By Nancy Schulman, Head of the Early Learning Center
Many parents have asked me how to best prepare their child for starting school at Avenues. While taking mommy-and-me classes from birth or attending the “best” toddler program in the neighborhood can be fun for parents and children, these are not prerequisites for starting school as a three-year-old. In preparing your child for school, it is important to understand the particular expectations of the early learning program that your child will be attending – requirements might vary by class size, length of the school day, and teacher-student ratio.
The most important factor that determines a child’s readiness for school is their parent’s attitude towards the child’s growing independence. Regardless of the type of program you’ve chosen for your child, there are three areas where parents can help children feel ready and confident about starting school:
One of the first steps in being ready for school is being able to separate from a parent or caregiver. For children who have never left their parents’ care before, this is a huge leap. It takes time—sometimes weeks, but more often months—for young children to separate with ease from their parent at the beginning of the school day. Early learning programs certainly have a role in facilitating stress-free separation, but before school starts, parents must fully commit to the idea that their child will benefit from an enriching experience with teachers and other children away from home. Of course, this requires parents to trust the teachers and administrators of their child’s early learning program. Talking openly with teachers and soliciting their advice about the separation process will help parents feel more confident and comfortable with daily separation from their child.
When children are at school and away from their parents, they begin the process of becoming independent individuals. In the environment of the classroom, they can choose with whom to play, whether they want to paint a picture, do a puzzle, be alone or play with a friend or teacher. The self-reliance children learn from this experience leads to a greater awareness of themselves as individuals, empowering them to feel independent and confident in their ability to manage the world outside home. In this respect, separation is also fun for a child, as they take pleasure in adventure, exploration and the satisfaction of their growing curiosity about the world.
Independent self-help skills
In their first year in school, children acquire and master various self-help skills. Without over-burdening their children or expecting instant success, parents can help prepare their child for these challenges by modeling them at home and encouraging children to get more involved in their own care. Some skills that we expect three- and four-year-olds to develop for themselves at our school include:
- Taking off and putting on their coats
- Taking their shoes and socks off and on
- Putting toys away
- Helping set and clear the table for lunch
- Pouring water from a pitcher
- Using the bathroom,
- Washing their hands
- Wiping their nose with a tissue
- Coughing into their elbow
School days are organized to allow for a balance of active and quiet times so children will have the focus and energy they need to participate fully at all times. The daily schedule, structure and routine of school are very important for young children. Children feel safe and secure when they can predict the sequence of the day and anticipate what comes next. Home should be no different. Before children start school for the first time, parents should ensure that they have developed routines for the morning, evening and mealtimes. Creating a healthy bedtime routine is especially important for allowing children to get the sleep they need to come to school feeling happy, confident and energized.
In general, parents can prepare their children for school by:
- Establishing and maintaining good separation routines
- Encouraging independence and age-appropriate self-help skills
- Finding a balance of nurturing and helping them let go of “baby” behaviors
- Allowing children to experience frustration and solve problems
- Encouraging children to try new things and master new skills
- Establishing clear daily routines at home
- Giving children “either/or” choices
- Saying “no,” being consistent and having consequences for bad behavior
- Allowing for time to play creatively and independently with a variety of toys
- Listening to children and having give-and-take conversations
- Planning family meal times
- Reading aloud and being read to from books everyday
- Limiting television, iPad and computer time
- Giving children frequent opportunities for outdoor play
- Modeling polite and respectful behavior for your children
When parents support the growth children in these areas, children feel competent and confident as they begin to navigate the world of school.
Nancy Schulman is one of the country’s most prominent and highly regarded early childhood educators, leaders and authors. She was the director of the 92nd Street Y Nursery School from 1990 to 2011 and has been involved in independent schools in New York City for more than 30 years. Before the 92nd Street Y, Nancy was the admissions director and a teacher at Horace Mann Lower School in New York from 1973 to 1990. Nancy received a B.S. in elementary education from Syracuse University and an M.A. in early childhood and elementary education from New York University. She is the co-author of Practical Wisdom for Parents: Demystifying the Preschool Years (Knopf, July 2007).**is one of the country’s most prominent and highly regarded early childhood educators, leaders and authors. She was the director of the 92nd Street Y Nursery School from 1990 to 2011 and has been involved in independent schools in New York City for more than 30 years. Under Nancy’s leadership, the 92nd Street Y Nursery School was consistently regarded as one of New York City’s very finest nursery and pre-k programs, building a national and international reputation in the process. Before the 92nd Street Y, Nancy was the admissions director and a teacher at Horace Mann Lower School in New York from 1973 to 1990. Nancy received a B.S. in elementary education from Syracuse University and an M.A. in early childhood and elementary education from New York University. She is the co-author of Practical Wisdom for Parents: Demystifying the Preschool Years (Knopf, July 2007).