Preschool: If I Knew Then What I Know Now...

Amy Rees
August 24, 2010

Starting preschool is an unquestionably big step, for both parent and child. Now that you've made a decision about which preschool is the best fit for your little one, and now that you've successfully navigated the ugh-don't-get-us-started-it's-so-crazy admissions process, you are looking ahead to what this next stage will be like for your family.

Perhaps you're a bit nervous. Perhaps you're not sure he's going to be ready -- and you're quite sure you won't be! Perhaps you are counting the days until school starts and wondering how you'll keep her very active self occupied until you get help from classmates and teachers.

Here are some Savvy insights for you, no matter where you fall on the joy-trepidation spectrum.

We gathered the resident experts of preschool-dom: moms and dads of recent preschool "alums" (a.k.a. parents of kindergartners and first graders) and asked them what they wished they knew when their families first started preschool. Looking back like the pros that they are, here's what they took away from their preschool experience -- for you to start with!

If you act like preschool is a treat, your child will believe that all school is a treat. No guarantees that it will last through fourth grade, but preschool is the clean-slate chance to frame school as a "get to" and not a "have to." Pay attention to your language, and use the great play (and great work) of preschool to gauge your language as a parent. When your child is home sick from preschool, she "didn't get" to go to school today. Don't be insincere, but do be openly appreciative of just how wonderful preschool is. If (pre)school = fun, then school = fun.

But remember that preschool is not the same thing as grammar school. Equating preschool with all school in terms of tone reaps benefits later on, but there is a sweetness and an ease in preschool that goes missing in grammar school. By all means, take advantage of it while you're there. You can plan family trips without worrying about when book reports are due, you can roll in a bit late in the morning without checking in with the attendance officer. Heck, it's preschool -- if you can't get your child out of his pjs without a struggle one day, you can enlist his preschool teacher's help when you get there, footies and all!

Preschool teachers are roadmaps for parents. Parents and teachers share many of the realities of life with little ones, but teachers have a much broader perspective over time and type of kiddos. Oh, and they have degrees in early childhood education! Learn from them -- ask questions, listen to their advice, mimic their tricks. They are often keenly aware of what your child is ready for when you would have never dared, and they are also more comfortable with the non-linearity and subtle regressions of preschoolers.

Therefore, preschool teachers deserve to be spoiled. They do very, very hard work, much of which is done in ways and at times that a parent simply never could. They do this all for universally low monetary reward. You can therefore feel free to go relatively overboard in terms of your gratitude. Tell your teachers how thankful you are, how crazy about them you are, how profound their influence on your child's little life is. And then bake them a cake on their birthdays. Your child's third grade teacher will, you hope, be lovely, but she'll also be more concerned with his math quiz than your daily expressions of gratitude. Your preschool teacher deals with a child close to or still in the realm of diapers; you really can't say thank you too frequently.

Preschool friendships are wonderful. Maybe they'll stay thick as thieves throughout elementary school, and maybe they'll never cross paths again. But first friends are dear friends, so treasure these fledgling connections. And as complicated as these relationships are, they don't hold a candle to the interpersonal thicket that awaits. All. Too. Soon.

Preschool is a wonderful challenge for your family. It's easy on the other end to think it's all sweetness and light, and so much of it is. But it's tough too, and the first separation and the struggles of learning and getting along that fill every day thereafter are real work for children. And for parents.

So enjoy it for what it is, cherishing both its little-ness and its big-ness. And in that way, preschool is a step in parenting just like all the others.

From the Parents

  • Parent # 1

    I'm thrilled that I am able to be in a co-op preschool program. With a child-to-adult ratio of 3 to 1, we don't really see bullying, biting, or the mean play that I hear about from parents in drop-off preschools. An adult is always nearby to step in and help the children learn to work through the problem.

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 2

    Look for the socializing if you can when you visit before you sign up. Many schools prohibit teachers talking while children are playing. It should be a given everywhere!

    over a year ago

  • Ladybug OnBoard

    If I knew then what I know now, I would have watched the dynamics on the playground and how bullying starts at age 3 and our preschool pretends it isn't there(the teachers all socialize instead of helping kids work thru "mean kids" issues, nor do they even talk to the "mean kids" its too much trouble for the teachers to stop socializing on their bench with each other.

    over a year ago

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