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Learning Curve

Tips for surviving the first days of preschool

Sending your baby off to nursery school for the first time is exciting—and totally nerve-wracking. (For both of you.) Our experts and scouts share their personal-experience tips for making the adventure as happy and seamless as possible.

BEFORE YOU GO

Involve your kid in every aspect of planning. “We shopped together for my daughter’s ‘first day of school outfit,’ picked out the backpack together online, and so on,” says one NYC scout. “I think it helped for her to feel she had some control over the way the day was going to go.”

Label everything. Our scouts love Mabel’s Labels.

Explain to your child what a typical school day will be like, and how much fun it will be. Our Atlanta scout suggests visiting the school together if you can: meet the teachers, remember their names, and mention them often prior to the first day.

Dress him comfortably and ready for play—and expect plenty of snack and art stains.

Let her help pack the backpack—and have fun with it—recommends our Boston scout.

Pack snacks and lunches in bento-style containers suggests guest scout (and Weelicious founder) Catherine McCord, “because kids can open them and see all their choices—plus teachers love them because there aren’t tons of containers, tops, and plastic bags to keep track of.” She especially likes the boxes from Laptop Lunches and PlanetBox.

Before packing a PB&J, ask whether your school is nut-free (many are), advises our Greenwich scout.

Take the first day of school pictures at home, or in front of your house or building. If you wait until you get to the school your kid might be too tearful—or too excited—to pose for a snapshot.

ON SEPARATING

For the first few drop-offs, our Seattle scout advises leaving siblings with your spouse or sitter if possible, so you can focus entirely on the school tot.

When it’s time to leave, put on a happy face and leave. Don’t linger. But then again, according to our child development experts at Seedlings Group, you shouldn’t sneak out without saying goodbye either.

Be on time, says our Seattle scout. “It’s harder for a child to come in when all the other kids are already settled.”

Find out what activity the kids will be doing right before pickup, suggests our Greenwich scout. “That way you can say, ‘I’ll see you right after finger painting.’”

If your child is very nervous, Seedlings Group says you should acknowledge his fears while recalling times in the past when he was worried but acted brave—and remind him that those situations turned out fine. But don’t ever deny or joke about his fears, or tell him to “get over it.”

Several scouts also recommend reading the book The Kissing Hand with your child.

 
AT THE END OF THE DAY

Our NYC scout suggests tapping teachers to learn exactly what they’ll be doing on a given day so you can ask your child specific questions; A question like, Did you learn about leaves today? generally sparks a more detailed conversation than What did you do in school?.
 
If you don’t know what was on the day’s agenda, try targeted questions like, What was your favorite part of the day? What songs did you sing? What story did your teacher read? What did you make? Who did you sit next to at snack time?

Our NYC scout also recommends making a “welcome home” sign (maybe with a younger sibling), and having a fun snack or treat waiting.

The bottom line is, don’t worry if he doesn’t love it right away. Hang in there . . . he will.