Preparing your child (and yourself!) for preschool

Child holding their mom's leg

Starting preschool is a big deal. New teachers, kids, toys, routines, and a whole new physical space can make your child (and you) equal parts excited and nervous. Whether or not your child has been in daycare or any kind of play group before, a new social environment will likely take time and preparation to get used to.

There are a lot of ways to prepare for such an important change, but try to keep them all low-key, specific, and honest. Your child’s understanding of time is expanding, but events that will happen more than a day or two in the future might as well be years away for them 🙃 

Here are some ways of supporting your child’s transition to preschool:

Readiness is not the same as maturity

There’s no single way to determine if your child is ready to start preschool. Some schools have eligibility requirements (potty-training is a common one, though it’s not universal), but overall, “preschool readiness” tends to mean different things to different families and schools. 

Preschool is a place where a lot of social learning occurs, so don’t worry if you feel like your child isn’t playing much with other kids yet, has a hard time separating from you, doesn’t know how to share, or doesn’t know how to handle a conflict with a peer. The whole point of going to preschool is to be around other kids, to play, and to learn how to coexist with others in a loving, nurturing environment.

Set the right expectations

You might be tempted to oversell preschool to your child, promising that they will love it. Early Childhood Development Specialist Gabrielle Felman warns parents against setting expectations too high: “the truth is, your child may love preschool, but they also might not—right away, or even after a few months.” You can talk about the positives of preschool without accidentally giving your child the idea that something is wrong with them if they don’t love it.

Instead, Felman suggests talking about what’s universally true about preschool: there will be teachers there to take care of the children, new friends to play with, and lots of new things to learn. A measured approach can help if you’re feeling nervous and excited yourself: “try to speak about the upcoming transition with calm confidence,” Felman says. “Being a steady, calming voice can really help your child understand that other people (the teachers) can love and take care of them, too.”

Talk about it ahead of time (but not too far ahead)

In all likelihood, your child understands that there’s a future (usually “tomorrow”), a past (“yesterday”), and a “now,” but not much beyond that. Once you settle on a school and enroll, consider bringing it up no more than a week or so in advance; anything more than that may be forgotten or worried over.

It’s hard to tell how your child is going to react at the beginning, especially on the first day. Some children walk into school willingly, others might express big feelings and have a harder time letting you go. Your child may seem fine and then start to cry five minutes after you’ve left, or hold it together all day and fall apart the moment you get home. Let your child know that all their feelings are okay: “you might miss Mama (or Daddy, or your baby sister, etc), and that’s okay. It’s okay to feel sad, and it’s also okay if you don’t. You can draw a card for me, or squeeze your stuffie, and you can always ask your teacher for help.”


Young children love enacting scenes from everyday life. At this stage, your child likely sticks to what they’ve seen, experienced, or heard about. Imaginative play, which incorporates fantasy items, will come a little bit later. 

Role-playing offers both you and your child the opportunity to practice some of their new routines within the comforts of home and family. Consider role-playing the following:

  • Drop-off and pickup: whatever the ritual is (a hug and a kiss and one more for good luck; pushing parents out the door; a quick song or mantra, etc), give your child the chance to play both child and parent. 
  • Meal time: try packing a lunch for your child to eat at the kitchen table at home so they can practice opening up their lunchbox.
  • Social conflicts: you can act out common conflicts, like when a toy is grabbed, someone is excluded, or someone gets pushed, and model an appropriate reaction.

Visit (if possible)

Depending on rules and circumstances, your child may be able to go for a visit before their first day. If your new preschool offers this option, a visit can make a big difference—you won’t be dropping your child off somewhere unfamiliar. If this isn’t possible, ask your school if they have videos or photos available to look at.

Involve your child in prep

Starting preschool will likely involve purchasing a few new items or getting things ready at home ahead of time, like a backpack, lunchbox, and extra clothes. Give your child some choices for at least some of these items and enlist their help in getting things ready. This can make your new preschooler feel included in preparing for their new adventure. 

Options include adding labels to their clothes, picking out a backpack if they need a new one, helping you pack a lunch the night before, and picking out what clothes they’re going to wear.


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Posted in: 3-year-old, 25 - 27 Months, 28 - 30 Months, 31 - 33 Months, 34 - 36 Months, Montessori, Fears, Preschool, Child Development

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