Of all the first-day experiences children have in their school careers, perhaps none is as exciting, nerve-wracking, and emotional as the first day of preschool. I know this doubly well: Not only did my own two kids survive that milestone day, but I've also seen the same scenario every year in my own classroom since becoming a preschool teacher five years ago. So I know that parents have lots of questions to ask their preschool teacher on the first day.
As each parent comes into the room, tightly holding onto their little one's hand, I know that they're torn between wanting to let go and wanting to turn around, run back home, and keep their baby close for just a little longer. Moms of crying or clinging children may start getting misty-eyed themselves, and I know without their saying a word that they want to ask: Will my child be OK? Should I stick around just to make sure? (The answers: Yes, they will, and no, please don't; the longer you stay, the harder it will be to help make the transition into class.)
The other question that parents secretly wonder is: Am I making the right choice sending my child to school so young? And for most families, the answer is yes. In fact, there's research to prove that preschool improves later academic performance in high-risk children (per Penn State), helps kids get better grades in high school (according to the University of Oxford), and improves children's language skills (per Boston College).
There are plenty of other things you'll need to know about the preschool experience. Here are just a few to keep in mind as you set out on that all-important day.
What Will The Class Do Today?
That first day of preschool isn't all tears and chaos. Your child's teacher should have a simple schedule planned to help the class settle in. There'll probably be a short get-to-know-you meeting and a tour of the classroom. A typical preschool room is divided into learning centers, including blocks, dramatic play, and math; however, the teacher may restrict access to some centers until the children have been taught how to handle the toys and games respectfully.
The children will learn basic procedures, such as lining up, going to the bathroom and recess area, and preparing for lunch or snack. The teacher might have the class perform a small task, such as making a drawing or handprint as a souvenir of the first day.
How Do You Handle Discipline Problems?
Let's be honest: 4-year-olds aren't always perfect angels. It can be hard to remember not to grab toys, move around during circle time, or cut in front of classmates in line. But a preschool teacher should know how to handle these infractions without being harsh or abusive. Teachers establish the rules of the classroom early on and explain the consequences ("If you can't share the toys in your center, I'll ask you to leave that area and find something else to do"). If the teacher is consistent about enforcing those consequences, the classroom should run smoothly most of the time. Praising children for positive behavior is also a good motivator.
Teachers also know that children's behavior always happens for a reason. If a child has a persistent issue with tantrums or aggressive actions, the teacher will try to find a pattern and address it. For instance, a particular student may be more likely to push or hit if a classmate tries to take a toy out of her hand. Another may be whiny in the afternoon if he hasn't slept during naptime.
Do You Have A Nap Time?
Young children need their rest after a busy morning, so if yours is a full-day program, it's likely that the day will include a quiet period lasting an hour or more. You may be asked to bring a small blanket, sheet, or pillow for the sleep mat or cot. Your child's not a napper? Ask what the policy is for non-sleepers. Some teachers will OK a quiet reading period, while others prefer everyone to be lying down, even if they don't actually nap.
What Is The Lunch Routine? Is There A Snack Time?
Some schools provide a prepared hot or cold lunch, which can be a terrific way for children to try new foods. (I had one student who became a huge fan of kale!) The school will have the menu available in print or online. For children bringing lunch, find out where lunch boxes are stored and whether the school has any restrictions on nut products. Some preschools don't have a snack time; in that case, you'll want to pack a lunch large enough to see your child through the day.
Just like you, teachers want children to be well-fed and well-nourished. But we're not the nutrition police, and we can't control what or how much our students eat. If you don't want your child eating the bag of Goldfish crackers before their sandwich is finished, tell your child directly, or leave the crackers at home.
Can I Come Visit During The Day?
Of course you want to make sure your child is adjusting to preschool and making friends, but your school may have specific policies about drop-in visits, or they may discourage parents from coming in during the first few weeks. A better question to ask is, "What volunteer opportunities are there in your classroom?" Once the children have settled in to the school routine, your teacher may welcome parents to come help out. You could read a book to the class or help set out materials for a science project.
What's Your Late Arrival/Early Pickup Policy?
In some schools, you may need to report to the office first if you're bringing your child in late or picking them up early. Talk to your teacher about any regular alternate arrangement you may need. For instance, I once had a student whose mother needed to pick her up 20 minutes early every day so that she could make it to her older child's school in time for their dismissal. Knowing this, my assistant made sure to have the student put on her coat and backpack at 2:15.
What Is The Dismissal Procedure?
You'll need to know whether to pick up your child at the classroom door, at the school entrance, or another location. Your school may ask you to provide a written list of caretakers whom you've authorized to pick up your child; if there's anyone who should not be permitted on the grounds, tell both the teacher and the school office.
What's The Best Way To Contact You? How Will You Stay in Touch With Me?
Find out whether your child's teacher prefers emails or phone calls, and if she has specific hours set aside for conversations with parents. In turn, make sure the teacher has your contact information, including the best way to reach you during school hours and whom to call if you're unavailable. Some teachers (like me!) send out weekly newsletters either in print or via email. They're a quick way to catch up on the class activities and school announcements.
How Much Are Students Expected To Do For Themselves?
The preschool year is not only about learning letters and numbers; it's a time to start becoming more self-reliant. In addition to helping clean up after playing, preschoolers may be assigned weekly jobs such as passing plates and cups at snack time, watering the class plants, or leading the line to go outside.
By the time children enter kindergarten, they should be able to perform such self-care skills as washing their hands thoroughly, putting on their shoes, and zipping up their coats. Have your child practice at home, and let them hang up their own jacket and backpack at school, even if it takes a couple of tries. You'll be amazed by how much your child will be able to do by the end of the year.