Starting at preschool or an early learning and care centre (child care) for the first time is a big step and can be a daunting experience for both you and your child. It's important you feel comfortable with the environment and with the educators who will be caring for and educating your child.
For some children, change is easy. They embrace it and will confidently smile, wave goodbye to you on the first day and not look back. For others, it may be the first time they've been away from their immediate family, and it can take some time for them to settle into a new environment and routine. Both of these responses are perfectly OK, and a sign of healthy emotional development.
To help in this transition, we've put together a few tips to support you and your child navigate this emotional time:
1. Visit the preschool or centre several times before you leave your child for the first time so they can start to develop relationships with the educators and familiarise themselves with the space, equipment and toys. The more familiar they are, the easier it'll be when it's time for you to go. Many early learning services offer staggered orientation to suit individual family needs, so ensure you have conversations with your child’s educator about what you believe will work best for you.
2. Prepare your child for the upcoming change. Talk with your child about what'll happen when they go to kinder/childcare and who'll be there to look after them. There are some wonderful books you can borrow from the library to read to your child to help prepare them for starting in a new centre. See below for relevant titles.
3. Building strong relationships with your child’s educators is important. Talk to your child’s educator about any concerns you may have. They will be able to support you in a consistent strategy that will assist your child to settle into their new environment. At times your child may need an educator to support your farewell. Work together to assess the best way for the transition or handover from parent to educator. Each child is different and requires different support, but by working together you and your child’s educator can plan and adapt strategies to meet your child's needs.
4. A consistent and predictable routine at drop off time can help promote a positive separation. A simple routine such as putting your child's bag in their locker and spending a couple of minutes with them doing an activity they enjoy can help a child to feel comfortable. Then let them know it's time to say goodbye. Telling your child you'll be back after lunch/afternoon tea/outside time can help him or her feel secure. Keeping your language predictable (by having a little script) can also be reassuring for the child, builds a sense of familiarity and comfort and learn to predict ‘what comes next’.
5. A comfort item can assist in the transition. If your child has a special teddy, toy or blanket, they use to comfort themselves, ensure you let educators know and bring it along. Transitional comfort items can assist the child to feel safe while they're adapting to a new environment.
6. Be part of the centre! Children love sharing their new space and friends with their family. You could volunteer to help out for a session as educators are always on the lookout for willing parents to spend time reading stories, gardening, cooking, making music, or sharing any other special skills. The more involved you are with the service, the more your child will see you have a strong relationship with educators, which assists them to feel secure and safe.
7. Once you've said goodbye to your child, it is time to leave! Dragging out the goodbye or going back several times because they are upset is not helpful for you or your child. It's hard to walk away knowing your child is upset, but educators are highly skilled at settling children. And the more confident you appear with this routine (even if you end up having a quiet cry in your car after drop off), the sooner your child will develop responsive relationships with the teaching team, and feel settled and safe.
8. But, feel free to call the service to check in with. It's important you're confident in the team supporting your child, and that you're working together in transitioning your child into the program.
With some thoughtful planning and preparation, you can support your child’s transition to their new environment to ensure their early learning experience is filled with exploration, discovery, friendships and fun!