Will Nursery School Change My Child?
Yes, the very definition of education, especially early childhood education, implies change. The more important question is how to support children as they go through these changes.
The very first thing that I tell parents of children who are beginning nursery school, is to expect fatigue. Your child will be taking in and figuring out all of the details of a whole new life. Think of it as if you were starting a new job… in a new country. it will be that taxing. The space, the people, and the routines will be challenging, exciting and exhausting. A newly enrolled nursery school attendee will also be figuring out where their needs begin and end, and how they can join in and connect to the group around them; their teachers and other children.
How well a child adjusts to this new environment and schedule will depend on a number of things. First and foremost is the child’s temperament. Some children are easygoing and happy to go with the flow. Most children, however, do better when they know what to expect and are given lots of support along the way. You along with your child’s teachers will determine what that support should be.
So back to fatigue. Make sure that your child is getting plenty of rest and is not being taxed by other scheduled activities. Skip a lot of playdates during those first few weeks or even months, or keep them very short. Responding to the demands of being part of a class will be enough socialization at first. Time after the school day should be an opportunity to recharge, and not a time to have to share and negotiate more social situations. That’s not to say that trips to the park and the occasional meet-up with classmates don’t have a place in your child’s schedule. Just be mindful that this is a significant adjustment period and your child should not be expected to make those adjustments and continue to be pro-social at every turn.
For some children, the nursery school experience will be the first independent experience away from the family. There will be exposure to new vocabulary and new ideas. Your child will say things that surprise you and you will wonder where they picked it up. It may be adorable, like when my children imitated their teacher, Jane who was from Scotland, saying things like, “time to tidy up their toys”. Children incorporating words and phrases of those around them is a continuation of their acquisition of language and we delight in seeing this rapid expansion of their world. However, they will be experimenting with more loaded language as well.
On countless occasions, I have had parents raise concerns about their child using words like “hate”. While jarring and upsetting, it is important for parents to remain calm and use this as an opportunity to have a conversation with their child and provide them with information. Get in the habit of asking children what a word means to them. Also, ask them where they heard it or who do they know that uses that word. Let them know that words like “hate” are strong and powerful. I often say that I don’t “hate” anyone, but I might “hate” the things they do. You might give examples like I “hate” when someone blocks the driveway, or I “hate” when someone litters. This helps children understand the distinction between the person and the action.
Finally, try to build into your child’s day a time for reflection. When my children were younger, I incorporated this as part of our bedtime routine. We would have story time, then a chat about our day. I would ask my children to tell me the best part of their day, and then the worst part of their day, and I would do the same. Not only did this conversation provide a window into their life at school and how they were changing, including the new lingo that they were exposed to, but it helped them to process those changes. This is an exciting chapter in your child’s life, embrace and enjoy it