Our Top 10 Tips to Help Your Child Get Ready to Start Nursery
Is your little one starting nursery this autumn?
You will love our Top 10 tips for a smoother start to this exciting but emotional time in both your lives:
1. Don't start talking about school too early
It will be too abstract for younger kids and they will not understand the concept of "next month." Also, you risk building the experience up to be more stressful than it needs to be. Two to three weeks before school starts you can introduce the concept and start to talk it through.
For example, "when you start nursery there will be a nice slide like this one, and very nice children for you to play with."
You can also encourage your child pick out a special school bag or lunchbox to help them get excited about this new “big kid” adventure.
2. Read children's books about starting school.
When it is time this is a great way to start the conversation as kids see their favorite characters or children who look like them go through the experience of starting school, they will better understand what it means and what it entails. You can start to discuss what it will be like when your child starts school, just like in the book, and can start to address any worries or concerns an older toddler might express.
3. Establish a good routine or "rhythm" to your child's day.
Consistency and predictability will be comforting and help ease the adjustment. School runs on a routine and schedule, so starting to introduce that at home can be helpful. Morning and bedtime routines at home will become all the more important to give a sense of security and will help everyone get where they need to be on-time once school drop-off becomes a regular part of the day.
4. Use visual cues
Toddlers are sensory people rather than verbal, so give them visual cues to help them understand that they will go to school tomorrow. Lay out clothing and a school bag the night before a nursery day so they will better understand what is coming. Have a regular song you sing or game you play on your way to school. Again, routine and rhythm are very comforting to children.
5. Give some thought to your "settling in" approach
Then discuss it with the school in advance. Every child is different so ideally there will be flexibility for individual needs to be met. Visiting the school before-hand with a parent and having some time to play with the toys and meet the friendly teacher can be very helpful. Some kids will need more time than others. In some families it is more stressful for the parents than the child! Make sure you know what your chosen school's policy is on settling in and crying (both the toddler's and the parent's) to make sure it is going to work for your child and you.
6. Expect separation anxiety
Seperation anxiety is a sign that your child is well-attached to you. Every child handles it in their own way, but it is normal and to be expected that being left in a new place with new people will be stressful in the beginning. It can take a month or longer for some children to really feel comfortable at school. Settling in will be a balance between making sure they are not feeling too insecure about your leaving, but also giving them time to bond with their new caregivers while you are not there. Some kids do better when they start with very short days--even an hour or less and then gradually build up to a full day. This allows them to learn that mummy and daddy will always return and that the people at school are kind and loving.
7. While many young children cry when their parents drop them off, the vast majority of them don’t cry for long.
If the teachers are experienced and compassionate and find ways to comfort and engage the child, most kids will only cry for a few minutes. Discuss this with your child’s teacher as you know your child best, and you can ask the teacher to contact you if your child cries for more than a few minutes. You may be surprised, however, at how quickly they can recover from what seems like inconsolable grief at your goodbyes. I found it very comforting to secretly peek through a window to see my previously hysterical child happily sitting on the teacher’s lap or playing with her friends. Be careful they don’t see you though, as that will definitely be the end of the day for them!
8. Some children find it easier to attend nursery every day rather than every other day.
Again, it becomes routine and predictable and doesn't ever come as a surprise. Of course you also have to take into account your own schedule and your budget, but be aware of how your child is adjusting. Again, check with your school to see if there is any flexibility to adjust the days your child will attend if the initial schedule is not working for him or her.
9. Some parents will find that their little one isn't ready at all for nursery.
Find out about your school's refund policy (or deferral if you want to try again at a later date.) Remember: nursery can be a wonderful experience for many kids and if you need it for childcare while you work, a good nursery school can provide excellent care.
Nursery for young toddlers is not NECESSARY however--if your child is not adjusting well and you don't NEED the childcare, consider waiting a bit. Staying home with a parent or other well-known caregiver who is happy to read books, play games, and do fun activities with the child is all an infant or toddler needs to learn. Having the occasional play date, outing and trip to a play area or park is all most toddlers need for social learning. They will have many years (decades) of schooling ahead of them so don't feel pressured to start any earlier than is necessary!
10. Have a back-up plan in place
For those days when your child is sent home from nursery with a fever or a rash or is too ill to attend (read your school’s sickness policy closely!) Understand in advance that the first year in any new school is a time when your child will likely be ill a lot. No matter how clean a school is, kids play in close quarters together and they tend to get all the bugs the first year before their immune system gets used to it all. Be prepared also for unexpected school closures for bad weather, a power outage, a cycling race through downtown which shuts down the roads, and anything else that might come up. Schools will also close for all national holidays and usually also for regular term and mid-term breaks. If you are counting on school for childcare, this can all come as a shock and can lead to some real childcare juggling acts.
We wish you the all the very best of luck with this exciting new adventure!
Be sure to let us know how these tips work for you, and please share below if you have any other suggestions!
Written by Amy Vogelaar
Licensed ToddlerCalm consultant, former Infant and Toddler Unit Manager at a nursery school and experienced mother of 2 .