Besides helping you get work done or caught up on some errands, daycare and preschool present enormous benefits for your child.
“Both offer kids experiences they might not get at home, such as exposure to a larger social environment that can help them learn how to get along well with others,” says Cathy Keller, the director of preschool and infant care center.
Who knew that 18-month-olds could have friends? When kids go to daycare and preschool, their schedule tends to fill up with play dates and birthday parties. Developmentally, kids who’ve done at least a year of preschool are more ready to jump into the learning environment of kindergarten, too.
“Preschool is an environment in which kids have the opportunity to use language in many different ways with others who are at the same developmental age,” says Jennifer Kurumada Chuang, the owner of a multi-grade child care center and preschool that serves 225 children and their families. But, overall, preschool helps young naturally-egocentric kids learn how to exist with others in a classroom.
“Preschoolers learn how take turns, follow directions, pick up after themselves, stand in line, sit in a circle, raise their hand, use their words to express themselves instead of physically acting out and talk when it’s appropriate,” Kurumada Chuang says. “If they master those social skills in preschool, they’re ready to learn in kindergarten.”
All told, your child’s early learning experiences can set the tone for years to come. To help your child prepare for daycare and preschool and reinforce the lessons he learns there, here’s the homework you can do that can make all the difference.
Ace the Drop-Off
Pick the right daycare or preschool. “Separating from mom and dad can be tough for infants, toddlers and preschoolers, though some kids display it more aggressively than others,” says Keller. To make drop-off easier, choose a daycare or preschool you feel good about.
“Parents telegraph their comfort and confidence about the school in so many ways to their kids,” says Keller. If you’re happy with your choice of school and know that your child is in a good learning situation, your child will pick up on your confidence and be okay with it, too, even if he initially doesn’t seem to like going there.
And keep in mind that separation anxiety is often more painful for you than your child. “Children are amazingly adaptable,” Keller says.
Manage morning madness. To help make drop-off at daycare or preschool smoother, take the hassle out of your AM. Try doing what you can the night before, when you have more time to think the next day through.
For example, fill out permission slips, write any notes to the teacher and checks for daycare or preschool field trips and put them in your child’s backpack or lunchbox. Have your child take her bath or shower too.
You can even set the table for breakfast and take out the breakfast cereal, if you want to. You could also check the weather forecast and let your preschooler set out the next day’s outfit.
Stick to a routine. Whether your child is in daycare or preschool, establish a morning routine and stick to it. It might be: wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, has a short playtime together, double check the backpack or lunchbox, and leave the house.
Structured routines give children a sense of control. “When they know what’s coming next, they’re less likely to procrastinate or become anxious about going to daycare or preschool,” Keller says.
Make a morning-routine poster for your family and put it in a common area, such as on your fridge. The poster should outline the order of tasks such as dressing, eating breakfast, putting on shoes and socks and brushing hair and teeth. Use pictures to convey the message.
If your child dawdles even with a set routine, move up his bedtime and his wake-up by 15 minutes instead of trying to get him to conform to your schedule. Also, make sure he gets to bed early enough so he’s more apt to be up-and-at-‘em in the morning.
Keep in mind that infants 3 to 11 months need 9 to 12 hours of sleep at night and a 30 minute to 4 hour nap one to three times a day. Toddlers need 12 to 14 hours of sleep in 24 hours and preschoolers need 11 to 13 hours of shut eye at night.
Don’t linger. At daycare or preschool, say goodbye to your child calmly, give your child a kiss and hug and tell him when you’ll be back to pick him up (such as after lunch or his nap). Then walk out the door and let the teacher give your child some lovies so you can make a quick exit.
At the end of the day, make sure you’re there to collect your child when you say you will be.
“Kids that young can’t tell time, but they will know that if you always pick up after their nap and you’re not there until 5 PM, that’s a big difference,” Keller says. Try to pick up at the same every day, if possible.
School Success Rx
Help your child learn to follow directions. Practice at home by giving simple commands, such as “Please help me pick up your toys and put them in the toy box.” Then, encourage your child to follow through by offering an incentive to do whatever it is you’re asking.
Tell your child that he can play outside once he’s finished putting his toys away. An incentive helps him understand that following directions makes other fun activities possible. If he doesn’t follow your directions and, for example, put his toys away, calmly explain that he won’t be able to play with those toys for the rest of the day or go to the park.
Keep it positive by focusing on how clean the playroom will look when you’re done. Then praise him when he’s successful.
Help your child master sharing and turn taking. From age 3 to 5, children tend to hoard coveted toys and objects. They’re not really ready to grasp the concept of sharing yet. But you can help your youngster practice by having him “take turns” with toys and catching him when he shares on his own.
To help him develop the empathy that true sharing requires, state what he did and how it makes others feel, such as: “Thank you for sharing. It makes your sister feel good when you share the ball.” Your child should be able to “own” special or new toys, though, so keep them out of sight on play dates or in his room away from siblings.
Be There at Pick-up
Focus on your child. When it’s time to collect your time, be really glad to see her. Make sure you’re not on your cellphone or otherwise distracted. “Pick-up should be all about your child,” Keller says. “Your child wants to know you’re super glad to see her and that you’ve been looking forward to it all day.”
Sandra Gordon is a contributing writer.