Many of us are starting the process of researching preschools in Orange County. There are so many questions that come up during the process (when to start, potty training requirements etc). I asked Sara Hooper, Director of Mission Montessori in Mission Viejo to answer a few of the preschool preparation questions that I see pop up frequently on our discussion board. Sara graciously took the time to share with all of us some advice and tips on starting the preschool preparation process. Check out my interview with Sara below.
What is the ideal age to start my child in preschool?
This really varies depending on each child's personality. Some children are very independent and are ready by the time they are two. Other children are not ready until three or four. Two year olds are typically still very egocentric and have difficulty sharing, being empathetic or separating from the parent. By three, the child is generally mature enough to understand when mommy says, "I'll be back after lunch" and trust that this is true. Three-year olds also desire friendship and are more willing to compromise in social situations. That being said, my oldest son's ideal age was around three and my younger son was more than ready by 22 months.
What are some activities or I can use at home to prepare my child for preschool?
As a Montessori educator this answer is easy: independence, independence, independence. I observe children every day and those who are the happiest, most interested in learning from their environment and have the easiest time in preschool, or life for that matter, have been given opportunities for responsibility and independence. Maria Montessori says "Never do something for the child that he can do for himself." In real day-to-day life "never" may be unrealistic but it is certainly a critical reminder in how to raise a confident human being.
By giving your child daily tasks you are saying, "I respect and believe in you. I know that you are capable." By 22-months, believe it or not, most children can use a small pitcher such as a creamer filled with water to pour into the cats bowl or milk to pour into his/her own cup. It is an extra step for you and perhaps a little messier at first, but as your child matures you will be so thankful that you have instilled responsibility. Give your child his or her own dustpan and broom to help with sweeping, a spray bottle w/ water to clean his or her table after eating or for watering the plants. All of these things seem little but in the grand scheme of the life of the child or simply the adjustment to preschool, they are huge. The child that is given independence is more confident and observant of his surroundings which is key to a successful start in school.
Do you recommend that children be potty trained before starting preschool? Is it a requirement?
Every schools requirements vary. In our program we have an early preschool, toddler program, for children ages two to three in which potty training is not a requirement. If you feel that your child is ready for preschool before he is potty trained I think that beginning in the toddler program is a wonderful opportunity. Our teachers will work with you during the toilet training process. After observing signs of readiness parents are invited to sit down for a "Potty Chat." At this time, the teacher will discuss our techniques and overall philosophy and give this to you in writing so that everyone is working as a team for the best interest of the child. For many children, being in the company of fellow potty-training peers and being in a structured preschool routine can be very helpful in the training success.
Do you know if there is educational research that supports children starting preschool at an early age?
There is an abundance of long-term research showing the benefits of quality preschool and its association to the increase of long term success. Studies show that the child attending preschool is more likely to have a higher income, is less likely to be involved in crime, more likely to graduate from college and overall have a happier life.
However, "quality" preschool is the key factor in the positivity of this study. One of the concerns I have, for example, in the universal preschool movement is that politicians may push quantity over quality and this could potentially backfire in our desire to provide long-term benefits. A quality program should have low teacher to child ratios, educated child development specialists, and opportunities for children to develop at their own pace.
What can I expect with regard to my child's first few days in preschool? What can I do to prepare myself and my child for the separation?
Again, every child's first experience will be different. Some children have a harder time than others. I encourage parents to be open and positive when discussing preschool long before the start date.
We have a "Meet and Greet" prior to each semester where children meet their teacher, visit the classroom, etc. Parents are also welcome to arrange to visit a few additional times during our outdoor playtime, for example, to get their child familiar with the environment.
Let your child know that on the first day you will be dropping them off. If you appear confident so will your child. Of course you may feel a little bit sad and anxious but FAKE IT!
When arriving at school let your child walk holding your hand instead of being carried. Let them carry their own lunchbox or backpack so that they feel like a big boy/girl. Drop your child off with his/her teacher and don't drag out the goodbye process as this will only send a mixed message. Give him/her a big kiss or hug and let them know when you will be back. Always come back when you say you will (ex after lunch, after snack) and never sneak out even if you think your child will cry. The teacher will comfort your child if he/she cries and as hard as it sounds this is an important step in their bonding process. Feel free to call and check on your child or to pick-up early during the first few days.
Are there any educational milestones a child should meet before starting preschool?
Prior to preschool there typically aren't any "academic" requirements that are necessary. We are looking for development readiness such as being able to follow simple directions, sit in circle and communicate clearly.
Any other information you have for preschool preparation?
In general, be light-hearted and positive. Let your child know what to expect and be realistic. Discuss with your child the importance of listening to the teacher and being a good friend.
Mission Viejo, CA, 92691