So you’re about to send your precious little one off to pre-K. Both you and your child have all the feels: excitement, jitters, lump in throat. We teachers understand. And since we’ve been there, we have a few bits of advice to make things easier on everyone.
1. Make it a clean break.
Your child may be a tearful hot mess on that first day. Your eyes will start brimming, too. What doesn’t help: lingering at the door, coming back four times for “just one more hug,” or giving in and saying, “We’ll go home and try again tomorrow.” Even though every mothering cell within you is screaming along with your child, the best approach is a cheerful goodbye and a quick exit. Then dab your eyes and grab a much-deserved coffee. We’ll take it from here.
You’ll doubt yourself even more when your child is still crying on Day 2, or 3, or even 12. But after the two-week mark, when the class routine is becoming familiar and friendships are starting to form, you should notice the waterworks drying up.
2. Have a good caregiving system.
Then add a Plan B. Maybe even a C. You’ve arranged to take off work on all the school holidays. You’ve asked Grandma (or Papa or Tía Isabella) to pick up your child at 2:40 sharp every afternoon. You’re all set, right? Wrong. When it comes to kids and school, the unexpected will always happen. Always. Snow days, fevers, babysitters caught in traffic, you name it. On the morning of your all-day staff meeting, you’ll be halfway out the school door when you hear the teacher announce cheerfully, “Remember, we’re dismissing at 11:30!”
So even if you have an established caregiver, enlist an extra relative, friend, or neighborhood mom to be your go-to for those WTF unplanned moments. (And be sure to put their contact info on your emergency card.)
3. Don’t diss us as “just” pre-K.
Parents and friends tell us, “You’re lucky. You just get to play all day.” This. Drives. Us. Crazy. Pre-K is a child’s first school experience, despite the lack of exams and homework. For a preschooler, playing is learning, and our job as teachers is to help them develop essential skills through that play. Behind all the games, block building, and clay sculpting in the pre-K classroom are carefully planned lessons in science, math, literacy, and social development.
Preschool teachers aren’t glorified babysitters, either. Those bags under our eyes come from writing master’s theses and studying for certification exams. We know the difference between Montessori and Reggio Emilia and can quote Vygotsky like a boss. Don’t let the cute earrings fool you — we’re here to educate.
4. Don’t treat us as an option.
Okay, we know you’re going to let your child skip a day once or twice because of a cranky morning or a holiday weekend. But please don’t make a habit of blowing off pre-K because it’s “not ‘real’ school.” If your child only comes to class two or three times a week on average, it’s going to be harder for us to see that he doesn’t recognize letter sounds or that he struggles to hold a pencil.
5. You’re an important part of the teaching team.
You’re an important part of the teaching team. From the moment your child was born, you were his first and best teacher — and that job doesn’t end when schooling begins. We may be giving the formal lessons, but at home, you can supplement that learning by playing board games, counting fruit at the supermarket, or even just going for a walk around the block or at the park and pointing out the changes in the environment. And read, read, read! Those moments spent with The Cat in the Hat or Elephant and Piggie will be some of the best memories you’ll ever make. Together, we can help your child develop the skills he’ll need for kindergarten.
Speaking of reading — don’t panic if your child isn’t reading Pete the Cat all by himself by the end of the year, or if he sometimes skips the number 14 when he counts. Kindergarten may be more challenging than it was back in the day, but students aren’t expected to be experts at reading, writing, and math from the moment the school year begins. We’ll keep you posted on your child’s kindergarten readiness throughout the year and let you know if there are any areas that still need work over the summer.
6. Rethink the fancy wardrobe.
Spiffy back-to-school outfit on the first day? Absolutely! But once you’ve posted the moment on Instagram, go back to the comfy stuff — like sweatpants, which are a lot easier to pull on and off than jeans with snaps when nature calls. Your daughter may adore looking like a princess, but her lace-and-sequin tunic is going to come back home damp around the wrists and stained with paint and yogurt splotches. (Even Cinderella didn’t wear her ballgown to scrub the floor.) Necklaces and bracelets invariably end up being tossed in the backpack or broken from too much tugging.
And while we’re on the subject, check your child’s extra set of clothes every couple of weeks or so. If a spill or accident happens, you don’t want your preschooler struggling to put on too-small pants or wearing a tank top in the middle of January.
7. That extra box of tissues? Yeah, we really could use it.
Count how many hankies your child uses on days when he has a cold or allergies. Multiply that by five days of the week, and then again by 18 children, and you’ll get an idea of how quickly we run through cleaning and health supplies. We know your budget is tight, and you might feel it’s an imposition to be asked to donate paper towels, bleach wipes, and hand sanitizer. We hate having to ask you for them. But school budgets are tight, too, and the supplies we order often aren’t enough to last the year. When all of our markers are dried up and our glue sticks down to nubs, we’re the ones digging into our own pockets to buy replacements. We’ve even been known to pick up other necessities, like winter coats for students whose families have fallen on hard times. So think of that tissue box as an early Teacher Appreciation Day gift. (We have enough coffee mugs, anyway.)
8. When we say there may be a problem, please listen.
The pre-K year is a valuable opportunity to spot the signs of developmental delays before they become major issues. If we notice that your child’s speech is unusually difficult to understand, or that she’s overly aggressive with others, or that she doesn’t seem to listen when adults speak to her, it’s our job to give you a heads-up. Of course, you should trust your own instincts when it comes to your child’s well-being, but at least hear us out. It’s hard for us to tell you these things, but not as hard as it is for a child to enter kindergarten without the help they need to do their best.
9. Bad things will happen.
You’ll be overwhelmed by guilt the first time your child comes home from pre-K with a scraped knee or a bout of diarrhea — I must be a horrible mom for letting my child start school so young! Deep breaths. Crud happens to 4-year-olds, no matter where they are. Some cruds are a little more likely to come up in a classroom environment (like a lice outbreak or a stomach virus), but that doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent or that the school is negligent. And some school-related agonies are unavoidable. Wait until the first time your child wails, “Ava says she’s not my best friend anymore!”
10. There will be tears on Stepping-Up Day.
But this time, they’ll be both yours and ours. We’ve watched your child grow from a shy little one into a confident, more independent young person. We’ve watched friendships form and skills being mastered. We’ve witnessed your child’s excitement at seeing a plant emerge from the soil, grasping a math concept, and mastering a fine motor skill. Now, we say goodbye knowing that we won’t be seeing you as often — if at all.
Five or 10 years from now, your child may not even remember us. All we can do is hope that we’ve helped give our students a solid start in school and instilled some values that they’ll carry on long after their finger-painted pictures and sunflower plants are gone.
But for now — let’s get started!