Ah, now this is a tricky one. As with everything involving children and early education, there are many schools of thought and a lot of research that goes into topics such as this one. Like always, these are just my feelings based on the experiences I’ve had about children adapting to preschool.
What is adaptation?
Firstly, let’s talk about what adaptation and an adaptation program is. The idea behind adaptation is that children should not go to nursery or preschool for the length of their agreed-upon program until they have had a chance to adapt to their new surroundings. This is how adaptations programs came about. In England, I had no experience with such a program, and it wasn’t until I moved to Prague that I experienced different programs and got to see how they work. It is quite common for adaptation programs to vary from setting to setting and I don’t think that there is a “right one”, what’s important is finding the right adaptation program for you and your child.
Some children walk into preschool or nursery on their first day and are fine from the beginning. Other children take a few days to get used to their surroundings, others take weeks, and some take a lot more time. There’s nothing wrong with any of these scenarios and I have met children who fall into each of these categories who all have and are having a great preschool experience.
Should parents be there too?
I apologise in advance to working parents or those who don’t have a flexible schedule but, from my experience with different adaptations, children do much better when their parents are involved in their adaptation.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that you should stay with your preschooler for weeks on end and never let them have their own experiences, I’m saying that their initial adaptation should be with someone they know.
In my previous posts I speak about children “getting on with things”, this is true, but they do need help to do so. When meeting new families and speaking to my colleagues, I can often be heard saying that this is their child’s first experience in a school setting and they may have 15+ years of education ahead of them, so let’s all do our best to make this first experience as enjoyable as possible!
Making a smooth adaptation a reality
So, what can you do, as a parent, to make this enjoyable experience and smooth adaptation a reality? I would first suggest that you, while researching and visiting schools, make sure you fully understand each of their adaptation programs – that is if they have one.
Often a school will brief you about their adaptation program and I advise you to really pay attention to this and take notes. Ask your own questions to make sure that you fully understand before deciding on a preschool or nursery. I have known families in the past who have been very unhappy with how their child’s adaptation was progressing, even though they were made aware of the adaptation schedule when first being introduced to the school.
Here is what I would recommend doing: make a shortlist of nurseries and preschools, go to the initial meetings with questions for their director and teachers to answer, ask to meet your child’s prospective teacher(s) and spend time with your child in the school setting.
Putting it into practice
This may not be possible at any point of the day/year as most nurseries and preschools have a schedule that they stick to. You can always ask to visit during their outside play or at “free play” time later in the day.
Experiencing part of the school day will help both you and your child feel comfortable.
The key is, however, to try and take a step back and be on the side-lines rather than completely involved in your child’s play, as you would when they’re at the playground. Let your child get used to the new place, the activities and the new people. This will eventually be your child’s space and they should get to know it; maybe bring a book or a project to be getting on with while you wait.
In doing this, your child will know you’re close by but not doing anything exciting; this will encourage them to play and explore while still having the security of your presence.
When they’re ready to be there without you
Once your child is ready to be at school without you, make sure that you continue to ease them into it: start with a short amount of time in their classroom/playroom without you. Tell them you’ll be waiting for them and are excited to hear all about what they’ve been up to.
The idea is that you then increase the amount of time your child stays at school each day, so they get more and more comfortable with their surroundings. Time is still abstract to your preschooler and they can’t tell if thirty or forty-five minutes have passed so try and increase their stay by short amounts of time while still increasing their attendance.
As teachers, we often see that children cry when their parents drop them off and are completely calm within a few minutes of their parents leaving. And, as teachers, we’ve all got a few tricks up our sleeves which help children calm down and distract them from missing their parents – which, let’s face it, is totally understandable.
The thing to do here is to make sure that you have an open dialogue with your child’s teacher so that you are aware of all these things.
All children cry! All children have bad days! There is nothing wrong with your child if they don’t “adapt” straight away!
Eventually, whether it be in a few days, a few weeks, or longer, your child will get used to their surroundings and their new school.
I hope that plans mentioned in this post will help you and your child feel comfortable and happy; encouraging them to look forward to going to school every day.
What’s your experience with adaptation? What did you do to help your child get used to school? What worked and what didn’t? I’d love to hear your experiences too!
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