Is Ending Preschool Even Harder Than Starting It?

Amy Rees
February 28, 2014

When our tiny ones first toddle off to preschool, we agonize about how the first days will go. We take careful note of the separation practices of preschools when we tour them. We ask our friends and neighbors, and we compare their horror (or band-aid quick) stories with what we imagine might be in store for us. We explain and prepare and read to our kiddos, trying to strike a balance between serious and light-hearted, trying in effect to be cavalier about something we know to be huge in their lives.

And then a few years later, our kiddos are preschool professionals. We attend their graduations (or whatever the schools choose to call their ceremonies), and we talk about kindergarten with excitement leavened with just a bit of sweet sentimentality.

Our kids, meanwhile, are emotional wrecks.

Even in the relative comfort of their preschool routines, the children's emotions are running very high. Suddenly, or so it seems, they fall apart at the slightest provocation. They regress, physically and emotionally; the baby talk returns in play or in earnest, and the odd bed-wetting or nightmare shakes the bright springtime night. They can't handle any of the conflicts or social struggles that just weeks earlier they were negotiating with ease. They are grumpy and frustrated and dark. They are both bored and tired, blaming and victimized, eager and clingy. They need time alone, yet they feel loss and departures and separation more sharply than ever. They are just not themselves. 

This parade of horribles is, of course, a generalization—and an amalgamation. But whether visible or not, and whether appearing in multiple or not, it is a near certainty that your child is feeling some anxiety and disruption about the much-discussed move to kindergarten. And most of the books about starting kindergarten focus on what await them there, which is not usually the problem, at least not immediately. What September holds isn't likely what's got your preschool tied in knots. It's the ending that June demands that is so sad.

What can you do? We asked veteran preschool teachers what they do to soothe the frayed feelings of late spring. As usual, we do at home what they do at school, or at least we try.

Scale it down. Offer fewer choices, return to the comforts of routine and predictability, don't push it -- at least not right now. 

Keep it simple. Teachers plan activities with fewer steps or materials. At home, you can be a bit more repetitive and return to some old favorite toys and games.

Allow your child some space. Downtime and solo play are especially welcome in these topsy-turvy times. Balance all the high-energy play with some nice new-agey chill-out.

Go sensory. Play-Doh, water play, cornstarch sludge -- they all got your little ones through the early days of preschool, and they'll work just as well for the last days.

Emphasize relationships. Talk about your family, even the ones who live far away and whose love you feel over the miles. Talk about your own old friends -- friends you saw every day in class and friends you rarely saw but love just as much. Make a photo album, watch a slideshow of pictures, send a letter or two.

Offer help. When playing with friends and siblings, kiddos may need a little more adult help getting started and keeping play going. 

Stick to limits. In uncertain times, teachers tell us that kids need some extra help to regain their resiliency, but they also need to be reassured that the principles of their world aren't changing. The same rules apply, the same consequences flow from bad choices, even if doled out with extra compassion and understanding.

And remember, this too shall pass. Your fragile little darling will soon be skipping happily through the halls at kindergarten, fondly reminiscing about preschool days and how tough it was to leave. By then, maybe your own tears will be dry.



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