The Essentials of School Adaptation

Starting preschool is a very exciting time for kids and their families, and it can be just as challenging. Getting used to a completely new environment for the first time in their lives, and leaving the familiar faces, their own toys, and bed, is definitely an important, and brave step for a child – and it should be treated as such. 

Adaptation is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get

The way the adaptation process progresses depends on many factors; from child’s temperament, and his way of dealing with new situations, to family environment, and attachment styles, as well as the school environment. Some of the factors cannot be influenced and will affect the length and intensity level of adaptation. However, there are important factors which can make this transition period as calm and as comfortable for the child as it can be. An important thing for everyone to remember is that every child will experience and react to adaptation differently, and for that reason parents and teachers need to be sensitive to their emotional needs and behavior, by co-creating the adaptation process “tailor fit” to the child. Some children may cry on the first day, for some it may be longer, and the others might disappear into the classroom, eager to start their new magical journey, before their parents have a chance to say goodbye. All of these reactions are natural, and no matter how difficult they might be for the child, and the parents as well, it is a passing phase. Every child will get used to their school, create a bond with their teachers and their friends, and before parents realize, their child will know every nook and cranny of their school, as they do their home, and the school itself, the teachers, the friends, it will all become their second home, the space where they feel comfortable and safe that will offer them a whole new world of fun and discovery. 

Adaptation 101

In general, adaptation takes between one to two weeks, however, it might take longer. In that time it is advisable that parents remain available to pick up their child at any time if the need occurs. In the beginning, child’s stay in the school should be adapted to their comfort level. If a child is ready to stay for the whole day right away, that’s great, and if a child needs for the time in school to progress gradually, starting only with an hour or two, that is also completely fine. No matter the pace, the real adaptation starts once the parents leave. It is important that children get familiar with the new environment, teachers, and new friends. After the first day, when parents are invited to escort their child into the classroom, we encourage the establishment of a routine where goodbyes are said in front of the classroom, as we belive it’s best for the children to get used to the way their stay at school will be.

For some children, the second week might be more difficult than the first, when the excitement of a new environment wears off and a child realizes that it wasn’t just a vacation sort of a deal. No matter the process, everything will truly be okay (and this one is for the parents).

9 ways to make adaptation easier on children, parents, and teachers

In Cherry Tree we have created an adaptation process that makes this transition as pleasant as possible for our tiny clients and their parents. Here are our suggestions that will make parting with children as stress-free as it can be:

  • Prepare your child for what’s to come

Talking to your child about the new exciting adventure, all the friends they are going to make, and all the great things they will learn, will not only prepare them better for this new chapter in their lives, but it will make them eager to learn what this “school thing” is all about. It might also help to visit the school and take some walks past it beforehand, so your child can see the building, the classroom, and meet the teachers – these walks can also be a chance for you to talk to your child about what to expect in school, and what their days are going to look like.

  • The more children know about their school, and what to expect there, the easier adaptation process is going to be

It is good to use role-play as a way of practicing common situations in the school, like “snack time”, “play time”, “story time”, etc., as it provides children with an opportunity to learn about an unfamiliar environment, with different rules and schedules than what they are used to, from the comfort of their own home. 

  • It helps children and teachers greatly if you tell us about your child’s routines,

what they like and don’t like, their way of coping with stressful situations, soothing techniques that work best, and any other information that you deem important. 

  • Bringing a comfort item from your home, such as a favorite toy or a blanket, may help your child with an easier and calmer transition
  • Keep your goodbyes short and sweet

Leaving your child, especially when they are having a hard time, can be heartbreaking, however, if done in a way that brings your child comfort, the stress can be contained.  So make sure you always say goodbye to you child, reassure them that you will pick them up right after work/an errand, and tell them at what time you will come in a way that they can understand (right after lunch for example). Then give them a hug, and a kiss, or create a special secret hand shake, and off you go. Stay strong, the force is with you.

  • Children feel the emotional state of their parents

The calmer you are about your child starting school, the more confident your child will feel to take on this new challenge. If it’s really hard for you to keep calm, a quick and easy technique to trick your brain into thinking that you are completely chill about it is to take ten deep breaths – you can even practice it together with your child (to make it more fun you can pretend to blow bubbles). 

  • One big change at the time

Adaptation time brings along a certain amount of stress for every child, so having a relaxed family environment is all that more important in that time.

  • Adaptation is not a linear process

It’s important to remember that adaptation may resemble more the Cha Cha dance than a scenic walk up the hill. After a long break, like summer holidays or an illness, the adaptation process might start again. Be assured, it will also end again. 

  • Books can be a great tool to prepare for school

Here is a list of some lovely school-starting books:

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
Preschool, Here I Come! by David J. Steinberg
Sounds Like School Spirit by Meg Fleming
The Night Before Preschool by Natasha Wing
What to Expect at Preschool by Heidi Murkoff
Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney

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