When your child has been at home for much of their early years, the transition to Early Childhood Education (ECE) can be a challenge. Yvonne Walus discusses how to make it less stressful for everyone.
Older children and ECE
Many children go to a childcare facility when they’re infants – this can be super-hard on the parents, but makes the transition relatively easy on the baby. If, however, your child is starting ECE at the age three or older, they will be acutely aware of the change, and the process may take some managing.
It all depends on the child’s personality: Introverts and anxious kids may find it daunting to go to an unfamiliar place where they have to spend time with strangers. The mere prospect of it may be highly unsettling, particularly if they haven’t socialised much with other children until now.
Challenging as this change may seem, it’s another milestone in your child’s development. Remember to celebrate it together.
Research the ECE services in your area. There many types: Kindergartens, home-based services (at your own home or the caregivers’ home), mixed-age centres, and more. Some of them may have different childcare philosophies, such as Montessori, Waldorf, Rudolf Steiner, Reggio Emilia, Kohanga Reo, or a church affiliation.
Once you found an option that aligns with your family’s values, check that their hours are suitable, your journey time to and from the centre is acceptable, and that they have an opening for your child.
Helping your child cope
Start talking about ECE as soon as you’ve secured a spot. Mention all the positive aspects of this new stage in their life, using phrases like, “Now that you’re older, you get to go to a daycare centre”, “It’s a fun place to play”, “making friends”, “learning new games”. Also mention it’s okay to feel nervous, and what your child can do when it happens.
Read books in which children go to daycare, like Maisy Goes to Preschool, Llama Llama Misses Mama, I Love You All Day Long, and Bye-Bye Time.
Play preschool at home. Go through a typical day: Mat time, morning tea, play time, story time, etc.
Visit the centre with your child before the official start day to get them used to being there, and to get to know the teachers and the other kids. Each centre will have their own settling policy, so don’t be afraid to ask what process they recommend and why. Natasha Coughlan, manager of Kids Biz Preschool and Daycare, encourages strong relationships between whanau and the centre. “Parents have to feel confident and secure that their child will receive the care and attention they need.” She suggests attending with your child at first, then leaving them in the centre for 30 minutes, gradually building up the time until everyone feels comfortable.
Once your child attends ECE, allow for some one-on- one time with your child every day. If they’re too tired in the evening, try to schedule it for the morning. This will give you the opportunity to reconnect as a family.
When a friend leaves
Once your child is settled at the centre, a new challenge will arise – their little friends may leave to go to Big School, or they might simply move to another city.
ECE teachers are very experienced at handling this. Typically, they will begin to talk about the change in the weeks leading up to it, and they will also encourage your child to start building relationships with other children.
You can support them at home by inviting the other child for play dates, if possible, and also by concentrating on moving on. Acknowledge that things will be different without Bobby, and then ask with whom your child might like to play instead.
What if my child doesn't speak English?
Children are very adaptable. Even those with no previous exposure to English will typically build up a base of phrases in a matter of weeks.
Most centres are experienced in matching non-English speaking children to patient teachers who can pick up non-verbal clues when the child is upset or needs the toilet. The centre will typically observe your child and then select a dedicated teacher with whom they can bond. While there well may be a teacher in your centre who speaks the child’s language, they may not always be the best match for your child personality-wise – plus, this may slow down their learning English. Still, it’s reassuring if someone is around to interpret – if not, make a short list of phrases the centre might need, such as “careful”, “please stop”, “good job”, etc.
Special needs children
Most ECE centres are caring and inclusive, and they encourage all children to see other another as equals, with no judgement and no dwelling on differences. If your child has a diagnosis, they may be eligible for some education support worker (ESW) hours via the Ministry of Education. Talk to your child’s centre about this.
Questions to ask the ECE
- Can my child bring a toy or a sleeping blanket/comforter?
- What is their typical weekly menu (if food is provided)? How do they accommodate children who might not want to eat what’s on the menu?
- What’s their anti-bullying policy?
- What is their illness policy?
Information to pass onto the ECE
- How to comfort your child
- Stage of toilet training
- Dietary requirements
- Health needs or allergies
- Favourite things to do or play • Strengths and challenges
- Anxieties and worries