If school hasn't already started, it's coming—fast! And for those of you with small children, you could be embarking on their first day of half-day or full-day Pre-K. Or, as my four-year-old was very insistent, we call it "4-K"— because four years and school is a very grown-up place to be.But how do we prepare our child for Pre-K? And not just the first day, but the first month, the first semester, the first year. What are the challenges? What can we as parents expect to navigate through these next several months? Are there steps we can take throughout the year to help our little ones with the culture shock of the classroom versus the living room?One of the things that we struggle with as parents, especially this first year of school, is that our children will be outside the safety zone of our nest at home. That means they will begin to face the infant-sized trials that will eventually become adult-sized as they age. The stages of being a baby and a toddler are over. We have now entered the era of navigating issues with our children, and that territory can be as new for us as it will be for them.You would hope it would be this way, but unfortunately, your little one will face the newness of a social environment that may not be altogether welcoming. Other children with personalities that collide, attitudes that affect, and behaviors that are unacceptable in your home will be part of your child's everyday life now. The routine from home to school will be markedly different, and while it's not necessarily a negative, it can have a huge emotional impact on the little ones. Their teacher may become their next best safe adult and emotional comforter, or they may feel ostracized and resistant to their teacher. This will be the first time they are being "assessed" by someone other than their parent, and the subtleties of this criticism—even if constructive and pleasant—will begin to shape how they receive instruction and view their personal performance and abilities.And then, there may also be the very real impact of leaving home for three to seven hours. This means no mommy or daddy nearby or no comforting grandparents or caregivers that they've been accustomed to. No. They are entering what to them is a big new universe of alien ideas, strangers, and belongings. Separation anxiety can be a real thing. It may not be an issue the first day or even the first week. You may find that separation becomes a deeper issue the longer the school year progresses and the more the child realizes that this new routine isn't changing anytime soon.So what can we do to prepare our kiddos for Pre-K?
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Drazen Zigic