Between our five kids--two who start kindergarten this year--we have experienced sending four of them to six (going on seven) different preschools. Quick....do your math! That's a lot of preschool--lots of applications, tours, teacher meetings, tuition, etc.
Beginning preschool is a big deal. We're guessing it's a bigger deal for you than for your child. Preschool is so many things for both you and your child. It may mean extra time for you to run around like crazy getting errands done kid free. (Hey, don't blow this off it's worth every penny of preschool tuition to grocery shop in peace.) It may be time for you to spend doing things you love--working out, working, crafting, cooking, etc. It could mean an opportunity for Big Baby to get a little time to socialize without you around. It's amazing the things they do when mom isn't hovering. It may mean time for you to be just with Little Baby and finally take that baby Gymboree class.
Preschool is also launches the next 18 + school years of your child's life. Your whole year will now operate on a school schedule. You will slowly be sucked into all the school politics. And you will soon learn that it really is all about the teacher....more than the school. You will even learn that as smart as you thought your kid was, there are probably four others just as smart.
In preparation for this new year, we'd like to offer up a little bit of advice for all you preschool novices--especially those who may be sending two kids this year. Yippee!!! This advice provides more than the normal...."take lots of pictures." You already know that, but don't forget the charge the camera!
Getting your child ready. Every child is different so it's hard to know what will help yours be ready for school. My son would skip off ahead of me the minute we pulled up to any of the FOUR preschools he attended. He could care less about new kids and teachers. As long as there were toys and a sandbox, he was good. My daughter was a bit more hesitant about school, but I slowly realized it was her inner drama queen coming out and most of it was a big ploy for attention. One of the best things to do to get everyone ready for school is to actually visit the school. Go play on the playground. Take a tour and do it more than once. If you can arrange a playdate with a few other moms at your school, that's bonus. Then do whatever extras you need to do to get YOUR kid ready for this event.
Potty training, anyone? So most schools require kids to be potty trained for the three-year old programs. Ok, here is the secret. They are ready to deal with accidents so if your kid isn't quite there, don't be afraid to send him anyway. I had one friend who sent her halfway potty-trained daughter to school on the first day and lied about how "trained" she was. She had accidents for two of the days and by the third the other half was done. Peer pressure is a powerful tool! Nothing sucks worse than a few days of peeing on yourself in front of other potential friends. If your child is almost there, send A LOTof extra undies and keep your fingers crossed. If you're down to the last few days on this, you'll have to rip it off like a really painful Bandaid and just do it. If it's between going to school and not, choose the sucky weekend to get your kid halfway trained and off to school.
Orientation/First Day of School. Now we know it's not practical to think that you can do this solo with your kid every year, but if you have ANY chance at getting 1:1 time with your preschooler at orientation/first day.....please, please take it. What are we saying here? TRY not to take younger siblings with you to orientation or the first day of school. It's very simple. Orientation is often where you have a chance to ask questions and talk 1:1 with the teacher about your child. We have both done these events with younger siblings because there's often no way around it, but even if you could get a friend to take your younger child right outside the door of the school while you get the older one settled it will really make a difference. In fact, I have done this twice. When we have "meet the teacher" before school (usually 15 minutes to chat with the teacher the week before school), I have begged another mom to just watch my daughter/son run up and down the hallways while I actually focus on the other child.
Car line. Many part-time preschools have car/carpool lines. I'm pretty sure this invention was designed by a Baby Buncher. I can't tell you how many times (in Sweden where it's Ok to do this) I left the car running while my youngest started her morning nap. I would dash into school and drop off Alex without having to lug in the infant seat. (No, this is so no OK to do here, I know.) Car pool line is fabulous. Drive up. Kiss kid goodbye. Teacher helps him into building. Perfect. The downside to this is you may never get to see the inside of the classroom, get face time with the teacher or see your kid in action. Try to find a way (about once a month) to actually walk him/her into school. This excites your kid, gives you a better feel for the class and lets the teacher know you're interested.
Make your own preschool friends. Preschool is not just a chance for your kids to make friends, but for you as well. Cara and I have both made some wonderful friends through preschool. Cara even ended up joining the church that houses her preschool. Why is this important? Well, when the teacher asks for volunteers and you feel obliged to help with the Halloween party, you might need another mom to watch Little Baby while you parade around the hallways with your 3-year old.
However, don't feel pressured to get involved. You have many, many, many years left of school to get involved. Baby Bunchers already juggle way too much, literally, in the early days. I cannot stress this enough...don't let schools push you into volunteering. It always takes more time than they say and with kids close in age, it's often hard to be a room parent, make a ton of phone calls, organize a food drive or plan a yard sale. Let someone else do it. Yes, it's OK to be the slacker.
Get the class roster and calendar. Ask your preschooler about his day, and he'll tell you they had snack. If you're lucky, maybe you'll find out they went outside. They tend to not be a chatty bunch beyond recess and snack. Get a class roster from the teacher and start asking about the names on there. Same with the calendar. The more you know about about what they are supposed to be doing and who's in the class the more you can cajole them that the highlight really wasn't apple juice and goldfish.
Happy New School Year! And as always, we welcome other suggestions for getting ready for school.