Time to start preschool?

Now, this is going to a long one. Grab a cup of tea while we talk about something I am often asked by parents that have relocated: “is this a good time to start preschool?”

I’m frequently asked by families I meet “how do children adapt to a new school in a new place?”. Remember when I said that they just do? I stand by that statement wholeheartedly but, now, it’s time to look at things a little differently and through the eyes of your preschooler. 

Your child may have never been to preschool before, they may have been to several preschools in several different cities, or they may fall somewhere in between. What they have not done, though, is go to this particular preschool you have chosen in this particular city and we, as adults, must be understanding of that. 

“In your child’s shoes”

In my experience in international schools, the majority of children who start preschool have no experience with the English language whether they are two years old or five years old.

Can you imagine it? Having spent so much of your short life unable to fully communicate what you want, need, think and feel? And now to be put in an environment where you can’t communicate those things again, can you imagine the frustration?

It’s so important that we adults understand these frustrations and don’t pass them off as something else. We’ll talk about language at a different time but I just want you to have this concept at the forefront of your mind in order to put yourself in your child’s shoes. 

Before we go any further, please remember that I am not writing this with the child-who-adapts-easily-to-every-change-and-jumps-right-in-to-new-experiences in mind, as I have met very few of these. I am writing this being mindful of the – dare I say it? – the “average” child.

In my experience, many difficult and drawn out transitions could have easily been avoided if children had been able to spend a couple of weeks at home after moving to a new city and before starting a new preschool. I know, before you come for me with pitchforks, that not everyone has this luxury, but it is so worth it if you do.

As we don’t live in a perfect world and many of you may not be able to stay home from work for a few weeks, I direct you to my post about adaptation for some tips and tricks.

“Take your time”

I had a child in my class about five years ago and she just did not like coming to school. That was it. She cried every day and I, as her teacher, was under pressure at the time from her parents and from my superiors.

Why was she still crying? What was I doing wrong? What were her parents doing wrong? What was the child doing wrong?

Eventually – and I have to say that I was so glad that this decision was made – the child left the school and stayed at home with her dad for the next few months. The reason I was so pleased with this was not, as you may think, that I didn’t have a screaming three-year-old in my class every day (teachers develop an immunity, we really do), it was that I was so happy that we had listened to her. She was telling us something by crying every day and we just weren’t listening. 

I found out, about six months later, that the child had eventually gone to another school and ended up settling down very quickly. I was delighted! This meant that she was finally ready. And it is with this in mind that I’m going to suggest that you just take your time and listen to your child. 

“Mummy and daddy will always come back”

For the most part, I do believe that children cry because they need to; whether that just be as an outlet for their frustration as another child is playing with the toy they want or whether it be because they’re scared or hurt. Anyone who has worked with me has heard me say many times: children do not cry for no reason; they are trying to tell us something.

I’ve had parents worry when their child doesn’t immediately adapt and run to school every day and they ask me “is my child not ready for school?”, “is there something wrong with my child?”, “will they ever get used to school?”. In answer to these questions, I ask parents to do exactly what I am asking you to do: put yourself in your child’s shoes. It wasn’t their decision to move, it wasn’t (I assume for the most part) their decision on which preschool to choose.

They don’t understand adult concepts like “a work or life opportunity came up in Prague, so we’re moving away from Germany”, they understand that you have taken them to a new place, they’re in a new school and they are there without you. 

What we need to teach children is the same as what we teach them in any good adaptation: mummy and daddy will come back.

How can we make things easier?

My suggestion here is that you take your child to visit their new school and look around it themselves; let them be there while you talk to their teachers, let them explore and see the new toys and games and, when it comes to their first official day, make sure that they know you’re there waiting for them.

Don’t push them, don’t be annoyed or exasperated (however hard it may be), let them work their own way through what they’re feeling knowing they’re supported and looked after, let them know that you’ll always come back. 

There are many ways that you can do this and the first one I’d suggest is being open with your little one. Try to start a good relationship with your child’s teacher so that your child feels comfortable being left in their hands. Start very slowly and take your child’s feelings and fears into account.

Make your child see that this is a fun place, explain that you also need to go to work and that this is their job for the day. Don’t talk negatively about school, the teachers or anything school related in front of your child.

Get used to things together

All children, as we know, are different and they handle things differently; some will really benefit from staying at home with you to become used to their new lives. In this scenario, your child has the chance to see you getting to know your surroundings and you can help each other through this, it is a great chance to teach them life skills like going shopping, preparing food, cleaning and deciding where to put things (unpacking).

I think that you will be quite pleasantly surprised when your child starts to yearn for more activities, this could be a great chance for you to introduce them to a new school!

Start with getting your new home ready together, putting things in their place, shopping for new items. Then go and explore your new neighbourhood together, try and find new experiences every day, no matter how small. Along the way, speak to your preschooler and talk about their first day of school, let them know it’ll be happening so that it’s not a shock or surprise to them. If you are starting work as well, tell them this too and you can share your feelings.

This short time that you spend adjusting to your new life will really help your child; if you have the opportunity to start like this, then go for visits to their new preschool, have short adaptation sessions based on the needs of your child and just take it one day at a time, I promise that the transition will be much easier and your child will thank you for it. 

How did your child’s transition to school in a new city go? I’d love to hear any other tips and ticks that worked for you!

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