are not tired.

But, as the adult, I know this is what is best for their physical, mental and emotional health. So I am not triggered or stressed by their release. I breath deeply and sing soft lullabies. I offer each, one by one, whatever they need to settle. A back rub, foot rub, an extra blanket…

Then sit in meditation. It is rest time for me too.

My presence in the room holds them. This is what we are doing now. There is no question.

After only a few days, they all go into the nap room without protest, hug their lovey, and are asleep within 5-15 minutes.

If we want our children to cooperate, we have to go through connection, not control.

3. Empathy, empathy, and more empathy.

There are many ways we teach our children to shove their big emotions down. We have so much of our own stuff we haven’t dealt with that a child’s tears can triggers us beyond belief.  But these tiny beings are learning how to navigate these big emotions and need our support to see that they can make it all the way through them and be ok.

It seems counter intuitive to talk about the exact thing that is causing the upset. The number one go-to is distraction, closely followed by dismissal.

Children just want to feel heard.

When a child is crying after separating from a parent, I hold them and confirm their words and feelings.

” I hear you, you want daddy to come back. It is time for him to go to work and
you feel sad about that right now.”

Once the big feelings have been acknowledged and expressed they will move on naturally.

For example, a boy was crying on my lap after mom had left. He was saying that he wanting to go home and pet his dog. I told him that I understood that he loved his dog very much and that petting his fur would feel so nice.

“Yes”, he responded, “I want my dog!”

He then calmed down and started telling me how he loves to throw sticks so the dog can chase them. I smiled and he smiled back. The next moment he was off my lap and playing with the other children.

When your child is sharing feelings with you, don’t dismiss them.

The most common responses to a child when they say they don’t want to go to school is, “You are going to have so much fun!” Or “Well, you have to go, so I don’t want to hear it.”

Allow your child the space to express themselves. Validate their feelings.
This doesn’t mean you are giving them the choice to stay home.

When you pick up your child from school, this is also an “exhale” for them.
One of the greatest gifts to offer is a quiet car ride home. By this I mean, try to refrain from asking your young child questions. It can be very stressful for them when they have had a long day at school and needing to relax and connect to you.

An honest, “Hi sweetheart! I am so happy to be with you now.” along with physical connection is good. As you begin your journey home, notice what bubbles up naturally in your child. If they are quiet, then they really need that time to “digest” their day.

Arriving home is the perfect time to connect. Take some time to sit together for a snack, or snuggle on the couch. They have missed you too. After you have reconnected you can talk about the evening plan, which will help them flow into bedtime

Many Blessings on your school year!❤️

-Christina

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Comments

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  2. I like how you mentioned how important empathy and validation are for children. My daughter is getting old enough to start preschool, so I want to find a good one for her to attend. I know she really values being heard and understood, so I’ll definitely look for that empathetic quality in the teachers and choose a preschool based on that.

  3. I loved your tip to set up a routine to help the preschooler adjust. The more of a routine they have, the easier it will be for them to feel comfortable with the changing environment. It would help my toddler adjust if he had friends that he could spend time with at school, so I plan on finding other people going to the same preschool.

  4. I love your suggestion to include time to connect. Like you mentioned, being able to connect one on one sets a good tone for the day. When taking them to preschool, making time to connect after school may be a good idea.

  5. I’ve been wanting to find a way to help my son succeed in preschool. I didn’t even think about establishing a routine! That way he can get used to that kind of thing, since he’ll have to use routines throughout his school career. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I really like how you talk about having an adult pay attention to the kids as they do their activities at preschool. I think that it is really important that the kids know that you are there for them, especially when they are already away from their parents. When I have kids, I’ll have to make sure to find a quality preschool that has teachers who really take time to pay attention to the kids. Thanks for the great tips!

  7. My sister is starting to teach preschool and so I really think that what you have to say about boundaries makes a lot of sense. I really like how you make it clear that nap time isn’t an option by staying with them. I think that is a great way to focus on connection rather than control and so I will make sure to pass that on to her.

  8. Cute little preschoolers can be a sweet handful! I like your routine with a set time for each activity/task that needs to be completed. If there are not routines it can be difficult getting your child used to going to sleep or waking up or a number of other things. They could keep you going until 12 at night! Boundaries are good for children and they help establish rules so they don’t end up driving you crazy. And, like you say, it is not mean to set boundaries but loving.

  9. I like your tip to be aware of my default pattern. I normally want to walk away, but I also realize that it’s not the best reaction. When looking at pre-k schools for my daughter, I like to ask how they are with punishments and how they react. Thanks for the advice.

  10. The section you wrote about empathy was very insightful. I’ve never thought about a child’s tears being a way for them to navigate big emotions. I’m going to start working on this with my preschoolers. I’ll try some of the suggestions you mentioned for showing empathy to children, thanks.

  11. When you are trying to develop your children’s skill it can be difficult to know where to start. It seems like it would be smart to look into a preschool. I liked your tip on creating a morning ritual for your child before the go.

  12. Author

    Hi Justin, it will serve your daughter and the whole family to have ritual and routine from the beginning. Of course, it will change slightly as she gets older. Moving from 2 naps to 1 nap, etc.
    I have been an early childhood teacher for 10 years and had incredible mentors that I worked with to design a routine that works best for this age group. I would be happy to share it with you if you are interested.
    If you know the preschool she is going to go to I would ask the director to send you their daily schedule.
    It will serve her so much to have a streamlined experience from home to school and back again.
    For example, if nap time is at 12:30 at school, but 1:30 at home, it will be hard for her body to adjust.
    A great place to begin is with meals. It is good to offer healthy food every 2 hours. Breakfast at 8, healthy snack at 10, lunch at noon, nap, snack at 2… with no random snacking in between to create healthy eating habits.
    Then you work on rest times and bed time happening at the same time. Make sense?
    Children love ritual!! Adding a song, lighting a candle, being fully present in whatever activity you are doing helps them to feel safe. Knowing where you are headed also helps you out when things go off track.
    If you have more specific questions, please let me know! Happy to help:) christina@littlesprigs.com

  13. Author

    Hi David, Yes! Setting boundaries is such a gift. It lets the children know what is negotiable and what is non negotiable and brings so much freedom. Any behavior you are seeing in a child (touching, hitting…) is an attempt to meet a basic need. In order to find out what that need is, you have to look past the behavior, not focus on it.
    It could be so many things, especially in a preschool environment. They are just beginning to learn social play. Sometimes a child will hit because they are unsure how to enter into a social situation. Sometimes they need more space. Sometimes they have built up stress or tension.
    A good thing to remember is that at this age they do not have the ability to remember all the “rules”. Expecting them to behave according to an abstract conversation is beyond their ability. The most powerful thing I can do as a preschool teacher and parent is to model for them how to come together and work through conflict. I sit with them and give them the language they need to work through it instead of lay down the rules or solve it for them.

  14. Setting boundaries with your children seems like a really good idea to me. I know that sometimes younger kids may not understand that touching and hitting can be inappropriate sometimes and this might make preschool a tough lesson. You’ll need to sit down with them and let them know that these things are not good and will help them have more fun at preschool. Thanks for posting this awesome info!

  15. Thank you for this help. My daughter will be starting preschool soon. I love your emphasis on getting into a good routine and schedule. How far before she starts preschool should we start getting her into that schedule?

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