Soon your child's eyes will glaze over when you say “It's time for school!”—that is, if you can get him to roll out of bed at all. Right now, though, there's nothing more thrilling to him than the idea of heading off to a classroom. You're probably feeling emotional about it, too. “It's a time of letting go,” says Amy Spangler, director of learning and development at Knowledge Universe, a global education company. “If you're confident, your child will be, too.” So take some steps to pave the way for happy macaroni-sculpture mornings and arts-and-crafts afternoons.
Think back to the last time you walked into a room full of strangers at a cocktail party. How was it? Intimidating, right? That's just how a child can feel walking into preschool for the first time (minus, oh we surely hope, the Cosmos and little black dresses). So give the best possible idea of what he'll find when he gets to class, advises Sarah Connor, lead preschool teacher at Learning Brooke school, in Cranston, RI. Read a few books together about what preschool is like; a couple of popular choices includeMaisy Goes to Preschool and What to Expect at Preschool. Or let Elmo give your kid the DL by popping in the Sesame Street—Ready for School DVD. And speaking of comfortingly familiar faces, it helps if your child is able to spot a few at school on his first day. If you don't know any of his future classmates, Connor says, “ask the school for a list beforehand, if one is available, and contact a kid.” Connor suggests one-on-one getting-to-know-you playdates, either at your house or on neutral territory, like at a nearby park.
Another great idea is to find a neighborhood kid who already attended (and liked!) your child's preschool and is willing to talk about it, adds Spangler. “He can share everything he enjoyed about the experience, and your child may feel more comfortable asking him questions than he would when he's speaking to an adult,” she explains. If the bus will be picking up your little one, visit the stop where you'll wait together.
Many schools also offer a “preview visit” shortly before the start of the year, says Lisa Andersen, a teacher at KinderCare in Westmont, IL; do your best to be there. Either the entire class will be present or about half of them. (To make it less intimidating, the school may split up the group into two different preview visits.) It's a valuable chance for your child to spend about an hour meeting some of the kids he'll soon be making Duplo towers with, as well as getting to know the teachers and aides. If he's reluctant to leave at the end, that's not a bad thing! See if the teachers will let him take home a small toy or a book, as long as he promises to return it on opening day. It'll give him something to focus on, and he'll feel like a big kid if he lives up to his responsibility and hands back the knickknack on his first day like he promised.