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8 Mistakes to Avoid When Your Child is Starting Preschool

YOU are your child’s first teacher.  She likely learned the most important things in life from you.

  • Animal sounds
  • Colors
  • The way a book turns left to right
  • The chorus of “Whoomp There It is”

And then, suddenly, and probably when you’re least expecting it, someone will ask you nonchalantly, “So, when is she starting preschool?”

Preschool?! You start to panic. Is she ready for preschool? Am I ready for preschool? Where do I even begin?

Unfortunately, there’s no magic right answer to any of those questions.

She might be ready. She might not be.

You might be ready. You might not be.

Oh, and there are about a thousand places you could begin when it comes to this process. You’ve got quite a few options available to you. Take a chill pill, mama (another solid 90s reference you can teach your children).

Luckily, you’re not the first parent to panic her way through the preschool dilemma. Plenty of moms have gone before you, and they’ve made mistakes so you don’t have to. Avoid these eight common mistakes, and you’ll be well on your way to starting preschool on a high {Mariah Carey} note.

Starting Preschool Mistake #1:
Not Knowing Your Child’s Learning Style

How does your child learn best? Does he…

  • …like to watch you complete tasks before he tackles them himself or does he learn best by doing?
  • …enjoy fine motor tasks or is he instead drawn to gross motor activities?
  • …need routines and structures or is he adaptable and able to “go with the flow?”

A good preschool program isn’t hard to find. What’s harder is knowing what kind of program your child needs, and the best way to solve that puzzle is to study him.

Try it out this week. Really watch him play. Introduce a new activity and see how he reacts. Pay attention to his cues throughout the day. Figure out his learning style, and you’ll quickly be able to decide what kind of environment he will thrive in.

If you’re not sure how to determine your little one’s learning style at this stage, these are all excellent books related to understanding your preschooler’s growing brain:

Starting Preschool Mistake #2:
Not Knowing What You’re Looking For

Now that you’ve figured out what your child needs, don’t just assume that all preschool programs will be able to fulfill those needs. Make a list of all your “wants” in a preschool program, keeping in mind what you already know about your child.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What size program are you looking for?
  • Will your child thrive in a part-time or full-time setting?
  • At what age do I want my preschooler to start school?
  • Do you need childcare before or after school?
  • What is your ideal location–near home or work?
  • How involved would you like to be in the learning process?
  • How much are you willing (or able) to spend?
  • What type of learning environment will be the best fit for your child?
  • Do you want a structured program or something more laid-back?

Think through exactly what you’re looking for in a preschool, and you’ll lay a solid foundation for the rest of your search. Dream up your ideal setting, and then try to find it.  (Hint: This free worksheet can help!)

Starting Preschool Mistake #3:
Not Doing Your Research

There are about a million options when it comes to finding to a good preschool program.

Okay, okay. Maybe that’s an exaggeration.

Ten thousand is probably more like it.

Don’t go into this blindly, friend. It’s important to know the options available to you. (And, since you now know your kid and what kinds of things you’re looking for, this should move pretty quickly.)

To get you started, here are five of the main types of programs you’re likely to run into:

Public School Preschool Program

Many public school districts offer preschool programs for families. This will look different depending on where you’re located, but a simple Internet search for your surrounding districts should help you see if this is an option for you.

Private Preschool Program

Churches are a popular home to preschool programs, but you can also find options in daycares, private schools, or stand-alone establishments.

Montessori Preschool Program

You can read all about this approach to learning on the American Montessori Society’s Website, but in short, this style of education is highly child-centered; children drive their own learning primarily through sensory-motor activities and choice.

Parent Co-Op Preschool Program

This can be done on a few different levels. Sometimes it looks like a group of parents coming together and teaching their kids on a rotating basis. On a larger scale, Parent Cooperative Preschools International helps provide teachers and resources to families who want to be directly involved in this early phase of education.

Homeschool Preschool Program

You may decide that the best learning environment for your preschooler is in the comfort of your own home. There are plenty of resources available to the mom who wants to teach her child at home. Our own Mighty Moms love resources like this Teach My Preschooler Learning  Kit, the ABC Mouse Online Program and the free printables over at This Reading Mama.

Starting Preschool Mistake #4:
Not Using Your Resources

Other moms have already done this.

I repeat: OTHER MOMS HAVE ALREADY DONE THIS.

Ask them. Use them. Reel them in.

If you have friends who have already embarked on this adventure, ask for their help. Find out which programs in your area were their favorites and why.

If none of your friends have gone before you, try to connect with a local community of moms via Facebook (search your town name + moms). These groups are abundant and always have spoils of wisdom to share.

You can also have a little fun playing detective by scoping the prospective programs out on the Internet. Check out their websites, Facebook pages and online reviews from websites like GreatSchools.org.

Starting Preschool Mistake #5:
Not Scheduling a Visit First

Many preschool programs start registration in January, so don’t wait until the last second to start asking these questions…

If you wait too long, you’re probably going to have to visit an empty building. You won’t be able to see the classrooms in action or meet the fuzzy class guinea pig who usually greets the students in the atrium. (Yes, this was one of my mistakes.)

You want to see all the spinning plates at once, so you know exactly what to expect. Once you find a program you like, call to set up a visit. Besides, visiting will help set aside a lot of those nervous butterflies because you’ll already have an idea of how things work!

Starting Preschool Mistake #6:
Not Asking Enough Questions

There is an endless number of questions you could ask, and why shouldn’t you? Your child’s first educational experience is a big deal!

Ask them. Ask them all!

Just don’t forget to ask these:

  • What is your discipline policy?
  • What kinds of snacks will my child eat throughout the day?
  • How do you structure your days?
  • What kinds of things will my child learn in your program?
  • What safety/security measures do you have in place?

Need a little help keeping the answers straight? Here’s a FREE helpful tool we created for you to print and fill out on your different program visits.

Starting Preschool Mistake #7:
Not Helping Your Child Get Prepared

Even if your child is totally ready for preschool, it’s still a brand new situation with brand new people and brand new expectations.

That’s a lot for a tiny human to take in! Don’t throw her in without gearing her up first.

Put some routines in place a few weeks in advance. Practice getting up, getting dressed, and getting out the door on time.

Talk about listening skills and practice making eye contact. Introduce new feeling words in case she needs to tell you she feels “anxious” or “excited.” Practice sitting still on the floor while she listens to you give some instructions.

Don’t forget about the academics! Keep practicing letters, colors, counting, and all those other skills she’s bound to improve on at preschool. If you need a fun, new way to reinforce those skills, ABCmouse.com is a great option for this. Kids LOVE the interaction on the tablet, and parents love that there’s LEARNING going on while you’re making supper!  Click here to receive two months of ABCmouse for only $5.

Besides the educational portion of preschool, sometimes reading a few children’s books with your child can help them visualize what to expect in the school environment.  Here are a few good ones:

Starting Preschool Mistake #8:
Assuming There is One Right Way to Do All of This

Your sister-in-law homeschooled all her preschoolers. Good for her!

Your best friend goes to “Mommy and Me” preschool with her one-year-old. That’s awesome!

Your neighbor didn’t send her son to preschool until he was four. I’m sure she enjoyed that extra time together.

Your cousin’s kids go to half-day preschool five days a week, and your other cousin’s kids go to full-day preschool two days a week.

Phew. Breathe.

These are all great options, but they might not all be great options for you and your preschooler.

You know your child. You know what type of program she needs. Stop worrying about what everybody else is doing, and find what’s best for you.

You Got It, Dude!

You don’t have to panic when the stranger at Target asks you when your three-year-old is going to start preschool.

Now you know that there is no wrong answer to the question, and you know exactly how to go about finding a good preschool program (even if you make a few mistakes of your own along the way).

No need to stress. In the words of everyone’s favorite 90s preschooler, Michelle Tanner, “You got it, Dude.”

Now go find the perfect program for your preschooler and give your baby a snuggle because before you know it, you’ll be searching for colleges.

Are you on the hunt for a good preschool program? Tell us about your successes (or mistakes) in the comments.

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