Being the new kid on the block can be a daunting – or exciting – experience for young children. To help your little one get off to a great start, here are some ways to prepare them for life at an early childhood education (ECE) service and support them during the settling-in period.
What should parents do before their child starts?
When a child goes to an ECE service, they enter an environment full of new experiences, challenges and people.
And although this brave new world may come as a shock, parents can help kids prepare for it by developing their social and learning skills long before their first day.
To help your child develop social skills:
- Give them time with other adults and children, including some hours away from you
- Help them cooperate, share and take turns
- Give them opportunities to make choices
- Talk positively about their future ECE service, explaining what will happen
To help your child develop learning skills:
- Give them different experiences, and opportunities to explore, experiment and be messy
- Talk, read and listen to them
- Spend time with your child playing and helping them see what they’re learning
- Encourage them to try new things and embrace new challenges
How can parents prepare themselves?
Starting at an ECE service isn’t just a big step for youngsters – it can be challenging for parents too. However, here are three ways to allay any concerns about your child’s happiness and day-to-day experience:
- Visit the ECE service before your child starts, so you both become familiar with the environment, educators and fun activities.
- Learn how the ECE service runs. Ask about the pick-up time, daily programme and what your child needs to bring along.
- Remind yourself that separating from your child is an opportunity for them to learn and grow.
How can parents prepare their child’s teacher?
ECE service educators play a large role in helping your little one settle in, so meet them before the start date and tell them all about your child. From their interests and individual needs, to their culture and special comforts – all these things help a teacher help your child.
You might like to ask if your child can bring in their favourite toy or blankie for the first few days.
What’s the best approach when a child starts at an ECE service?
When the day comes for your child to start at the ECE service, remember that every person is different. While one child might skip over to the sandpit and not look back, it’s natural for others to be upset when Mummy or Daddy leaves – especially in the early weeks.
Here are some approaches that can make the goodbyes easier at an ECE service:
- Be positive about the day ahead, explaining what they’ll be doing and who will care for them.
- In the early days, allow plenty of time to help your child settle in. This could include showing them where the toilets are and/or introducing them to other children.
- Implement a short routine, like reading a book or ‘the kissing hand’, then leave straightaway.
- Avoid ‘sneaking out’. Always tell your child that you’re going and that you’ll be coming back later. If you’re concerned, you can always call the service for reassurance that they’re ok.
- Try to pick up your child at the same time each day, so they feel more secure. And for the first week or so, aim to be a little early.
What can parents expect when their child starts at an ECE service?
Every child responds differently to separation, and for some, this could mean having bad dreams or reverting to baby behaviour, like thumb-sucking.
In the first months, it’s also common for your child to catch new illnesses as they’re exposed to different viruses and bacteria.
On the bright side, there are positives that come with your child starting at an ECE service. These include:
- Parents forming new relationships with educators and other parents
- Children making new friends and having fun
- Children learning and developing
So, whether they’re starting at an early learning centre, kindergarten or kōhanga reo, an exciting new chapter is about to open up in your family’s life!