23 Things Your Preschool Teacher Wants You To Know
Everything you need to know to help your child have the most successful preschool year possible!
by Steve Silvestro, MD @zendocsteve and Monica Silvestro @justanotherpreschoolteacher
You can also listen to this article as a podcast on your favorite podcast app or click on the player below:
Before I begin, let me introduce myself. My name is Monica Silvestro, I am the wife of Dr. Steve, creator of this awesome podcast The Child Repair Guide. No, he didn’t make me say that. I have been a preschool teacher for the past 6 years at a private half-day preschool in Rockville, Maryland. I know that I do not represent the thoughts of ALL preschool teachers, but I will hazard a guess that many preschool teachers will agree with most of what I am saying here. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to check with your child’s teacher.
There are many different types of preschools out there with a wide variety of philosophies. You may have heard of Montessori preschools and Play-based preschools. You may or may not be familiar with Reggio Emilia preschools or forest preschools. While each preschool may have its own unique approach, we all have the same basic goals–to educate and safely care for children ages 5 and under, and to give them the best foundation to help them grow into amazing people.
As I’ve come to teach more and more children over the years, I’ve begun to compile observations about things that could help kids get the most out of preschool–as well as things that can get in their way. Some are simple and practical, while others are a bit more philosophical. Knowing each of these items can help ensure that you and your preschooler have a great year.
So, here are 23 things your preschool teacher wants you to know…
#1-5: What they should wear
- Please don’t dress your kids in fancy clothes that they will worry about messing up (even if you don’t care). We want them to play and create without worrying about their outfit.
- Long dresses are hard for kids to climb in. And children who wear skirts or dresses should also wear cartwheel shorts or leggings underneath, both for their health and so other kids don’t see and tease them about their underwear.
- They should be wearing bottoms that are easy to pull on and off without adult assistance (elastic waistbands are wonderful!). If they have buttons and zips, practice with them at home. Even if your preschool teacher will help your child in the potty, the goal is for your child to learn to do it themselves.
- I personally don’t care if they come to school in pajamas or they insist on being Spider-man or Elsa that day. The more important questions to ask yourself: Is this outfit weather appropriate? Is it easy to play in? If it is, then go for it! Check in with your child’s teacher/director for their rules on this topic.
- The ideal preschool shoe is a closed-toed velcro sneaker! Very few preschoolers can tie laces, and a lot of precious playground time is lost for the kids who need their shoes constantly re-tied by the teacher. If there are holes in the shoes (such as Crocs or Keens), they risk getting mulch/woodchips caught in the shoe (more lost time). In case of rain or snow, go ahead and have them wear boots, but please bring a change of shoes.
#6-12: What they should eat
- If breakfast is not provided at school, feed your child a healthy breakfast before they come to school. A high-sugar, low protein breakfast such as a toaster pastry or dry cereal may be fine in a pinch, but could set them up to have a blood sugar drop pretty quickly at school. This could cause them to be grumpy, tired, or lack focus. Eggs and yogurt are great sources of protein in the mornings. Pick oatmeal or higher fiber cereals and breads to help slow down that blood sugar drop.
- Some schools provide lunch and snacks. If that’s the case, talk to the school in advance if your child has any food allergies or intolerances, and make sure they are aware of even the slightest reaction your child may have.
- If you are packing lunch and snacks, the majority of your child’s lunchbox should contain foods that you know your child will eat. This may not be the time and place to pack a giant kale salad in hopes that they will be motivated to eat it when you aren’t around. Save that for meals at home. You can pack new foods, just make it a small part of their lunchbox with one or two healthy guaranteed foods you know they’ll eat.
- On that note, a large lunch with a lot of choices may overwhelm a child. Packing 3-4 different items plus a drink is plenty.
- Safety: PLEASE cut carrots and baby carrots lengthwise, cut grapes in half lengthwise, and cut cherry tomatoes lengthwise. No candy, no soda, and no popcorn at school. Teachers can’t keep an eye on all their students at all times, so sending your child to school with a safe lunch is incredibly important.
- Want to pack a dessert? Make it small! It’s hard for teachers to enforce eating dessert last, so if you pack 6 Oreo cookies, don’t be surprised if that’s all your child will eat. While 6 cookies might seem like a small treat to us, a single cookie or something similar is plenty for a preschooler. And dessert is not a requirement to a lunchbox either–at our house we pack a dessert on Fridays. If there’s a special treat every single day, it ceases to be “special” anymore.
- When you pack an item, think to yourself “am I okay with my kid eating only this for lunch?” For example, a large bag of Pirates Bootie will take a long time to eat, but offers very little substance, so it won’t satisfy your child for the rest of the afternoon. Protein can help with blood sugar balance, so pack meat, eggs, nut butter (sunbutter for nut free schools), yogurt, edamame. Think about food as something that needs to fuel your child for the rest of the day….if they have fruit snacks and applesauce for lunch, they may not have energy an hour after lunch is over.
#13-16: Here are some things you can practice with them before they start preschool or early in the schoolyear so they can start their year with success:
- They will have to self feed and they will have to sit for the entirety of their snack and lunch. Work on this it at home so they aren’t surprised when they get to preschool—consistency is key!
- Work on having them wash their own hands (using plenty of soap, singing the “Happy Birthday” song or Row, Row, Row Your Boat” for a good amount of time to soap up, then rinsing the soap off well).
- Different schools have different potty procedures. Check with yours so you can talk to your child in advance of the first day.
- They should practice pulling their own pants up and down. They should practice wiping their own private parts (Girls front to back after #1), and checking the toilet paper after they go #2. This isn’t to say you can’t wipe them after they wipe themselves, you can do a “check” wipe to see how they did. They may seem too little to do it, but you have to start somewhere and the more they practice the more efficient they’ll become!
#17-19: Dropping off in the morning
- It really is easier if you drop off your child quickly! Give them a hug, a kiss, and maybe the same goodbye sentence each day (like “Love you a lot! Can’t wait to hear what you learn today”). Consistency is important to children, and your confidence is important, too! If you are worried about dropping them off, they may pick up on your anxieties and start worrying more themselves. If your child cries, they won’t be the only to cry at drop off, not even the only to cry at every drop off for the entire year if that happens (our daughter did this, and it felt like torture!). But you should trust that the teachers will care appropriately for your child when they are feeling sad.
- It is helpful if you can drop off your child on time most days. If they are late, he or she may be worried that they’re missing out on something. Some kids might feel weird about the about transition when the rest of the class is already there and immersed in their routine. They may even miss their job of the day, or the story that will be part of the art project later. While it’s “just preschool,” it’s also important to value your child’s entire day as planned by the teachers–we put a lot of thought into making sure the day’s flow gives the biggest impact for your child.
- Please follow the teacher’s drop-off suggestions. They have their routines for a reason. If the teacher asks you to take your child to try and use the bathroom or wash their hands before they enter the classroom, it is so they can have time to properly greet all the children and immerse them in the morning activity without running off to take a child to the bathroom who just arrived. If they ask that the student hang up their own coat, try to make sure that you’re not just doing it for them to avoid a tantrum or to rush them inside. They might be working on this skill after recess, and consistency will help your child succeed.
#20-23: Preschool is for more than academics
- Many early childhood educators believe that teaching preschoolers social skills are even more important than just teaching them colors/letters/numbers. We are teaching the kids how to share, take turns, negotiate. We are promoting language development, critical thinking skills, and observational skills. A child can’t learn to swim without first blowing bubbles and kicking with a kickboard. Those are building blocks for swimming. Similarly, a lot of the things that are done in preschool are building blocks for future academic achievement—for example, playing with playdough helps strengthen the hand muscles that will help them write. Scooping and pouring dried rice teaches cause and effect, estimation skills, and gravity! Listening to stories, singing songs, and reciting nursery rhymes help them with language comprehension, rhyme, and the understanding of story structure. When I was in Kindergarten, it was only half day and we learned the letters and what the sounds make. Now they’re often expected to do that in preschool and be reading by the end of Kindergarten. Yes, some kids can, but some can’t–and that’s okay! Their brains work at different paces, and you have to give them room to grow at their own pace. What you want to get most out of the early years of schooling is: 1). a love of learning and a thirst for knowledge; 2). a belief that they can learn things eventually (a growth mindset–I may not be able to do this YET, but I will some day); 3). skills to handle themselves in a classroom; and 4). skills to handle interactions with fellow students/peers.
- Try not to compare your kid to their classmates. One kid may be coloring within the lines and making perfect Thanksgiving turkeys with the eyes placed “just so,” but she may have trouble with gross motor skills like climbing and jumping, or she may be struggling with managing emotions while your child handles conflict and transitions with ease. All kids develop on their own schedule and they are all different. Focus on the strengths your child has and their potential, not what they’re doing when compared to the others. If you do suspect learning issues, talk to teacher.
- Don’t be afraid to ask your child’s teacher for advice! If they have a song that helps with bathroom time or hand washing, or a way to transition activities that works for your kid, they can help give you ideas to use at home. Also—be forthcoming about challenges at home (i.e., if your kid hasn’t been sleeping well or there’s been a death in the family), as that information can be very helpful to teachers. Think of teachers as a team helping your child grow this year.
- Most teachers hate giving negative feedback or bringing up uncomfortable issues, so take them seriously if they do and talk to your pediatrician if you have any concerns.
Ultimately, preschool teachers are there to care for your child and keep them safe. They want to teach your child how to socialize, how to be a part of a school society by doing things like sitting in circle time and walking down the hall in a line. They are helping your child gain independence and personal skills. In addition to that, they will be working on the building blocks to education–the letters, numbers, shapes, colors, pre-reading, pre-math, sorting, negotiating, taking turns, being kind and empathetic, fine motor skills, gross motor skills…the list goes on and on.
Teachers need your help, parents, and the more we can work together as a team, the better your child will be prepared for school now and in the future–and the more successful they will be in the long run.