The Journey Begins
Starting nursery is exciting and frightening in equal measure for both you and your child. The transition to a nursery or preschool may be the first time that your child has left your company for any length of time and this can cause stress and anxiety for everyone involved. That said, every parent wants their child to be independent, confident and keen to discover and explore the world around them and nursery can give those opportunities. Starting nursery is also about enabling your child to be socially confident and assured, learning that there are other people in the world, not just them - a hard lesson to learn!!!
Your child will go through many transitions during their lifetime and some of these can start early. They may have already moved house, lost a family member, had a change in family circumstances or welcomed a new sibling into the family. How your child managed any of these transitions will give you a good indication of how well they may cope with starting nursery or preschool.
Some children may seem to cope very well with the transition and appear quite confident; there will always be those children who are more than ready for the next step, however there will also be those children who may have fears, worries and concerns that to an adult may seem trivial.
For children under 3:
Small changes = big impact.
They need stability and security in their environment – so they need help to cope with any transitions.
Limited understanding of time – so talking about any changes in routine may be upsetting and confusing rather than reassuring.
Children of this age CAN cope with change IF they have strong relationships with the people they will be with at the time e.g maybe ok moving home if they are with their family, but moving to a different room in a Nursery with a different key person may be a really upsetting experience. This is due to their attachment to their previous key person.
Young children need stability and security in their environment – any change in their routine will unsettle them, so they will need help and support to cope with any transition they have to make.
Preparation – you can prepare children for what is about to happen by:
Talking to them – explain what is about to happen. Use the names of the staff (you may not know exactly who will be your child's key person before they start nursery, if you do, mention that name in particular) regularly so that they recognise their names and show enthusiasm, positivity and excitement about going to the new nursery. Your child will look to you to decide how they feel about starting nursery; if you are anxious they will be anxious too so it is vital not to project any fears you have about your child starting nursery onto them, if you are excited they will be excited!
Listening to and reassuring them - your child may have many questions regarding this new adventure and some of these may highlight any anxieties they may have. They may have worries such as:
- Are any friends that I may have going to the same setting?
- Will I make new friends?
- What will I play with?
- Who will I play with?
- Will there be toys?
- Where will I have lunch/will I have lunch?
- Where is the toilet?
Parents and children will find it easier to settle if they have the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the setting. Visit the setting – several times. Meet the people who will work with the child.
I think it's important to mention here that most settings should have a Parents handbook which should include the Aims of the setting. Parents handbook should include, a daily routine, some of the types of activities provided and other useful information.
It will help your child if there are a few visits where the child can join in, use and see the equipment, see what happens for snack and/or lunch, use the toilet – then they can start to feel secure while you are still there.
It is useful for parents to meet each other – some nurseries have a coffee morning after an induction session. This can be reassuring for parents as you can discuss how you are feeling about your child starting nursery.
I feel it is also useful to stress to your child what is actually staying the same for them. We tend to focus on the changes that will be happening and as I mentioned earlier, this can cause anxiety for your child and also for you. Chat to your child about the fact that they are staying in the same home for example, their family is staying the same, if relevant, their pets are staying the same and all of the things that they have at home, their toys etc are staying the same - this can reassure the child that not everything will be different for them.
It would be useful for your child to be practising getting dressed by themselves if you feel that is appropriate for your child. Staff will help and support your child with such skills, but if your child is able to pull up their own underwear, attempt to put their socks and shoes on, this will really encourage your child’s growing independence.
Things to prepare for your child to take with them:
Clean clothes and plenty of them!
Nursery is an exciting place with lots of opportunities for play in mud and with water etc. Changes of clothes will make sure that your child can fully participate in all activities and can then learn some independence skills, practising getting dressed. Please remember to name all of the items of clothing - this may seem tedious, but the staff in the setting will thank you for it! Trying to recognise individual items of clothing is tricky. Changes of underwear is crucial, but also tops and bottoms.
It is important to note here that your child's bag will need checking regularly for changes in clothing from cool to warm weather clothes or for soiled clothing.
Outdoor weather clothing.
Most settings will encourage the children to be outside as much as possible in all weathers. A friend of mine always maintains, there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing! Having clothing suitable for wet, muddy weather will again enable your child to participate in all activities the setting has to offer. Wellies will also be a crucial piece of footwear and these also need to be named.
Nappies and wipes
If your baby or toddler is still in nappies, then you probably need to provide nappies and wipes for each day. Pack enough for the session (plus a few extra).
This may be the first occasion you have left your child for any length of time and this could be upsetting for both of you. Nobody will want you to leave your child in a state of distress but, all staff are very used to this situation and will know how to calm and reassure your child. Make the actual 'goodbye' quick, firm and reassuring with no long drawn out returns for another kiss or cuddle. Once you have said goodbye – you really need to leave as this is less stressful for everyone.
Always say goodbye and reiterate that you will see them later. It is important to be specific about pick up times in a way that your child will understand – for example, after lunch, after story time.
I always advise that a proper goodbye is important and that you don't just leave because you think your child is playing happily and is distracted and you don't want to upset them. To your child, to suddenly look up and you are no longer there, feels like abandonment.
When you visit the setting before your child starts, you will be able to ask about the drop off procedure for that particular setting. Most settings will have an open door policy which enables you to pass on any relevant information pertaining your child, for example, if they have had an unsettled night, who will be picking up your child if it is not you etc. If there is something more personal or private you wish to pass on, it would be more appropriate to arrange a mutually convenient time to speak to your child’s key person.
Some young children may like to take a special object from home with them into Nursery – a blanket or toy – having something familiar from home can help the child feel more secure. A transitional object or comfort blanket, I think can be really important. If you are worried in case it gets lost, you could suggest it comes in and stays in their tray or bag. It is useful to talk to the setting about any transitional object your child may have and advise them if your child feels happier with the object or if it could be placed elsewhere.
Try not to worry too much about your child making friends or having a ‘best friend’. Children's social development will go through different stages and they will pass through these in their own time. Forcing friendships is not helpful for your child, they will decide who they like to play with and when they feel ready to play with other children. It is tempting to think that friendships are to do with popularity and every parent wants their child to fit in but just because they may not have a ‘best friend’ straight away, does not mean that they are not gaining important social skills from the other children in their setting. Staff will be able to guide you if you want to get to know other families.
Most young children will not tell you about their day! I know this can be frustrating for parents as they wonder what on earth their child has been doing! It is hard for a two/three/four-year-old to explain events from the day - recently a child had a wonderful afternoon at preschool, creating a “ruin” castle out of blocks. He explained to me in great detail how it was built, by whom and why it became a ruin!! When Mum asked him what he'd been doing, he said “nothing”!!!
Communication with the setting is vital - the relationship between parents and the staff is one of partnership which requires mutual respect and trust. Staff are very aware that you as parents, will know your child best and will have a closer bond with them than anyone and this will be respected - staff are qualified professionals and knowledgeable in child development and will have a great deal of experience. A good working partnership benefits the child and helps to meet their needs. Good partnerships can only be achieved when a positive relationship is established.
I mentioned earlier that most settings will have an open door policy which will enable you to update staff on anything that has happened which they will need to be informed about. I have always advocated for the use of home/nursery books which are used by parents and the key person to record any relevant information, add photographs, examples of any milestones the child has achieved. As part of the partnership between you as parents and the setting, the role of the key person becomes crucial - the relationship between the key person, the child and the parents is very important as they are the main point of contact at the setting.
The setting may well provide you with end of year reports that will give you an overview of your child’s developmental achievements and will be linked to The Early Years Foundation stage - it is important to mention here that the Early Years Foundation Stage goes through to the end of Reception.
The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS):
The EYFS Framework exists to support all professionals working in the EYFS to help your child, and was developed with a number of early years experts and parents.
It sets out:
- The legal welfare requirements that everyone registered to look after children must follow to keep your child safe and promote their welfare.
- The 7 areas of learning and development which guide professionals’ engagement with your child’s play and activities as they learn new skills and knowledge.
- Assessments that will tell you about your child’s progress through the EYFS.
- Expected levels that your child should reach at age 5, usually the end of the reception year; these expectations are called the “Early Learning Goals”.
The Early Years are some of the most wonderful years of your child's life. They will be developing many new and complex skills and for them, the world is a dynamic and exciting place. It is a time full of joy and starting nursery or preschool is the start of a lifetime of challenge and learning. It is a big step for both you and your child and it is only natural to feel some anxiety but with preparation the transition from home to nursery can be calm and positive and most of all, exciting. It is the beginning of a wonderful journey and I truly hope you all enjoy it.