Getting your preschooler ready for school

Going to the “Big School” can be a very exciting time for you and your child; they may be a bit nervous, which is understandable, and you as a parent may also be nervous about sending your little one off. But if they are prepared and have the necessary social skills, they will adapt and make friends very quickly. Though preschool is not required, it does offer opportunities that will prepare children for their first year such as:

Opportunities to play: Play is a broad concept. Toddlers need time to play alone, and also play with other kids. They need to manipulate things to develop their fine motor skills. Being very inclusive here, we can extend this perspective to activities like drawing which is known to support the later development of cognitive skills. They need to run around and be active. Pretend play is often thought to be at the root of creativity, but recent research shows it has a large social benefit when done with others.

Opportunities to socialize: Toddlers need to be around other kids. It’s fun for them. It’s a way to start to learn how to be social creatures and function with peers. They also learn a lot when they disagree with each other, when they don’t share and when they don’t get along (as long as there is proper guidance from adults). They learn that they are not the only people in the world and sometimes need to take turns which means waiting their turn now and then.

Opportunities to regulate their emotions: Toddlers have to continue learning how to regulate their emotions. Whether it’s a full blown tantrum or just handling being mad or angry or scared, kids have to experience their emotions in multiple social contexts and develop ways of regulating themselves and functioning around others.

Opportunities to Talk: Yes, talk. Kids can develop their language by being around different people it helps them learn how to use language to communicate socially (which requires integrating behavioral and emotional and cognitive skills). They should also hear a lot of talking.

What I’m trying to get across is that lots of experiences are needed to give a well-rounded platform for social, emotional, cognitive and language development. Notice I haven’t said anything about getting a leg up academically, or ensuring top grades later in school. I’m talking about fundamental developmental goals. And kids need to have fun. A lot of fun. A lot of the time.

Attending a quality preschool is a great way to give children opportunities during the week to be around other adults and other kids. It’s not essential. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good if you choose to go that way and you find the preschool that delivers what you should be looking for.

Some additional things parents may work on with their children before starting school:

Work on self help skills such as: putting on and taking off coats and shoes; being able to go to the bathroom on their own; picking up toys; following simple directions and following a daily routine.

Work on social/emotional skills such as: making friends by having play dates with other children; solving problems with others; showing empathy; encouraging them to join in play with children; being able to separate from caregiver and adjust to new settings; being able to interact with familiar adults; able to recognize and respond to others emotions; can use words to state feelings; taking turns; showing interest in others; approaching others positively; playing for a period of time; being able to stay focused on a task; can try to figure things out; seeking and asking for help when needed; and applying knowledge and experiences to new situations.

To help in the development of language skills: engage them in conversations; point to pictures and words and extend on them; sing nursery rhymes (try to start this at very young ages and continue); copy or write their own name; guess what will happen next in a story; pretend to read stories by using your own words; visit the library and check out age appropriate books; and use a variety of words with the same meaning (ex.: beautiful, pretty, etc.).

These are just a few suggestions that will assist children in being ready for school. For a free brochure with extensive information, “Getting School Ready in Iowa”, contact the Healthy Families Line at 1-800-369-2229. Or you can view the brochure at

Engaging with children and spending quality time can make their transition to the “Big School” a great experience.

Sue Junge is an Early Childhood Support Specialist for the Iowa River Valley Early Childhood Area and is a Thursday columnist for the Times-Republican. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. For more information, please visit