If you have a three or four-year-old child attending school for the first time it’s normal to go through a transition period. The length of time needed for a child to fully adapt to the preschool environment varies depending on several factors, but with patience and consistency, parents can assist in making this transitory period in their child’s life run smoothly.
Common Adjustment Issues
The following issues are often major factors in a child's delayed adjustment to the preschool classroom:
—Separation anxiety: Children who have not routinely spent time away from their parents may become upset at the idea of spending several hours a day at preschool. Separation anxiety can cause a small child to cry, act withdrawn, or have emotional outbursts while under a teacher's supervision.
—Experience with routines: Young children who are not used to following a schedule at home may have a difficult time adapting to the daily preschool routine (circle time, lesson time, story time, etc.). Preschoolers who are not accustomed to following directions and cooperating with group activities may need extra guidance when beginning school.
—Personality/social interactions: Some children are naturally outgoing and look forward to meeting new friends, while others are shy and intimidated in the presence of peers. A child who is apprehensive about spending time with classmates due to shyness will require encouragement during preschool social activities.
Time Period Of Adjustment
Children will usually be able to follow the preschool classroom routine with little difficulty after a few weeks of attending school. The timetable of adapting to preschool differs from child to child–some kids do well from the first day of class onward, while others may take closer to a month to fully adjust to their surroundings. The practice of establishing independence from parents may be more challenging for young children who have not yet participated in activities or classes outside of the home.
Children with severe emotional or behavioral problems may require professional assistance in order to succeed in preschool. These children can be evaluated for the presence of developmental delays that prohibit age-appropriate adjustment to the school environment.
How Parents Can Help
Parents can do their part to help a child become comfortable with attending preschool by using a few basic techniques.
—Be consistent: Parents should strive to send their child to preschool on a regular basis (each day that the class meets). When dropping a child off at school, parents can help to ease the separation process over time by saying goodbye lovingly yet briefly.
—Be positive: Before the school year begins and throughout the year, parents should always remain positive when discussing the preschool experience with their child. Parents can help to increase a child's enthusiasm for school by offering compliments on art projects, asking about fun daily activities, and organizing playdates with classmates.
—Communicate: Parents should establish regular communication with their child's teacher so that any potential issues can be resolved efficiently and productively. Talking to children regularly about their experiences at school is also beneficial for ensuring that the adjustment period is going well and finding solutions for social or academic problems that may occur.
Although most children are bound to have some amount of trepidation upon going to school for the first time, parents and teachers can address the child’s concerns with encouraging positive academic and social experiences. When following a few simple strategies, adults can help both shy children and outgoing children truly enjoy the preschool experience.