Grace's first day of Montessori preschool, 1997.
Last summer, my 19-year-old daughter was getting ready to move into her first apartment. I was excited for her to have the chance to live on her own and had been setting aside household items that I thought she could use. One day, after admiring the “steal” of a chair I had found at Goodwill, she asked me, “Aren’t you sad that I won’t live here anymore?”
“Well, honey,” I said, “I always imagined that you would grow up and move out of the house. That was our goal all along for you to be an independent, self-sufficient person.”
“I know,” she said. “But I’m kind of sad that I won’t be sleeping here anymore.”
I reminded her that she had hardly slept at home at all since she started college last year. She lived in the dorm, four hours away from home and we often didn’t hear from her for days.
“Yeah, but this is different. I just can’t believe this won’t be my home address anymore. Are you going to change the garage door code?”
A-ha! Then I figured it out. She was worried about cutting the cord from the house where she grew up. I had been concerning myself with making sure she was comfortable “out there” and she was worried she would no longer be welcome back at home.
It occurred to me that not much has changed between that day and the day sixteen years ago when we were preparing to send her to preschool here at the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette. Back then we were so excited to help our “baby” pick out a new lunch box and indoor shoes but we had little idea what to do to help prepare her (or ourselves) emotionally for this new chapter. She sailed through preschool and is now working through nursing school just fine, but we have learned a lot since then. Today I am sharing some tips and advice gathered from teachers and parents here at MSGL to help you and your child prepare for the first days of preschool.
Talk about school - mindfully.
Talk with your child about preschool when he is in the mood. Maybe he will bring it up or you can start the conversation, just don’t push too hard. If your child seems “done” with the conversation or is becoming anxious, let the topic drop until later. And be honest about your feelings when you do talk about school. Some children worry that their parents will be sad or lonely when they are gone. When you say, “I am going to miss being with you in the morning, but it makes me happy to know you will be enjoying yourself at school,” it lets him know that you will miss him but you are confident that school is a good place for him to be.
Check out the new environment.
MSGL’s Parent Work Day is Saturday, August 16th. This is a great time to get familiar with the school and classroom environments and to be part of the school community. Children are encouraged to help clean lockers, pull weeds, and load and unload wheelbarrows full of mulch right alongside their parents and new classmates. And, each family member's time counts towards your volunteer hours requirement.
You will have another opportunity to get familiar with the school when your child attends her New Student Orientation visit on Monday, August 18th. This is her first opportunity to see her teachers and classmates in her new classroom. She can put her indoor shoes in her locker, locate her cubby and extra clothes box, and see where the bathroom is. The whole family can attend the Parent Orientation later that evening and maybe your child can give a tour of her new classroom.
Make new friends.
You will receive a class list via email in August. Consider contacting a few families on the list to set up a playdate before school starts. Even if you can’t get together with any other families, you and your child can look over the names on the list together. You may discover that one of his classmates lives on your street or maybe someone has the same name as a sibling or a friend.
Help her dress for success.
Our Montessori classrooms are prepared to encourage your child’s independence and you can help by providing your child with shoes and clothing that she can put on and take off by herself. Belts, suspenders, and jumpsuits look smart but they can be difficult for your child to use successfully. Provide your child a choice of clothing that allows her complete independence in her self-care routines. And please remember that preschool is a time to jump in and explore. Paint, snack, sand, and dirt from the garden can stain your child’s clothing, so please send her to school in clothes that can stand to get dirty.
Plan a morning routine.
Now is a good time to do a mental run-through of your morning routine. Consider how much time your child needs to wake up, get dressed, and eat breakfast. Allow time for packing lunches, finding coats and shoes, and getting on the bike or in the car. Then add a few extra minutes. Parents and children who are not in a rush tend to have much better experiences at drop-off. Some families even do a few “practice runs” in the summer to see if they can get to school and work on time.
Create a goodbye routine.
Discuss with your child how you each want to say goodbye at drop-off. Some families say, “After you put on your inside shoes and put away your lunch box, we will walk to the classroom and I will give you three hugs and two kisses before I go to work.” Some children like to wave to dad out the window and some parents leave their children with specific plans for what they will do after school. “Sonia is picking you up today” or “we are going to the Farmer’s Market on our bikes after school today.” Children have so little control over their daily lives that they appreciate at least knowing what is happening and when.
And while we’re talking about goodbyes, let’s take just a moment to consider the specter of separation anxiety.
What if my child cries when I walk away?
Separating from your child that first time can be heart-breaking, but remember - it’s only for a few moments. The majority of children who are sad when they separate from their parents are able to calm themselves and choose an activity within a few minutes. If you have gone through the goodbye routine and are finding it hard to turn around and walk away, ask your teacher for help. Sometimes parents say, “Please help me. I need to leave.” That is the teacher’s sign that she needs to hold your child’s hand or pick her up so that you can walk away. Teachers don’t want to step in before you are ready to go but they are happy to help when you ask them.
The best thing you can do for your child at drop-off is to be consistent and walk away when you say you will. Lingering tends to just prolong the heartache for the parent and the child. The first few times you drop your child off may be difficult, but trust that with consistent repetition you and your child will develop a peaceful good-bye routine.
Talk with the teachers.
Talk with your child’s teachers about how the adjustment period is going. The teachers help dozens of children adjust to school every year but this may be your first time. They expect you will have questions and concerns. Email is a great way to communicate with your child’s teachers and all of the contact information is available on the classroom web page at Msgl.org.
Help your child talk about his day.
If this is the first time your child has been away from home you will no doubt be very eager to know what he did all day. Unfortunately, preschoolers often say they “did nothing” or “just played.” A lot of things happened between the time you dropped him off that morning and when you picked him up several hours later, but he might not yet be able to give a sequential list of his activities. Here are some ideas to help your child tell you about his day.
Take care of yourself!
The best thing you can do during these last few weeks of summer is to give you and your child the gift of a regular bedtime that allows enough sleep to wake up refreshed and ready for the big days ahead. Fill up with a good breakfast each morning and be extra patient with your child and especially with yourself. Parenting preschoolers, like college students, is hard work and there is no right way to do it. Follow your heart and follow your child, and in sixteen years, or so, you will be very proud of the people you have both become.
MSGL Summer Camp is open to Preschoolers through 1st Graders who are currently enrolled or recent alumni and while it is a really great time for all of those kids who have been here before, it is especially helpful for children new to MSGL and for the toddlers who are graduating to preschool. For these children, Summer Camp is the perfect way to ease into the routines of preschool and to set the stage for a successful start in August.
The absolute best part of being a Montessori directress - or ANY teacher, anywhere, I imagine - is watching the children develop and grow. We spend time with your children each day, observing and guiding them, and we get to see them just as they are in that moment. And what they are, as Grace Harvey says, is "totes amazeballs" (totally amazing). They grow in strength, wisdom, and courage right before our very eyes.
Today I will just speak to their courage because courage is the thing that gets your child through his or her day without you. In more stuffy circles it might be called confidence, but when you are only 28 inches tall and mom or dad just drove out of the parking lot, you’ve got to be brave to pull yourself together, to turn to face that great big green space filled with people you don't know and sally forth through the rest of your morning.
Maya Angelou said, "Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistenly without courage." During last week's Summer Camp, there were many examples of children developing their courage and I will share a few.
During Friday's Bike Day, a 4-year-old friend who enthusiastically embraces everything at school stopped his bike right at my toes, looked out at the cars going by on Sagamore Parkway, and said, “I miss my dad and my mom. And my little brother. And our dog. And they are missing me, too.” I listened and commiserated and soon he took off speeding around the course. His courage waned for only a moment then he got back on his bike.
The 5-year-olds are totally courageous (one might even say fearless) out on the bike course and they consider their turn during Bike Day to be a race even though there is no starting line and no trophies. As they put on their helmets, their talk is all about who will win. When D missed his turn to ride with his fellow 4-year-olds, he got to ride with the 5's (a truly courageous decision) alonside his big brother. After the race, D was a little upset that he didn't "win." His big brother reassured him, "No, you DID win, D! Did you see all those people going by you? That’s because you won!” (Just a note: We have a lot of siblings at camp this year and even though we know sibling rivalry is a real thing, you couldn't tell by watching these brothers and sisters interact at school. Whether it's inviting a little sister to play or feeding a little brother apples during snack, your children take good care of each other when they are away from mom and dad.)
The exploding paint activity required all different types of bravery, especially from the teachers. For this activity, the children put a scoop of baking soda and some colored vinegar in a plastic baggie, sealed it and shook it up before throwing it on the ground to watch it explode. If there was no explosion the child could take a pin-puncher and pop the bag. Loud noises, spraying liquids - it's not an experiment for the timid.
Courage hung thick in the air under the willow tree on Friday as children experimented with the log seesaw. Little ones who started out holding our hands as they walked the length of the log until it dropped to the ground were able to do it by themselves after seven or eight attempts. One group of brave 5 and 6-year-old girls inspired their younger sisters and friends to walk the seesaw and soon there there were eight girls waiting in line for a turn. These are some of the same girls who regularly show others how to draw pictures of princesses and fairies in the classroom. For me, this experience was a reminder that when we worry that a child is "only drawing" or "only playing" it's time to take a break and get a cup of coffee while the children follow their interests.
Maria Montessori observed that by using their senses and their big, beautiful brains, children can naturally learn everything they need to about their world. All they need is a caring community of adults to prepare an environment where that learning can occur. She described it this way, "The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.”
MSGL provides such an environment in our classrooms and on our beautiful campus that has been created by you and other parents like you. When you bring your child to Summer Camp next week or to Preschool this fall, you are allowing her to bravely conduct her own experiences apart from you. And that requires real courage from both of you.
See you soon!
What are "Indoor" Shoes?
MSGL students get to play outside every day that the weather allows. This means their shoes can get wet and muddy. To avoid tracking that dirt onto the carpet, we ask that you provide your child with one pair of shoes to wear outside and one pair to wear inside.
Your child will probably change outdoor shoes with the seasons - from sandals to sneakers to snow boots - but indoor shoes can stay the same all year. Walking around in the classroom with bare feet is not allowed, so a comfy pair of shoes that the child enjoys wearing is a must.
Below are some good examples of indoor shoes that work well for the children. These styles of shoes keep a child's foot dry from spills, are non-slip, stay attached to the foot, and they allow the child to get them on and off by themselves.
Below are some examples of indoor shoes that DO NOT work well for the children. Slippers are not water-resistant and they can be difficult to walk in. If a child has not yet learned to tie, shoes with laces can be impossible for a child to get on and off by himself. Please save these types of shoes to wear at home.
Because so many children choose the same types of shoes, please be sure to write your child's name on each shoe so we know whose shoes are whose. If you want to be fancy, you can order personalized labels for shoes and clothing online.
Your thoughtfulness when shopping for indoor shoes will help put your child on the path to independence. Thank you!