Construction is nearing an end (yay!) for the addition of seven classrooms to our Sunrise East location. Three of those classrooms already have a waiting list, which got me thinking…with many of them being babies or toddlers, there are going to be a LOT of first days. My experience when I dropped off my son in care 16 years ago was hard, and knowing what I know now, it could have gone SO much better. Here are 10 tips to help you prepare for this new chapter in your child’s life and keep things as drama-free and relaxed as possible for you and your family.
I’m assuming that you already have a new care provider set up, but in case you don’t, here are a couple articles that discuss how to choose wisely: a blog post I wrote last year on finding the right preschool or this one if you prefer home care or a nanny. The biggest factor in 80% of our enrollment is word of mouth: they heard about us from someone they know. This should ease your concerns on your child’s first day, after all, you spoke with someone who has already tried them and think they’re spectacular!
Before the First Day
Tip #1: Visit
This is an unknown, a new place where your child doesn’t know the teachers or the environment. So that take out of the equation by visiting at least once before their first day, preferably a few days before to keep it fresh in their mind. Teachers or caregivers who are good will welcome this and appreciate you helping them to get to know your family.
Tip #2: Start adjusting your schedule at home and work
Your child may need a new bedtime because you’ll have to wake up earlier. Or you’ll need to eat breakfast sooner. Whatever the new normal is, experiencing that all in the first day is a lot, so start practicing the new routine at least a week before the big day.
Tip #3: Keep things bland and simple on the homefront
Change is already hard. We humans are typically not big fans of it. One family we had start at Sunrise recently decided to have their children begin with us a full week before moving to their new home nearby, genius! It really helped the children to get to know us and become familiar with their new classroom, teachers and friends before sleeping in a brand new room. So leave the new car or vacation for another time and keep things the same as you possibly can at home.
Tip #4: Talk about the new preschool with excitement at home
Children learn to form impressions from their parents. Speaking positively of the school will comfort them, and so will creating good associations! We have teachers reading books on the video section of our Facebook page. You can have them sit on your lap and watch as their new teacher reads a story! Speak of their teacher’s name when you mention the school, talk about the classroom and what you think your child will enjoy experiencing in it and point out the friends they will make. All of these moments will help your child develop a lasting impression and ease their anxiety. So will asking them about what they liked about their day after they start.
Tip #5: Plan what to bring and if your child is old enough, ask them to help
Besides filling a bag of diapers, wipes and a change of clothes, not to mention labeling them, the biggest item to pack will be a comforting item like a small nap buddy or pacifier. If your child can walk, then they will understand you if you ask them what they would like to bring (make sure to give them choices that are all acceptable). I also recommend bringing a picture of your family. At Sunrise, we have a family wall in each classroom so the children can seek comfort when they need it by seeing your face. Knowing they have something from home goes a long way.
Tip #6: If this is your child’s and your first care experience, try not to make their first day the same day you go back to work
Your first day back at work will also be somewhat stressful, so why combine the two? If you have the flexibility, drop your child off for a few days before you return to work. This also allows you to pick up sooner than you normally would and spend some extra one-on-one time with your child before dinner.
Tip #7: Acknowledge that it’s going to be hard
This is not just new for your child but also for you. I thought I was going to be fine that first day. I underestimated not only that first time, but the couple weeks thereafter (i.e., I learned not to apply my mascara until I reached my job’s parking lot). As I’ve explained to those who are not parents to help them understand what it’s like: you are leaving your heart with someone you don’t know well. No one knows how best to take care of your heart or will protect it as well as you, so accept that your emotions are going to be under pressure. Knowing this will make it easier when you struggle.
On the First Day
Tip #8: Speak often and positively to your child of their new school or caregiver
Older children especially respond well to this, but even if you have a baby, hearing out loud that things are going to be okay means your brain thinks it will be, too! “Ms. Leti is so warm with the other babies in your room. And the classroom has not one but two mobiles to look at!”
Tip #9: Leave quickly and confidently
This is going to be the hardest advice to follow. Your child is looking at you and your reactions to determine how to feel about this new place. The more worried or upset you visibly are, the harder it will be on your child after you leave. Even if your child is crying as you drop off, continue to act as if everything is okay. Walk them inside, say hello to the teacher, put away their things, tell your child you love them and will see them later, and GO. (Crying afterwards in the car is a time honored tradition of first day moms everywhere, so have some tissue at the ready.) We see a direct link between the length of time a parent drops off to the length of time a child continues to cry. Staying longer seems like it would help, but it sadly has the opposite result. Remember, your child is in good hands! At Sunrise Montessori, we send lots of pictures to parents on their first day to show them that their child is not upset and doing well, so comfort yourself in knowing that the first day of drop off will be the hardest part and every day afterwards will be so much better. For tips on dropping off, read my blog on How to drop off your child like a pro!.
After the First Day
Tip #10: Keep in mind that it gets easier with time and experience
One day, you drop your child off and as you leave, you realize your child didn’t cry. Heck, maybe you didn’t do the ugly cry on the way to work. How does this happen? Because you have experience now; you got used to the new routine and you and your child now know your caregiver or teacher better. Trust takes time. So be patient with the process and gentle with yourself. It’s going to be great!
Your family is about to embark on a big new chapter of learning, socializing and growing, so whether your child is starting care for the very first time or switching to a new school, it pays to prepare. As I tell my husband when he asks why I prepare so much for certain things in life, I want to save the drama for a new show on Netflix. And with the right planning before and on your child’s first big day at a new preschool, you can ease into your new normal like the prepared mommy veterans before you.
Sunrise Montessori Preschool has two locations in Round Rock. Interested in learning first hand what we can offer your child? Then book a tour on our website at Sunrise-Montessori.com or call us so you can discover why Sunrise Montessori Preschool is where YOUR family belongs!