All parents of preschoolers want their kids to have a good day at school. Every day we worry a little (or a lot) about how our child’s day is going. Is she playing? Is he happy? Does he miss me? Is she following the rules? As parents, we hope for the best and would do just about anything to help our little ones have fun, learn, and feel self-assured.
With so much of our focus on our own little ones, it’s easy to lose sight of an important fact. If you help your child’s whole class have a good day, then your child will be more likely to have a good day, too. And one of the best ways to help the class is by helping your child’s teacher. As parents, however, we don’t always know where to start.
For some practical answers, I looked to the experts — the preschool teachers themselves. As it turns out, there are several specific things that parents can do, and most of them are actually pretty easy. Some you may already know; others you may not have thought of.
In general, these suggestions center around helping the classroom run smoothly. If the kids are in sync as a group, then they’re also more likely as individuals to enjoy their time at school. Or even if your child is having a hard day, his teacher will have more time to offer extra attention if everything else in the classroom is going well.
Since all schools are different, don’t hesitate to ask your child’s teacher how you can help, but in the meantime, here are some starting points.
Teachers have a lot to say about children’s wardrobes.
Your kids are going to get messy at school, and that’s a good thing. So you need to dress them appropriately. As tempting as it can be to dress your kids in adorable outfits, teachers need them in play clothes. Don’t make your kid’s teachers worry or feel guilty about a splattering of paint or a smear of spaghetti sauce. Kids need to be playing, exploring, and becoming independent, and a mess is frequently the result.
Invest in some laundry spray and resist the temptation to splurge on stylish clothes — or if you can’t resist, at least reassure your child’s teacher that you don’t expect those gorgeous outfits to come back in pristine condition.
Change of Clothes
Speaking of mess, sometimes your kid will get so messy that she needs a change of clothes. Everyone knows this, right? That’s why you’re supposed to leave a properly labeled change of clothes at school. Do you know how often this doesn’t happen? Or, when the time comes, how often the clothes are outgrown or not right for the weather? A lot.
So set a recurring calendar reminder to switch out the cubby clothes every now and then. If your kid comes home in something he didn’t start out in, take it upon yourself to put things back the way the universe intended. Return the clothes to the teacher, to your child’s cubby, or to the child they were borrowed from.
Finally, if you happen to be getting rid of outgrown but still nice clothes, ask your child’s teacher if he’d like them for the classroom. I’ve always heard that teachers spend their own money for classroom supplies, but I had no idea they were regularly buying extra kids’ clothing, too. Apparently this happens often, and many teachers said they’d love it if parents gave them nice hand-me-downs — especially sweatpants, t-shirts, and jackets — to use as backups. (Ask first, of course.)
Easy-On, Easy-Off Clothes
For kids who are potty training, pants with snaps, zippers, and buttons can be tricky. So can overalls and tights. Boost your child’s self-confidence by sending her in clothes she can handle herself or that the teacher can quickly help with. Obviously, your kiddo will have to learn to manage snaps and buttons at some point, but it can wait until potty training basics are well established. Plus most kids at potty training age don’t yet have the fine motor skills or hand strength needed for snaps and buttons anyway.
If your child is still in diapers, teachers have a similar message. It’s helpful if you send your child in outfits that are easy to get on and off. It saves frustration on everyone’s part to have a diaper change go as easily as possible. Also, regularly check your child’s stash of diapers and wipes to make sure she’s not running low. Again, calendar reminders are your best friend. Teachers will try to let you know when you need to bring more in, but it helps if you take a peek every now and then, too.
Kids need to spend time outside every day, but it’s hard for teachers to take the class outside when some of the kids don’t show up with proper gear for the weather. From rain jackets and boots to a warm coat and mittens, it’s important for you to send your kid to school in outerwear that will keep her comfortable. (And, again, if you have extra or outgrown rain coats, boots, mittens, etc. sitting around your house, your preschool may be the perfect place to donate them!)
As your child gets older, work on teaching him how to dress himself whenever you can. It may be faster in the short-term for you to do the work of pulling up pants, buttoning shirts, zipping jackets, and putting on socks and shoes. But it will help you, your child, and your child’s teacher in the long-run if you slow down to let your child learn how to get dressed on his own. (Incidentally, the same applies to feeding.)
It can be surprisingly hard at times to strike the perfect balance of communication between parents and teachers. Some schools send out more emails than any parent cares to read, while other schools rely on classroom fliers and word-of-mouth to keep parents up to date. Either way, teachers have a lot to say about the subject.
Notes and Emails
Teachers love it when parents read. Not just to their kids — though they love that, too — but also all of those notes and emails that get sent home. So read. Read the fliers in the cubbies and the notes in the backpacks. Read the parent handbooks, the newsletters, and the email updates. Of course you’re still going to forget something every now and then, but if you’ve been reading the updates and are familiar with the school policies, your child is more likely to have what he needs at school every day. (Think sneakers for movement class and a special toy for show-and-tell.) Having your child show up with the right stuff on the right day makes his school life easier, and even though it can be time consuming, reading all of the notes that come home will help.
Updates from the Homefront
Most teachers spend a significant amount of time trying to send you information about what’s going on at school — from updates on classroom events to sheets logging your child’s daily activities. (If you don’t feel like you’re getting enough feedback, by all means let your teacher know. Then work out a plan to get the information you need.) On the flip side, however, teachers need feedback from you, too. They need to know what’s going on at home that might affect your child’s day, week, or even year at school. Tell them if your child might be constipated, if your child’s best friend is moving away, if your child refused to eat breakfast, or if your child isn’t sleeping well. You get the idea.
That being said, keep in mind that drop-off and pick-up are two of the most hectic times of day. Classrooms and hallways may be crowded, and all of the parents may be trying to get a word in with the teacher. Also, your child may be very aware of what you are telling her teacher, which is not always a good thing if it brings up sensitive subjects. Depending on the situation, it may be more effective to email or text your child’s teacher with such concerns. It’s also fine to ask to schedule a time to talk in person or by phone.
Also remember that teachers need to help children with their transition to and from school at drop-off and pick-up, so this is usually not a the best time for extended social conversations. Keep your chat to the basics, and try to limit conversation to matters that are relevant to the current school day.
Developmental Concerns About Your Child
Your child’s teacher interacts with dozens of preschoolers every year and is in a unique position to make observations about your child’s development. However, many parents balk or are offended if a teacher brings up a developmental concern about their child. If your child’s teacher does happen to bring up a concern, try to get past any defensive first reactions, and listen openly. Remember that the teacher is not criticizing you, your child, or your parenting, but is trying to help. You both want what’s best for your child, and early intervention matters.
If you are having a hard time processing what your teacher is telling you, say so nicely. Ask for resources. A professional evaluation may be the next step, and your child’s teacher can point you in the right direction. Many developmental evaluations are offered for free in the U.S. through each state’s Child Find program. Other related services may be offered on a sliding-scale fee structure. Let your teacher be your family’s ally, and keep her updated as you go through the process.
Some Things Are Best Left at Home
Well, at least two things are: germs and toys.
It should go without saying, but if your child is sick, keep her at home. Try to have a list of back-up babysitters or services that you can call if you have to be at work when you have a sick kid. (Yeah, I know, this is never as easy as it sounds.) A sick kid at school will most likely have a miserable time, and other kids will get sick, too. (Preschoolers are not exactly known for covering coughs, and we all know they tend to lick things.) At the very least, be aware of your school’s policy regarding when to keep sick kids home, and follow it without exception.
Most teachers suggest leaving personal toys at home. There is a good chance that they will cause problems at school — with sharing, with making noise, and with getting lost. After causing said problems, the toys will probably spend the rest of the day in your child’s cubby. The preschool should have plenty of toys to go around, all of which have been carefully selected for each classroom. If your child insists on bringing a toy, make sure to limit it to one quiet toy that is replaceable if lost or broken.
Rules at School
When you are with your child at school, insist that he follow the rules. Just because you are with him doesn’t give him a free pass to run through the hallways or throw sand on the playground. If all kids are supposed to use the bathroom and wash hands upon arrival, then remind your child to do so and help as needed. Encourage your child to clean up the toys she’s playing with at pick-up time. Make sure your child stays near you when arriving and leaving the school facility. Sending your child the message that it’s okay to run ahead can make it hard later for teachers to keep the class together as a group.
Rules at Home
Good manners go along with good rules. Work at home on not hitting to get attention, saying please and thank you, using names when addressing people, and phrasing requests as questions instead of shouting out needs. Encourage your child to sit at mealtime, to follow directions, and to share and take turns. This may seem like obvious advice, but sometimes it’s easier for parents to get in a habit of letting some of these courtesies slide in order to save time or avoid arguments. Obviously, though, working on polite behavior will benefit everyone in the long run.
Drop-Off and Pick-Up
Most schools let you know up front how important it is to pick up your child on time, but it’s also helpful if you drop your children off on time, too. This lets your child join in play as groups are forming, rather than having to join in already established games. If you do drop your child off late, try to make sure that she’s still in sync with the class schedule as much as possible. For example, if breakfast is served at your child’s school, and you drop your child off after breakfast-time is over, make sure your child was already fed at home. Dropping your child off in the middle of lunch or at nap-time is also problematic.
Being on-time at pick-up isn’t just important in order to avoid fees, but it’s important for your child, too. You don’t want to leave your child wondering where you are when all of his friends have already been picked up. This can translate into stress in days ahead. Your child may stop wanting to go to school out of fear that you may not come back to get him.
This one’s tough. Teachers seem to universally agree that it’s not helpful for you to linger if your child is crying at the thought of being left at school. Staying just prolongs the inevitable. By all means, say a proper goodbye to your child. Give hugs and kisses, engage in whatever short ritual you’ve established, and say when you’ll be back. If your child is still upset, there’s a good chance that she’ll calm down quickly once you’re gone, and be assured that her teacher is more than ready to offer her extra comfort.
If drop-off is always a problem for your child (or if it starts to become one), you may want to schedule a time to talk to the teacher. It’s a good idea to ask how the teacher would prefer to handle the situation and express your concerns, too. Usually a lingering parent makes things harder, but no parent wants to walk away from their child in tears. Let your teacher know what would make you feel better about the situation. Ask for a text with a photo, if possible, once your child has calmed down. Possibly offer to sit outside in your car for ten minutes so you can come back in if your child is still distraught. Again, do communicate with your child that you will be back. (“Mama will be back right before lunchtime to pick you up,” or, “Daddy will be here to take you home for dinner.”) Express your love and then go. It’s hard, I know.
Most teachers agree that parent volunteers are great to have in the classroom. Many parents are initially nervous, however, about being with a whole classroom of kids. But the teachers I spoke with reassured me that they are happy to guide parents through the day.
Most kids are proud to have a parent visit their class, and parents can learn a lot in the process. Seeing your child interact with other students, watching how teachers resolve problems, and getting a more in-depth understanding of your child’s daily routine can also help with your parenting at home.
What to Do
Teachers prefer that parents schedule a time to volunteer in advance. Many schools also have policies regarding volunteering and may require background checks.
Teachers in full-day centers generally love when parents volunteer at mealtime because this can be one of the most intense times of the day — with meals being prepared and distributed, some kids needing help eating, and other kids finishing early.
Or many parents like to share a special skill (like playing a musical instrument) or want to prepare a fun project. Again, plans for this should be coordinated with the teacher beforehand. If you don’t have anything specific in mind but still want to volunteer, don’t worry; teachers would love to have you help out anyway.
As I’ve already mentioned, preschool can be a messy place, so adult volunteers should wear comfortable clothes and shoes that can handle spills, glue, paint, dirt, and pee.
One teacher pointed out that even busy parents who can’t volunteer for extended periods can be helpful at busy times like drop-off and pick-up. Volunteers are welcome at either of these times to stay for ten or fifteen minutes to read books or to help new arrivals get engaged in play. Ask first, though, to see if this would be helpful or not at your child’s school.
Also, whether you are officially volunteering or just dropping in for a bit, teachers appreciate it if you stay off your phone. While you’re in the classroom, make sure your focus is on the kids.
While volunteering at school is usually a good thing, there are a few exceptions to be aware of.
Some children are overstimulated by the presence of a parent and actually act difficult when their parent is around. If you think your child might be in this category, talk to the teacher beforehand to see if there’s a time of day that might work best for you to be there. If this does happen while you are volunteering, don’t worry. You’re not alone. It happens to plenty of kids, and you can work with your child’s teacher on how to handle it.
Also keep in mind that in many classes, the majority of parents do not have the flexibility to volunteer during school hours. It can be hard on these kids to see other parents show up at school when their parents don’t do the same. If you think this might be the case, it’s worth finding out if there’s a special way the teacher wants you to handle the situation in order to be sensitive to the needs of your child’s classmates.
Sometimes parents want to bring treats for the class, either when they are in the classroom as a volunteer or to celebrate a special occasion. This is a lovely idea, but showing up unannounced with treats can be a problem. Make sure you coordinate with the teacher several days ahead of time. Plan treats for a date and time that works with the class schedule. Make sure you bring enough for everyone, and remember that some kids will probably have food allergies. A treat isn’t much of a treat when some kids get left out.
Some schools have a no-outside-food policy. If this is the case, then don’t assume that the school will make exceptions. If this is the rule, don’t use candy as a motivator for your child when you’re with him at school. Also, don’t try to sneak food treats in for your child and her friends. (Yes, apparently some parents do this.)
Preschool teachers have a physically and emotionally demanding job. To your children, teachers are like honorary family members, and teachers feel the same way about your kids. So when you can, you may want to go above and beyond to show a teacher your appreciation. You can offer to help with the work that your teacher inevitably takes home, like laminating items and cutting out pieces for craft projects. If you are able, offer to bring pizza or take-out on nights when you know teachers are working late, like on parent-teacher conference nights.
Donate items that the teacher needs for the classroom. You can ask for a wish list of supplies, but items like dry erase markers, painting smocks, glue sticks, stickers, ribbon, and sidewalk chalk would all be good bets. Or a gift card to a craft supply store or a big-box retailer would help, too. Teachers are known for spending their own money to stock their classrooms, so pitching in for needed supplies is one of the nicest gestures you can make. Yes, you may be spending a lot in tuition, but somehow schools still seem to be notoriously short on supplies — and your teacher is probably the one who is personally making up the difference.
Say Thank You
Finally, even if you can’t do anything else here, simply remember to say thank you. Send a note or just say it sincerely, but let your child’s teacher know that you realize her job isn’t easy and that you appreciate her.
Maybe after reading this you’re patting yourself on the back because you’re already doing most of these things. If not, however, no worries. No parent is perfect, and many of us don’t always know where to start. Or we don’t even realize some of our actions could be disruptive for the classroom. Every parent reading this article, though, wants their child to have a good experience at preschool. So do what you can to help your teacher make that happen — and everyone will have a good day.
You might also like Looplilly’s earlier post:
What Not to Forget When Choosing a Preschool