It’s Not Just for Kids
by Debra Garfinkle
Photo courtesy of Gratitude Garden Preschool
Preparing Your Child for Preschool
Some children may view preschool as the strange, scary site where Mommy abandons them. But most children consider preschool to be a fun place to learn exciting things and make new friends. What accounts for these differing attitudes? According to Dr. Mary Herzog, a psychologist with Laguna Family Therapy in Laguna Beach, the most important predictor of children’s happiness in preschool is the attitude of their parents. If parents are anxious about preschool, their children will pick up on their mindset and become anxious too.
In order to reduce anxiety, parents should choose a preschool they feel comfortable with. Terry Fierle, the director of Temple Beth El’s Early Childhood Education Center in Aliso Viejo, advises parents to talk to the preschool’s director in order to build trust in the school. Fierle says that policies may vary widely among schools, so parents should look for those that fit their needs and the needs of their children.
Stacy Constantian, the director of Kensington Montessori Preschool in Laguna Niguel, believes that almost all children can adjust to preschool as long as their parents trust the school. Constantian does not expect a great deal from children starting at her school. She mostly wants them to be curious and feel confident about school. Fierle agrees, noting that the preschool will teach children social skills, conflict resolution, and other skills.
The biggest problem Fierle sees with new preschoolers is separation anxiety. Fierle says that children should learn to trust adults besides their parents before starting school. She advises parents to leave their children with a babysitter or other caretaker a few times before they begin school. Another option Fierle recommends is a Mommy and Me class in which parents participate with their children, but also spend a few minutes each week in separate rooms.
Priya Ardis, a Ladera Ranch mother, read picture books to her two boys that sent positive messages about school. She and her sons especially liked The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, in which Chester Raccoon’s mother helps him conquer his fear of starting school in the forest.
Amy Fox, a mother of two girls in San Clemente, arranged playdates with her children’s preschool classmates so they’d feel more comfortable in school.
Fierle’s preschool, like most, gives families a parent handbook that details how to minimize separation anxiety and otherwise prepare children for school. Fierle’s school also holds an open house a day or two before school starts so that children can see their classroom and meet their teacher and classmates. For children who are particularly anxious or not used to being away from home, Fierle offers them quiet, one-on-one time in their classroom with their teacher in the week preceding school.
Fierle notes that preschoolers cannot process too much information or abstract concepts. So she advises parents not to talk too often about starting preschool or act like it’s a very big deal. When parents mention the school, they should act positive and cheerful.
Fierle recommends giving children concrete experiences at the school. She says, “Let your child visit the school before starting. Then remind your child of the fun things they did during the visit. And remind your child that ‘Mommy always comes back.’”
When you do come back to pick up your children from preschool, hopefully they will have had a wonderful experience there.
Preparing Yourself for Preschool
It’s important for parents to prepare their children to start school, but it’s just as important for parents to prepare themselves for preschool. Dr. Mary Herzog says it is natural for parents to feel some anxiety, given that preschool teachers assume somewhat of a parental role in the children’s lives. To ease that anxiety, Dr. Herzog tells parents to choose a preschool they feel they can trust. She also advises parents to make a conscious choice to minimize their anxiety. One way, Herzog says, is to talk yourself into a calm attitude, for instance silently but firmly assuring yourself, “I’m sure things will be okay.”
Marlene Perez, a mother of four in Mission Viejo, kept her anxiety at bay by making sure her cell phone was with her whenever her children attended preschool. She also felt fortunate to have many friends and relatives around as back-ups in case of emergencies.
Amy Fox soothed her nerves with communal activity. While her daughters attended school, she met with fellow preschool parents to take walks or work out at the gym together.
Priya Ardis started her children in preschool gradually for three hours a day, three days a week. She feels it was a nice, easy introduction to school. She appreciates the help of the preschool staff. The teachers distracted Ardis’s sons during morning drop-off. Sometimes they’d email her pictures of the boys happily playing at school.
Marlene Perez says she felt a lot better about sending her children to preschool “when I asked them about their day and it was clear they had fun and learned new skills.”
Amy Fox says that “bonding with the other preschool moms was important for me in making many of the friendships I still have today.” Not only has Fox maintained friendships with many of the other parents, but her children are still very close to some of their former preschool classmates.
Priya Ardis used much of the time her boys were in preschool to write novels. She’s now published a trilogy. Her younger son is very happy in preschool and her older son is now content in elementary school. “I’m happy that they’re happy,” she says.
As children and their parents get used to the preschool routine, anxieties around morning drop-off often disappear. Though there may be a bit of parental anxiety in the afternoon when the children don’t want to return home from preschool.
New Preschools to Consider
Gratitude Garden Preschool — This new nature-based Reggio Emilia inspired preschool balances STEM curriculum with artistic expression. Indoor/outdoor classrooms, martial arts, cooking, world languages, and dance explorations are a few features. The San Clemente-based school supports local artists by using handmade, reclaimed wood furniture.
Casita de Montessori — This brand new Irvine school prides itself on its earth-conscious, environmentally responsible practices. The school’s main philosophy is to allow children’s natural curiosities to emerge.
Tarbut V’Torah Transitional Kindergarten — The newest program for this Irvine school seeks to provide children with an inspiring and stimulating year of preparation for kindergarten. With Jewish values integrated into the academic program, teachers will provide differentiated instruction to meet the needs of each student and to encourage independent and creative thinking.
Kensington Montessori Preschool — This school sits atop a hill in a quiet, residential neighborhood of Laguna Niguel. It boasts large classrooms, hardwood floors, floor-to-ceiling windows, a big grassy yard, a vegetable garden, and a pretty view. The lead teachers are Montessori trained and the director plans to emphasize a hands-on science program.